Nave and chancel church. The nave (length 10.65 m x width 6 m) appears to be of 12thc. date. It is rubble built and raised on a plinth. The plinth, W door and S window are of local dressed sandstone. The chancel (length 6.07m x width c.4.5m) is a later addition, probably of the first quarter of the 13thc. Externally the walls rise from a chamfered plinth and are faced with squared coursed sandstone. Internally the wall facing is of coursed rubble. A sacristy was added to the east end of the church, probably during the 15thc., by the insertion of a cross-wall running the width of the chancel. In the graveyard, close to the church is a tomb or 'mortuary house'. This appears to be contemporary with the chancel, and may have been constructed to accommodate the movement of the founder's tomb from the E end of the original single cell church following its enlargement.
The original E window was demolished when a sacristy was added to the E end in the 15thc. Historical accounts and fragments recovered through excavation suggest a triple pointed lancet arrangement (see Waterman, 1976, 33).
Repairs to the fabric of the church were made in 1883, 1926 and 1972–3 when archaeological investigations were carried out.
Local tradition views the ecclesiastical site at Banagher as a Patrician foundation, however, the earliest known written reference to a church at Banagher is in 1121, when it is recorded that 'Gilla- Epscoip- Eogain Ua Andiaraidh, king of Ciannachta, was killed by his own kinsmen in the centre of the cemetery at Bennchar' (Annals of Ulster, 105). The church was traditionally founded by St Muiredach O'Heney who may have lived in the 11th or 12thc. If the church was the first to be built on the site it is unclear whether it was founded under the old monastic regime, or as a parish church under the fledgling reform movement. By 1306 it is recorded as a parish church in the ecclesiastical taxation (CDI 1302–1307). It was the medieval parish church chosen by Archbishop Colton of Armagh as the base for his visitation of Derry diocese in 1397. It had been abandoned by the 17thc., and was vested in the care of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland in 1880.
A lintelled doorway with dressed inclined jambs, recessed 0.09 m from the wall surface. The enclosing architrave projects 0.10 m from the wall surface and is square in profile, the two face arrises and angle between the backset doorjambs and architrave are articulated with worn roll mouldings. the worn monolithic sill is fronted by a rubble-built step.
|height of jambs||2.10 m|
|width of jambs at base||1.04 m|
|width of jambs at top||0.78 m|
The tympanum contains a defaced projecting stone (height 0.3 m x width 0.15 m x depth 0.09 m). On the N jamb is an inscription dating the church to 474; on the S jamb is a recess (height 0.31 m x width 0.24 m x depth 0.24 m) 0.7 m above sill level.
A round-headed opening. The arch is formed by two large stones. The window is framed by three continuous roll moldings, with intervening hollows, which become progressively shallower toward the outer edge. A chamfered label extends horizontally, level with the springing of the arch.
|height of light||0.97 m|
|width at base||0.15 m|
|width at springing||0.16 m|
A splayed opening with plunging sill (rear arch h. 2.10m). The splays are faced with ashlar. The rear arch is framed with a continuous keeled moulding flanked on face and soffit/reveal by an angle fillet and roll. The two apex voussoirs are modern.
A round-headed opening framed by a continuous moulding of plain square section. The sill stone extends beyond the width of the window.
A deeply splayed opening with a plunging sill (light h. 0.69m x w. at base 0.3m x w. at springing 0.27m). Close to the light, the sill and rear vault have mullion sockets, the E jamb has a related perforation 0.05m in diam.
Engaged three-quarter nook shaft (diam. 0.1 m) of which only seven courses remain, rising directly from a plinth. The capital (reset at a lower level than the eaves) is carved with a pair of confronted animals, one a quadruped the other a bird-like creature. The tails of both animals have foliage terminals.
Situated to the SE of the church is a small house-shaped tomb. The tomb walls rise from a steeply chamfered plinth, and are faced with squared, coursed ashlar. Both eastern and western gables are framed by a chamfered projection. A framed panel on the W gable contains the damaged figure of a bishop or saint wearing a peaked mitre and holding what appears to be a crozier, and with the right hand raised in benediction.
|height of panel on W gable||0.75 m|
|height of tomb||2.3 m|
|length of tomb||3.6 m|
|width of panel on W gable||0.45 m|
|width of tomb||1.65 m|
Only the lower sections of the chancel arch responds remain. The pilasters are of dressed sandstone with chamfered arrises. A pair of semicircular bases stand on a raised plinth in front of the pilasters. The NW base has a central perforation (depth 0.025 m) presumably for the receipt of a detached shaft with a diameter of c. 0.19 m. Waterman suggests that this arrangement may be a later reconstruction (Waterman 1960, 35).
|diameter at base||0.25 m|
A recess, part demolished and blocked prior to the addition of the 15thc. sacristy may be the traces of a sedilia surviving from the original church. The finely dressed seat is now cut back flush with wall. The jambs are moulded with twin three quarter filleted rolls on the arris flanked by a hollow and a half-roll on the face and reveal. Rubble patching to the E of the sedilia may indicate the presence of a piscina in the original church.
|remaining height||0.6 m|
A. Hamlin, 'Banagher and Bovevagh Churches Co. Londonderry' DOENI Guide Card, 1983.
M. Herity, 'The Forms of the Tomb of the Founder Saint in Ireland' in eds. M. Spearman and J. Higgit, The Age of Migrating Ideas; Early Medieval Art in Scotland and Ireland, Edinburgh, 1991, 188–195.
B. McCarthy ed., The Annals of Ulster, 2, Dublin, 1893.
S. McNab, 'Irish Figure Sculpture in the Twelfth Century'. PhD. Thesis, 1987, Trinity College Dublin.
D. M. Waterman, 'An Early Christian Mortuary House at Saul, Co. Down', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 23 (1960), 82–88.
D. M. Waterman, 'Banagher Church, Co. Derry', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 39 (1976), 25.