ORIGINS OF THE NAME BONANE
Bonane is located on the N71 Kenmare to Glengarriff road, surrounded by the Sheehy and Caha mountains, with the river Sheen flowing through it. Bonane derives its name from Fionn Mac Cumhall, the legendary leader of the Fianna, who maintained a Both or hunting lodge here – hence the old Gaelic name Both- Fhionain or Fionn’s house, now anglicised to Bonane. The local river is named after Fionn’s son Oisin. Originally known as Abha Oisin or Oisin’s river, it has since been anglicised to River Sheen.
The peace and tranquillity of Bonane would have provided the perfect retreat after his gruesome battle with the fearsome giant Ein (after whom Neidin, now Kenmare, is named). During the battle so fierce was the fighting that, according to legend, “they made the hard ground soft and the soft ground hard!”
BONANE IN STONE AGE TIMES
These monuments are amongst the best preserved in Western Europe, due in particular to the relatively poor quality of the soil with a consequent absence of intensive or mechanised farming methods.
The recent discovery of Rock Art, one of the few examples in the Beara Peninsula, may indicate even earlier habitation.
The early history of Bonane is literally written in stone and it makes fascinating reading!
ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIANITY
The arrival of Christianity marked a decline in the old order and the dawn of a new era. Many of the existing religious and ceremonial sites of the Druids were Christianised and adapted by the new religion.
The founding of the first church by Saint Fiachna, the patron saint of the parish, at Droum-Fiachna, in the townland of Garranes is a case in point. The unique Bullaún stone nearby, known as the Rolls of Butter, while closely associated in legend with the saint, is believed to have been used by the Druids as a ceremonial site.
The present ruins in Saint Fiachna’s Cemetery, which may well have replaced an earlier church, or churches, dates from the post-Norman period.
POST NORMAN PERIOD
The remains of three other churches from this period are to be found in Bonane. The earliest, Faill a Shéipéil, at Gearhabuí is now a mere outline. The next, Sheana-Shéipéil, the ruins of which are still clearly visible near Bunane Bridge, was in use until about 1840. It was described in 1839, by the then Parish Priest, Michael Enright as one “with tottering walls…wretchedly confined unsafe cabin”.
Shortly thereafter a new church was constructed at Milleens, on the site where the present church stands. One wall of this church is still well preserved. It was a relatively low structure with the Sanctuary at the northern end, which is opposite to the arrangement in the present day Saint Fiachna’s Church
The present church dates from 1892 and is built of local stone. The nearby Presbytery was completed two years later. Prior to its construction the priests of the parish resided at Releagh. The residence there was built for the engineer in charge of the construction of the New Line road through the Tunnels to Glengarriff.
THE 19th CENTURY IN BONANE
By 1826 there were two schools in Bonane, one at Dromagorteen and the other at Tulloha. These schools almost certainly began as undercover or “hedge schools” during penal times, when the education of Catholics was forbidden.
The first national school opened at Tulloha on 2 January 1837. This school served the “scholars” until 1999, when a new school was opened, on the same site.
On 15 April 1847 a second national school opened at Gortnabinny to serve the western part of the parish. This school was ultimately amalgamated with Tulloha school in 1967.
By 1840 the Parish Priest, Michael Enright, was able to openly petition for funds for a new church at Milleens – a far cry from the repression of the penal laws! Fr. Michael Sheehan, P.P., 1858-1870, was the last priest in the Parish who used Irish as the sole medium of preaching and instruction. He also changed the place of residence of the Parish Priest from Esk na Muice, in Glengarriff, To Releagh, Bonane. Subsequent to this change Bonane replaced Kilcascan as the official title of the parish.
The Census of 1841 showed that the population had swollen to 1379 souls. The failure of the potato crop in 1847 and 1848 led to widespread famine, death and immigration, with devastating effects on the population. The Census of 1871 showed a drop in population to 905, a trend that continued throughout the remainder of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the 1960’s we had 4 shops, a post office and a creamery stop but due to the change in times unfortunately these no longer exist. But instead we have new industries in their place: Bonane Heritage Park; Molly Gallivan’s Traditional Farm; Lorge Chocolates; B&B’s; Self Catering Holiday Homes; VerArt: Beara Outdoor Activities: The Weavers Shop and Kenmare Bay Diving.
There are other ambitious projects in the pipeline. The “Spirit of Bonane” is alive and well!