Brief History of Bangor Erris in Co. Mayo

Bangor Erris gets it’s name from the Gaelic Beann Chor which means Ridge of Mountain Peaks. The original name for the townland was Doire Choineadaigh (The Wood of the Kennedys) a name found in maps from 1724 to 1829. John O'Donovan in the Ordinance Survey name books also called the place Coineadach. James McParlan in his survey of the locality called the place Cahel and stated that fairs were held there regularly.

Locally the place was known as Aonach Cathail (Cathal’s Fair) because a wealthy buyer of that name attended fairs here. The name Bangor (Beann Chor) was given to the town by Major Dennis Bingham who established the town here.

There is evidence that the place was inhabited several thousand years ago - a megalithic Court Tomb is situated close to the village of Bangor about 100 yards north of the road from Bangor to Belmullet.

It stands in a sloping pasture field on a fertile ridge between Carrafull Hill and the Owenmore River. This archaeological monument is very ruined and consists of several set stones and some prostrate ones incorporated in a roughly oval shaped mound, about one metre high.

A way marked walking route called the Bangor Trail starts in the village of Bangor and follows a route over the Neiphin Beg mountain range to Newport. This route was originally a cattle drover’s trail.

It is difficult to put a definite date on how long this route has been in existence but it has attracted the interest of travellers for many centuries. Dr. Pococke visited it in 1752, Caesar Otway in 1837 and Robert Lloyd Praeger early in the 20th century.

Dr. Pococke refers to the route over the mountains in his writings of 1752 as The Pilgrim Way. He describes the place as follows: Here are three farms which chiefly belong to herds.

The river we crossed was a rough bottom and very dangerous in times of floods. There is a road by the river into Tyrawley, but it is very boggy and almost impassible except after there has been dry weather for some time.

Major Bingham, having inherited almost half of Erris from his mother, formerly Frances Shaen, came to live here about 1796. After he married Elizabeth Nash of Cloontakilla, he began to settle at Bangor and built a dwelling house on a hillside overlooking the road. He later built Bingham Lodge on the western side of the town.

Bangor was a good site for a town. It was at the crossroads of two old roads which were in use from the mid-eighteenth century. One of these was from Carne to Castlebar, the other from Inver to Newport. Both these roads were repaired by order of the County assizes in 1793.

The townland was also sheltered from the north winds and situated on the banks of the Owenmore River.

Bingham transformed the town. About 1798 he introduced the Revenue Police in an effort to stamp out the distillation of poteen. The barracks was built from local stone and was roofed with thick stone slabs from Glenturk. Yoemen retreating after the capture of Ballina by General Humbert, shot a man named Harte whom they saw running away as they approached the barracks.

The Cosgrove family now owns the property. The next house to be built was just a little south of the barracks, opposite Daly’s Service Station. Bingham obtained a seven-day licence to sell intoxicating liquor and placed Robert Bournes, a Protestant settler from The Mullet as Innkeeper.

This was the first licenced establishment in Erris. This licence was transferred to Belmullet when a Mrs. M. Murphy from Attawalla closed the premises some years ago. In 1823 Major Bingham was granted a patent to hold fairs in the town. By the 1830’s the place was described as a little town with 'two comfortable inns'.

The fairs were held of the 20th January, February, March and April, the 10th May, the 11th June, the 20th July, the 11th of August, the 8th September, 8th October, 16th November and 11th December.

Major Bingham who founded the town was determined not to allow the building of a Catholic Church here, but this was changed when Robert Savage, who had married one of the Bingham ladies, gave permission for the erection of a church in Ballybeg, the neighbouring townland. Prior to this the locals worshiped in a little chapel at Largan.

A thatched building was built as a chapel as close to the town as possible, on the site where the present Catholic church is built. The building was a shabby structure, and was described by Caesar Otway in 1834 as being 'of mean appearance'. According to the Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction in 1835 there were 700 people attending mass here.

In the early 1830’s Fr. Patrick Gildea, P.P., lived in Sheskin where J. Mc Donnell, M.P. for Mayo, was the local landlord. In a letter to the 'Castlebar Telegraph' in 1835 he complained about the way he was treated by Major Bingham who had refused him the site for a parochial house in Bangor. Bingham had earlier vowed 'never to afford the slightest accommodation to a Catholic priest'.

In a letter to the Telegraph Fr. Gildea stated that: necessity obliged me for some time past to take up my abode at the extremity of my parish which was seven miles distant from the chapel. Shortly after this Fr. Gildea moved into Bangor where he stayed in lodgings where Eamon R. Deane has a store.

On the Night of the Big Wind, January 6th 1839, the roof was blown off and mass was celebrated in a hedge school while repairs were taking place. Fr. Dominick Madden built a chapel on the site in 1855 with funds raised in the U.S. The contractor was John Lynn of Briska.

According to tradition one of the stones from the 1815 building with the date inscribed on it, was inserted into the wall and was plastered over when the church was enlarged and renovated by Fr. Thomas Dolphin in 1900.

In 1947 the present church was built on the site slightly further in on the site than the previous building. It was dedicated in June of that year and was renovated by Fr. James Gilvarry in 1971.

By Brian Hoban