A LEINSTER LADY
It is probable that some time in this decade we should celebrate the fourteenth centenary of the death of a great Leinster lady who was foundress of a notable relious house at Banagher on the Shannon. It is necessary to specify "on the Shannon", because it may be otherwise confused with two famous places of the same name - the Gaelic roots beannchor (meaning peaks or points with a twist or turn) also form the origin of Bangor in Co.Down and Bangor in North Wales. Each of the three is written in Irish as Beanchor.
Banagher was founded by Regnach, or Reynagh, daughter of a Christian couple named Fintan and Talech. They were of the race of Loschain, and in a very old hymn referring to the family they are said to be of Leinster. The area which was then called Leinster we would refer to as south-east Leinster to-day. The old Leinster of that time did not extend further north than say, a line from Edenderry to Dublin, or further west than a line from Tullamore to Mountmellick, Killkenny and New Ross. The present Co. Louth, for instance, was in Ulster; and as well as the present counties of Meath and Westmeath the province of that name included a strip twenty miles wide to the east, or left bank, of the Shannon all the way from Longford to Birr. Banagher was therefore in Meath(which we may, if we wish, call Southern Ulster). Another name which that longford-to-Birr strip had at one time was Teffia. And, of course, the area from Athlone to the Little Brosna, south of Banagher came to be known as Delvin Eathra, and, for Church organisation, the Diocese of Clonmacnois.
SISTER OF FINNIAN
There seems no doubt that the St.Rynagh who founded Banagher and after whom the parish is still called, was a sister of St. Finnian of Clonard. Joining together the records we have of the lives of these two religious leaders, we find that they link up with persons and places that we already know, and a fairly complete story emerges. Their place of birth was not far from the church of Roscor, near where two great rivers unite into one. Having examined all the evidence, Dr. Lanigan was satisfied that the spot indicated was near the river Barrow, where it is joined by the Nore, and not far from New Ross, Co.Wexford.
The life of St. Finnian of Clonard, patron of the great diocese of Meath, may form our subject for study on another occasion. For the moment it is sufficient to note that he founded and preceded over a great school at Clonard, just on the present Meath-Offaly border, and that many of the holy men and great saints of that post-Patrician period were his pupils. He spent some time in Wales and was associated with St. David. Now, this David was grandson of the Irish Midland prince, Bracken, or Brecon, who had settled in Wales; and David was therefore a nephew (sister's son) of St. Canoc who had founded the monastery at Gallen, near Ferbane, in 492. We find Canoc, David and Finnian all associated with Wales, with Wexford and with the Shannon Basin. We may take it that it was not by chance that finnian's sister, Reynagh, founded her Shannon side convent at a strategic point on Ireland's great river.
TALECH AS ABBESS
What a pity it is that some young Banagher student does not examine all the source materials, regarding the introduction of religion and education there. Sticking to what seems fairly certain,we may say that Reynagh was a lady of extraordinary piety and determination, that she belonged to a family with a fine christian background, and that the cultural centre which she established at Banagher, or what was then Ireland's main highway, the Shannon, grew to be a well known spiritual power-house for the whole Midlands. We may be sure it was visited by her illustrious brother who preceded over what was then the country's most famous university.
We know that contact was maintained between Reynagh's Wexford home and her foundation at Banagher. Her mother came to live there. Presumably the father Fintan, must have died; because it is recorded that Reynagh's mother, Talech, or Talacia, became
Abbess of the Banagher convent. The death of St. Finnian is assigned to 563, but there does not seem to be any authoritative statement as to the date of St. Reynagh's death.
SITE OF RUINS
Writing in 1875, T. L. Cooke said:-"The ruins on the site of this ancient house, which was called Kill-Righnaighe, the church of Rignacia, are nearly in the centre of Banagher, and are surrounded by the parish burial ground... In the enclosure, surrounding these ruins, there was for many years the shaft of an ancient stone cross, erected to commemorate Bishop O'Duffy, who was killed in the year 1297 by a fall from his horse... This very interesting relic is now at Clonmacnois.
Thus we see that Reynagh's sixth-century foundation was still a hallowed and an honoured spot in the thirteenth century. Another seven hundred years have since rolled by and the name of St. Reynagh is cherished in the town of her fruitful labours.