The Parish of Backs A short history
The ancient name of the parish of Backs comes from the Irish “An Da Bhac”–the Two Backs, a name often contracted to “The Bacs” and “The Bac”. The word “Bac”, in this instance, means an irregular or angular strip of land. It appears that in ancient times the name covered a more extensive district so as to include the parishes of Ardagh, Kilmore, west of the Moy and part of Ballysakeery. This extended territory is referred to in the records as The Great Bac, but in the course of time “An Da Bhac” (“The Two Bacs”) came to be restricted to the area that now comprises the parish of Backs.
“The 2 Bacs were known respectively as Beal Bhac and Cuil Bhac, but in some records they are referred to as East Bac and West Bac. Beal Bhac extended southwards by the river Moy from the Rehins rivulet to the short river discharging the surplus waters of Lough Cullin into the Moy some distance south of Foxford, and was roughly co-extensive with the civil and official parish of Ballinahaglish. Cuil Bhac extended southwards along Lough Conn from the mouth of the river Deel as far as the present Pontoon Bridge, and roughly corresponded with the present civil and official parish of Kilbelfad. The term “Cuil Bhac”, in the corrupted form “Cuil Backs”, survived as a place name among some of the older parishioners down to very recent times.
“The two Bacs were separated by Derrymanin Lake, Lough Alick, and extensive tracts of bog and marsh stretching northwards from Runagry, on the southern shore of Lough Conn, to Tullysleva and on by Farrendeelin to the present Ballina urban boundary.
“In ancient times the surface levels of Lakes Derrymanin and Alick were much higher than at present, so that the former lake overflowed to meet the waters of Lough Alick, thereby creating an almost impassable morass between Friarstown and Cloghans on the one side and Coolcran and Derrygullinane on the other, and thus isolating the two latter townlands from the rest of Cuil Bhac.
“At a point directly opposite Cloghans Castle, this morass, owing to rising ground, narrowed for a short distance to an ordinary river course. At this point a short ford gave access to Coolcran. Further North, near Lough Alick, was another but more important ford, extending from a point near Cloghans burial ground on by Derrygullinan and over another tract of bog to Derrynamuck in Beal Bhac. The present roadway includes part of this old ford.
“Evidently this was the Atha Fada, or Long Ford, vainly sought by investigators of the past as being somewhere in Lough Conn. On the Cloghans side the approach or entrance to this ford, including the adjacent lands, was called Beal Atha Fada, the mouth of the long ford.”
(The late Msgr. Edward McHale, quoting the late James Clarke N.T. (A History of Killala Diocese by Msgr. Edward McHale).
JAMES CLARKE continues:
“Kilcormac and Killeencormac were reputedly founded by St Cormac early in the 6th Century; Ballinahaglis in the second decade of the 7th century by the renowned St. Fechin of Fore, a native of Ballysadare; and Kilkeran by St. Kiaran, who may have been identical with St. Kiaran of Addergoole. Some other early churches of whose founders nothing is known were those at Ballynakilly (Shraheen); Derrymanin; Kilbelfad; Innishlee; Illaunnaglashy (Glass Island).
“As the stone and mortar age of building had not yet reached Ireland, all the early churches were constructed after the manner of the domestic habitations of the time. The walls were formed of wattles inserted in the ground, interwoven with wicker-work and plastered over with earth, while the roof was thatched with reeds, rushes, sedge or other suitable material. In some instances, especially in exposed positions, the outside of the walls may have been protected from the elements by a layer of sods. Small and crude as were these places of worship, they fully served the purpose for which they were intended, as the population was sparse, communication was difficult and the congregations small.
“Such perishable structures would not be expected to withstand the ravages of time and, consequently, those that were abandoned in favour of later foundations soon fell victims to the unrelenting elements and crumbled into decay, leaving no remains by which their exact positions might now be ascertained. Such was the fate of the early churches of Killkeran, Ballynakilly, Killcormac, Killeencormac and others about which nothing is known, for almost every ancient burial-ground in the parish marks the site of a primitive
Church or a hermit’s cell. These ancient burial grounds are to be seen at Creggaun, Cloonturk, Ballybeg, Currabaggan, Tonybane, Coolcronan, Shraheen, Runakilleen, Calladussaun, Glass Island, Carrowgarve, Brackwansha, Carramore and Innishlee.”
“The ecclesiastical ruins now to be seen in the parish are those of the more substantial and enduring stone and mortar edifices erected during the 11th or early in the 12th century to replace the more important of the primitive churches that had survived.” (It must be emphasised that it would be a mistake think that many of the churches in the list given above existed simultaneously. I will now deal with five of the churches named for Backs).
