O'Donovan spends a considerable time in this letter reviewing the history of Banagher and the meaning of the name.
ORDNANCE SURVEY LETTERS KING'S COUNTY
[ Letter no. 31 from John O'Donovan ]
January 26th 1838.
Of all the words which enter into Irish nomenclature Beannchair seems the most difficult of explanation. It is the name of several places in Ireland in its simple form and enters into the composition of several names, as Beannchair in Derry; Beannchair, now Bangor in Down; Beannchair in the King's County; Magh Beannchair, now Movanagher in Derry; Cuil Beannchair, now Coolbanagher in the Queen's Co.
This name "beats the Devil." The word Beannchair is not referable to the natural features of any of the places in Ireland which I have seen bearing the name; neither is it of ecclesiastical origin, nor is Ban Chor, White Choir, the analysis given of it by Sir James Ware any more than an ignorant and childish conjecture, for Ban has nothing to do with Beann. Bawn Chore is not Benn Chair!
Keating gives a historical explanation of the name of the Beannchair in the Co. Down, but as his story is about a pagan monarch and cows heads and horns, it will not be believed now whether it be true or false. Tradition remembers a legend at Beannchair in Derry about the horns of a deer, which accounts for the name and the name Magh Beannchair in the same County is locally explained "Plain of the Bends or Pointed Hills."
It is believed in the vicinity of the Beannchair in the King's Co. that the name was applied to the ford on the Shannon only and that it signifies Bean Ath Chuir which is attempted to be explained Woman Ford, so called, it is alleged, because a nunnery stood opposite the ford on the Maw's side of the river. That there is some glimmering of truth in this will appear from a historical tale entitled Battle of Ken Abrad, which gives the following derivation for the name of the ford on the Shannon called Ath Beannchair:-
"Then did the 9,000 men who were under the command of the (three) Carbrys rise up with anger, impetuosity and rage and all the champions put their helmets on their heads and in this manner proceeded to the ford where the conference was held. When it was heard throughout the camp that the Carbrys had risen up to battle, all the forces rose up and Carbry Musc marched at their head to the ford and all the heroes threw their Beanna and their helmets off their heads into the ford, which from that circumstance is ever since called Ath Beannchair, that is, in consequence of the Beanna (conical caps, crests?) which the heroes threw (cast) into it." - Lib. Lec. Fol. 182.
I cannot, however, be positive that this the Ford of Beann chair in the King's County as Ceann Abhrad, the site of the battle, is one of the Galtee Mountains.
Peter Connell explains Beannchair in his Dictionary as follows:-
"Beannchair - hills, mountains, rocks, cliffs, also cows' horns; any horns."
This explanation, however, will not agree with the localities of Beannchair in the King's County, which is built on a hill too gentle to be called a Beann. We have no other than to draw upon, but conjecture! The present new Church of Birr might well be called a Beannchair Church (Teampall Beannach Biorach) from the number of its Bens or horns. Was the name Beannchair originally applied to a similar Church at Banagher? I fear not. Was it originally applied to a castle with battlements, tall chimnies? I think not, for I am of opinion that the name is more ancient than the period at which castles or even Churches were built in Ireland. What then does the name owe its origin to? I do not know, neither does anyone, for the name "beats the Devil."
Another derivation for it is Bean a Chuir; it was a woman who laid the first stone in the building (but what the building was, whether castle or Church, is not remembered). ...
The Dinnseanchus derivation of Lus Mhagh, the name of the most western Parish in the Territory of Delvin Eahra, runs as follows:-
"Lus Mhagh, whence named? N.D. It was from it Dianceacht (the physician) brought all the sanative (healing) herbs, which he pounded (and squeezed?) into the Well of Tipraid Slaingi in Achadh Abhla on the Plain of Moy Tuire when the great battle was fought there between the Tuatha de Dananns and Fomorians. Each of the Tuatha de Dananns who immersed himself in this herb-tinged well, came out of it well and healed of his wounds. Unde Lus Magh, dicitur."
"Know ye the cause from which Lusmaw is named?
That plain of rushes grey at first was called
The Plain of Murray Munchy, but since the time
The famous Battle of Moy Tuire north
Was fought, its name has ever been Lus Maw
Or Plain of Herbs. 'Twas here Dianceach, the sage,
And learned AEsculpius of this isle,
Found all the herbs, which to the battle field
He brought, and with whose healing juice he tinged,
The spring called Tobar Slany at this day
Which lies in Acha Abhla, blood stained field.
The wounded soldiers in the Danaan lines
Retired to this fair spring and in it laved
Their wounds, and some, who writhed with the pangs
Received from poisoned arrows, plunged themselves
Into its medicated (?) waters, and
Returned soon healed of all the dreadful wounds
Inflicted on them by Fomorian swords (arms).
This is the reason why that famous plain,
Received the name of Lus Magh, Plain of Herbs,
For since the day that Dianceact sought the place
Physicians know the virtue of its herbs
And use them as the best in this our isle
For here, observe, in rich luxuriance grow,
All sorts of herbs which moor or meadow knows
Which fairies love and into which they breathe
Poison or balm to serve or injure men!
Capt. Portlock should examine this plain of herbs in Spring or Summer; in our time (January) it was covered in snow.
The Magh Istean mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters at the year 1548, is now called Moyston and Moystown (nearly as bad as Portan into Port Town).
"A.D. 1548. The castles of Ely and Delvin were demolished through fear of the English, viz., Banagher, the Castle of Magh Istean and Clochan na gCeapach."
Magh Istean is the present Moystown lying on the River Brosnagh to the north of Banagher; and Clochan na gCeapan is the Town of Clochan lying four miles ot the east of Banagher. None of the castles mentioned are in Ely.