Ballymonie Chapel - Banagher Parish, Co Derry Ireland.

Ballymonie Chapel - Banagher Parish.
The following article on the building of a new Chapel at Ballymonie by Father Patrick McKeefry PP is reproduced with the kind permission of the Author Rev Philip Donnelly, from his excellent book 'The Parish of Banagher'.

A Church for Ballymonie

The new Parish priest of Banagher in 1913 was Father Patrick McKeefry, a native of the parish of Maghera, of a family with a strong tradition of service to the Church. He had two brothers Father Hugh J and Father William Anthony who were priests in the USA and a cousin who was Bishop Tohill of Down and Connor. Born in 1863, he studied at St Columb's College, then in the Irish College in Paris and was ordained in 1886. He became curate in Termonamongan, then Drumquin, Clonmany and Buncrana. He was considered to be solid and conscientious, recognisable qualities of a man from South Derry, and he had a bent for providing parishes with buildings. For some time he traversed the parish by bicycle. Cars were nearly unknown and there was a war on. Michael Shiels taught him to drive. This information comes from Maggie Shiels, Michael's sister, and can be relied on One of his primary aims was to replace the ageing church at Ballymonie. It was built in 1826 and was never a very substantial building. It was now showing its age, was uncomfortable and by now too small for the population. The Derry Journal in its coverage of the event describes it in 1924 as a relic of penal times. In the small size and poverty of the church, if not in its age, that remark is probably true. Father McKeefry had problems, of course, as every church builder has. In the 1920s certainly, Ballymonie was scattered and not endowed with an abundance of worldly goods. The parish priest, however, met encouragement from the people. From an early stage of his pastorate he began raising funds for the new building, an activity not at all as enjoyable as opening a new church. The people of Ballymonie proved themselves generous and, as The Derry Journal says, there was 'considerable outside help'. This might refer to the American connection, especially with Philadelphia, a city to which many Ballymonie people have emigrated over centuries, and still do. The two curates took their share in the fundraising, Fathers Archie McMaster and Bernard McNamee.

The new church was sited a few hundred yards from the old one, farther east. It was designed by the architect W J Doherty MRIAI of Derry and was intended to seat three hundred. The plan was rectangular with an apse (the circular structure behind the altar), sacristy and porch. The walls were built of local stone finished in rough cast. The western gable would have two niches for the statues of St Peter and St Paul and above the apex of the gable would be a belfry. In fact the belfry is there still but the bell never materialised. The church now has an electronic bell. The statues of Peter and Paul were placed in their niches and at some later period were removed, apparently because they were believed to be causing damp.

All was ready for laying the foundation stone on the 13th of July 1924. The opening procession left the old church at midday, comprising Bishop Charles McHugh in his vestments, Father William B McFeely of the Waterside acting as his assistant, the priests of Banagher and visiting priests. The bishop used a silver trowel to lay the foundation stone. In the hole beneath the stone was placed a bottle containing details of the ceremony and some current coins. The bishop walked around the foundations, blessed them and returned to the old church. A large crowd had gathered in the grounds and the little church was full. Father Archie McMaster, the curate, celebrated the Missa Cantata. The choir was composed of children of the parish in the charge of their teachers. Miss Anne Lynch, a teacher at Muldonagh, presided at the harmonium. Mr McCaughey rendered the Gregorian Chant. The high point was the sermon, at some length, of course, given by Rev Philip O'Doherty PP Omagh. His theme was Christ's love for us illustrated by examples from Christ's life. Christ shed his blood for us, and the church the people were about to build would be a home for the Precious Blood. He reminded his hearers that the old Banagher church was unique in the ecclesiastical remains of the diocese, and ennobling traditions cluster around the name of St Heney, the saint of the parish. They would try to make the new church worthy of those traditions and help their pastor in his efforts to provide a worthy home for the Blessed Sacrament.

Then the collection, described as substantial, was taken up. Father McKeefry thanked the donors for the collection, the bishop, who had also subscribed to the funds, Father Philip O'Doherty, the preacher, on behalf of the people of the parish and the Ballymonie congregation. He thanked the priests of the diocese, the two neighbouring dioceses, other districts of the parish, friends outside the parish boundaries, the choir, the committee who had charge of the collection and of course The Derry Journal. That is one of the duties of a parish priest, as he soon learns, to thank people for help, always given so generously. On the 9th of September, 1925, Dr Bernard O'Kane, parish priest of Maghera and soon to be the new bishop, dedicated the church to St Peter and St Paul. The Derry Journal rhapsodizes: 'a spectacle of celestial beauty and chasteness'. The church is designed in Celtic Romanesque style. The front entrance is provided with a porch. The barge course of the gable is enriched with Celtic arcading, the whole surmounted with a graceful Celtic cross. The remainder of the interior is in keeping with the front, with moulded arches to the windows, concrete pilasters and an arcaded eave course. The interior has a plaster panelled ceiling. Prominent features of the sanctuary are 'the windows, which are simple single lights filled with beautiful stained glass and give in their long graceful lines a lofty effect to the interior'.

Bishop Charles McHugh being absent, Dr O'Kane dedicated and blessed the building. Father P J Grennon SJ delivered the sermon after Mass in which he dwelled on the nature of Catholic churches and worship. Father McKeefry finally thanked all those who gave their help, mentioning the Cathedral choir who provided such beautiful music. Then followed Benidiction of the blessed Sacrament given by Dr O'Kane, assisted by Father McKeefry. Some details of the church have been modified in the renovation of 1991 guided by Father John Forbes. Its attractiveness has surely been enhanced. One of the priests present at the dedication was Father Edward MacNamee CC Lavey, the future parish priest.

During Father McKeefry's pastorate a conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society was founded, at the end of the year 1916. Its first president was Brother Mcllroy, who was still president in 1941. Later presidents were James Hassan, Peter McGirr, James McLaughlin and Daniel McGrellis.

Father McKeefry left Banagher in 1926 after thirteen years to be parish priest of Dungiven, the neighbouring parish. He had by then succeeded in removing all debt on the parish, including Ballymonie. He died in Dungiven parochial house on Friday the 21st of January 1938, at the age of seventy-five. He had carried out his pastoral duties almost to the last day. He was seen as a man remarkable for prayer, with 'a childlike spirit of piety', with dedication to his pastoral work, concern for the churches, schools and all buildings. He was buried in Dungiven on the 24th of January, 1938.

Inside Ballymonie Chapel - Banagher Parish.
The interior of Ballymonie Chapel.
Ballymonie Chapel Plaque in porch.
The memorial plaque in the porch of Ballymonie Chapel.