MUINE RUADHOG.This is given in the 1198 list of Pope Innocent III for Killala diocese. It was a former name for Ballinahaglish, but when the original church was founded there by St. Fechin it was called Eadarguidhe, a name signifying intercession, supplication or mediation. It is also given in some documents as Eacclas Ruag. In the 1306 Taxation List its value is given as 3 marks under the name Keldroma. This latter name is also used in the Calendars of Papal Letters for 17/7/1454 and 28/9/1469. By 1585, and perhaps long before, it went by its present name. The townland Ballinahaglish took its name from the church and the church then took its name from the townland, and the names Muine Ruadoig and Keldroma went out of use.
KILBELFAD.Kilbelfad is given in the 1306 Taxation List as valued 3 marks. In the 1585 List it is given at 1.75. It is mentioned in the Calendar of Papal Letters for 1436, 1447, 1454, and 56, being then the subject of litigation between different claimants.
INISHLEE.It is an island of about half-an-acre, with good soil, lying about a mile off the N.E. shore of Lough Conn. It is said that a sandbank, now washed away, connected it with the mainland up to about 50 years ago. James Clarke tells us: “Giolla Iosa Mor MacFirbis, writing in 1414, tells us that Inis Awley (as he calls it), was a holy habitation, meaning that a church was, or had been located on it. Like other ancient churches of the kind, it had a burial ground attached and many of the graves are still to be seen, some of them marked with rough unhewn headstones, but the walls of the church have completely vanished, though the foundations may still be traced”. He then refers to a local tradition which says that the stones of the church were removed by a man called Fitzpatrick to build himself a residence at Cappanaglogh, and that the house fell down before roofing. This residence is referred to as being in ruins in 1837 (0rdance Survey Letters).
ILAUNNAGLASHY.A “clais” is a pit or drain or groove. The same word is found in Clossagh, near Foxford. It fits the terrain, and might be the correct derivation because it is the simplest. A “dais” also means a choir and might refer to monks’ chanting. Knox, commenting on the architecture of the church now to be seen in ruins on Glass Island, says that it is distinctly Gothic in style with “a room for the clergy at the west end, and a square tower opening into it”. It is on record that Bishop John O’Ladaigh, O.P. 1253-1275 or 1280 got revenues from here, among other sources, but by the 17th century these revenues had disappeared from the list. Father Thomas Walshe, in his History, says that this island provided a safe retreat for the clergy fleeing from the Cromwellian persecution. I take it that he had got this information from local tradition, being a priest of the diocese, who lived and worked in Ballina around the year 1837.
The Griffith Valuation of 1856 says that the island–81 acres, 2 roods and 22 perches in area, was leased by Edward Perry to six tenants.
PENAL DAY CHURCHES
Here is a description from the Ordinance Survey Letters of what may have been a Penal Day crucifix: — “In the churchyard of Ballinahaglish there is a small stone cross with the crucifixion sculptured in relief on it, over which are sculptured the letters I.N.R.I. This cross is about 3 feet high; the arms are about 16 inches in extent; the shaft is about 8 inches broad and between 3 and 4 inches thick. It was fixed in a pedestal; but it now stands upright against a small piece of a wall on the S.E. side of the old church”.
The church in use before the present one was built in Knockmore was situated in Shanclough. I don’t know when it was built or why that particular location was chosen. One is inclined to think of the present system of roads as being older than they actually are. Also, it is necessary to remember that no railway ran through the parish at the time this church was built.
RATHDUFF: The present church was built around 1842 at the earliest. There was a previous church and school combined situated on the site of McLoughlin’s stabling. It had a thatched roof which was blown off on the “Night of the Big Wind” in 1839. The old church was then re-roofed and slated. When the new church was built the roadway round the church plot leading to Keane’s was also constructed; previous to this the road ran by the gable of the old church. The Church was renovated in the 1930′s and extended.
KNOCKMORE: Lewis, writing about Knockmore church in 1837, said it was not yet completed”. The tradition is that the site was purchased and the arch built as far as roofing when the funds ran out. The decision was then made to roof and thatch the sanctuary for the time being until more money became available. There is a ledger in the parochial archives giving a list of donations “for the building of Knockmore Church”, dated 1841. It gives weekly accounts of monies received up to 4/5/1845. Payments were made to James McGurrin, contractor, by W. Mandy, treasurer.
A new roof was put on Knockmore Church in 1998 and a new heating system was installed in 2008.
I do not know when Backs became a mensal parish (The Bishop being the Parish Priest). It is given as such in 1801 and this arrangement may have been in existence for a long time before that. It ceased to be a mensal parish in 2000 when the Administrator of Backs Fr Michael Harrison was appointed Parish Priest.
The present parish stretches from the stream on the Ballina side of the 50K speed limit (on the Foxford road) to the bridge in Foxford and to the bridge at Pontoon; from the River Moy to Loch Conn.
(Taken fromA History of Killala Diocese by Msgr. Edward McHale).
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