History of Bonane

Bonane is steeped in ancient history being home to over 250 archaeological sites, this identifies Bonane as having one of the highest concentrations of sites in the country. More importantly, recent studies show many of these sites are interrelated and some have major astronomical significance.

Further research will identify the area to compliment if not equal other areas of national and international significance such as the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath, Lough Gur in Co. Limerick and the Ceide Fields in Co. Mayo.

With its many magnificent walks and drives and an abundance of archaeological and historical sites, Bonane is a must for any discerning traveller. Separated from County Cork by a unique hand-cut tunnel, a monument to man’s ingenuity, Bonane’s proximity to the warm Gulf Stream results in its sub-tropical climate giving an abundance of rare wild flowers and fauna.

Bonane links both the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. The Beara Way passes through the parish and links with the Breifne Way, which for the more enthusiastic walker will bring you all the way to County Leitrim! Why not travel the old priest’s leap road that goes to Bantry, where in former times a priest is reputed to have leaped on horseback across Bantry Bay to escape his captors? Or take a family ramble on the old bridle path over the Esk Mountain and experience the breathtaking views it has to offer.

The River Sheen with its crystal clear waters, subject of many a ballad, flows through the parish and is a haven for fishermen, swimmers and casual strollers alike.

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-Fhionáin or Fionn's house, now anglicised to Bonane. 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!"

The first settlers arrived about 6,000 years ago and the wealth of multi-period archaeological monuments found in Bonane provides an indelible link to these people.

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 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 town land 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.


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 Bonane 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 early 19th Century saw a relaxation of the harsh penal code of earlier centuries and an explosion in population, due largely to the abundant food source provided by the potato.

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 National 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 true Celtic fashion, much of the history of Bonane is to be found in the folklore and legends handed down through the generations rather than in written form. (The word Celt, meaning "hidden", comes from the Roman.)  Indeed, the folklore of Bonane has echoes of some of the great Celtic legends and is, in this sense, a microcosm of Celtic culture

Saint Fiachna

Saint Fiachna, the patron saint of Bonane was, according to legend, born near Kealkill in West Cork. He was one of triplets born to an already large family.  The hard-pressed father resolved to drown them. On his way he was met by a holy man, who discovered his purpose and dissuaded him. The children were put in foster care and named Fiachna, Leicna and Conn; all three went on to sainthood!

Compare this story with the story of Balor, the one-eyed god of death and champion of the Formorii, a race of sea-gods who ruled Ireland before the arrival of the Tuatha De Dannan. It was prophesied that his own grandson would kill him. To prevent this happening he had his only daughter, Ethlinn, locked in a crystal tower off Tory Island. Despite this Balor was killed in battle with a slingshot from the sun god Lugh, his grandson.

With the aid of a servant Lugh's father got into the crystal tower and slept with Ethlinn. When Balor learned that his daughter had given birth to triplets he ordered that they be drowned in a whirlpool off Tory Island. His servants did his bidding rolling the children in a blanket. However, one child slipped out and was rescued; in this way Lugh was saved to fulfil his destiny!

It is probable that the legend of Saint Fiachna is an attempt by the monks who first recorded the Celtic sagas from the fifth century onwards to put a Christian perspective on the story

The Rolls of Butter/Petrified Dairy

The story of the Rolls of Butter is undoubtedly Bonane's best-known legend and is associated with a unique bullaún stone situated adjacent to Drom-Fiachna cemetery in the town land of Garranes. (This bullaún stone is the centrepiece of the home page for this website.)

Bullaún StoneThe Bullaún Stone itself is a flat-topped rock, embedded in the ground at one end, about two meters square with eight holes or bullaúns on its surface. Two or three of the holes are merely slight indentations the others are good-sized cavities. In each bullaún is a smooth oval shaped stone known locally as "the Rolls of Butter." In the centre a quern stone represents the lid of a churn.

The Bullaún Stone has attracted the attention of travellers and antiquarians over the years. Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall in their book Hall's Ireland (1841) give one of the earliest accounts, referring to it as the "Petrified Dairy."

The story of the Rolls of Butter is that a woman in the locality stole the milk of her neighbour's cows on May morning. She was making butter with the stolen milk when Saint Fiachna came upon her. The good Saint, being as adept at cursing as he was at praying, petrified (turned into stone) the butter rolls she had made. He then pursued the woman across a nearby river where she suffered a similar fate!

She still stands, as a large upright stone, in the town land of Gearhangoul, beside a bush that sprouted from a buairicín (wooden buckle) at the end of a short rope she carried for tethering the cows, intended by the Saint as a warning to sinners.

Saint Fiachna's curse on the poor unfortunate woman may well give credence to the view of some antiquarians that the Bullaún Stone and its eight spherical pebbles are in fact ancient cursing stones. Cursing stones are known to be associated with early Christian sites. For example the famous Cloca Breaca on the Island of Innismurray of the Sligo coast.

The Bullaún Stone clearly dates from pre-Christian times and is believed to have been used by the Druids for ceremonial purposes. Indeed the Druids are said to have turned the cursing stones against King Cormac MacAirt when he espoused the Christian faith.

Inse an t-Sagairt

The mass rock at Inse and t-Sagairt in the town land of Innisfoyle (locally known as Slios) has for generations been a place of pilgrimage and reverence for the people of Bonane. There is a very strong folk belief that a priest was murdered while celebrating mass there during penal times.

Inse an t-SagairtFolk belief has it that this event occurred in 1829. At that time there was woman in Glengarriff, known as Nell na Deataighe. Nell ran a Shibeen (Illegal pub) and a house of ill repute! It was in her house that the murder was plotted!

There was still a price of £45 on the head of a priest and this provided an incentive, not to mention immunity from prosecution. Five men with the name Conchabhar, (pronounced "Kruhoor" meaning Con or Cornelius) plotted the murder in Nell's Shibeen. They were known by their nicknames of Conchabhar Randum, Conchabhar Raibheach, Conchabhar Clampar, Conchabhar Chuithig and Conchabhar Mhiceire.

They became aware that mass was to be celebrated at the mass rock at Inse an t-Sagairt. They crossed the mountain from Glengarriff and made their way down a rocky ravine in the mountain, clearly visible from the Baureragh road, known as Eisc Caol. They came upon the priest while he was celebrating mass and with no chance for escape they dragged him to a fallen tree nearby where he was decapitated.

The priest's clerk was taken prisoner and he together with the severed head was first taken to a house, no longer in existence, near Killowen, Kenmare. Blood from the head dripped on the flagstone of the door and legend has it that this stain could not be removed; even when the stone was replaced the stain reappeared!

The clerk was taken to Dromore Castle, where he was released on the strand and two mastiffs set loose on him for the sport of his captors.

Being a strong swimmer he took to the water where he outmanoeuvred the dogs. Grabbing a dog by the scruff of the neck with each hand he headed for the other side of the bay, some three miles away.

Propelled by the powerful animals he had little difficulty in reaching the far shore where he disposed of the dogs before making good his escape.

A journey to Cork by the perpetrators to claim the reward proved in vain. Catholic Emancipation had just been won so the money was never paid and the head was dumped in the River Lee!