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A little bit of history....
...last updated on the 26th May 2010.


The Parish of Desertegney and Lower Fahan.

The Parish of Desertegney and Lower Fahan comprises an area of 32,360 acres and has an increasing population of around 9,000. Stretching northward from Lisfannon to Meentagh Glen and Mamore Gap, it is a parish of mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, seashore and woodland. It is steeped in history and can be proud of the way in which the “Faith of our Fathers” has been passed from generation to generation.

The parish is blessed with three well established churches:

The magnificent St Mary’s Oratory in the town of Buncrana,

The beautiful Star of the Sea Church at Desertegney, &

The hugely impressive, St Mary’s Church at Cockhill.

The parish has been fortunate down the years in the commitment shown by its priests to the development and fostering of education among our young people through the development and maintenance of five primary schools.

As well as fostering the spiritual and educational needs of the people it is important to note that successive Parish Priests have displayed a great interest in promoting the provision of social facilities.


The greatest asset in the parish, is without doubt, the people. The people of Desertegney and Lower Fahan are active. There are many organisations involved in charitable, pastoral and spiritual work in the Parish. At the turn of the century (1901) the foundation stone for St Mary's Hall was laid and the building was completed in 1904. Today, St Mary's Hall consists of a Cinema/Hall and Community Centre. The Community Centre was added to the Hall in 1974. When the new school was built in Cockhill in 1984 a Community Centre for the people of the area was incorporated in the plan. With the opening of the school in Drumfries in 1996, the old building was handed over to the local community for use as a Youth Club.

In the 150 years since the building of St Mary’s Cockhill, the landscape and fabric of the parish has changed. Buncrana has developed into a busy, industrial town while our precious culture and environmental heritage is a source of enjoyment and delight for residents and visitors alike. The people, too, have changed in so far as they have met the challenges posed by an evolving modern society.



Bishop Edward Maginn

Edward Maginn, one of Derry’s most noted Bishops, was born in Fintona, Co. Tyrone in 1802 and moved with his parents to Buncrana where he spent part of his childhood. At 16 years of age he went to the Irish College in Paris to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 1825.

He returned as Curate to Moville and served there until 1829. He was passionately interested in every movement of the time, political, social and religious, fond of controversy , an untiring defender of such rights as the ordinary people enjoyed and no respector of those in position of power around him. He was a firm supporter of Daniel O’Connell in his struggle for Catholic Emancipation. He had already become a popular local hero among the people before he was appointed Parish Priest to Desertegney and Lower Fahan in 1829 on the death of his uncle and, here too, he threw himself into everything that was of benefit to the people.

When the National Schools scheme was set up in 1831, he began a huge scheme of building, huge when we consider the poverty of the day, and over the next number of years, built schools in Cockhill, Drumfries, Tullydish, Ballymacarry and Illies, two of which were in use until the mid 1990s. Times seemed to be on the mend, we now had schools and the penal laws were almost completely gone. The was a Church in Cockhill situated somewhere in the vicinity of the old graveyard.

In 1845, Fr Maginn was appointed Bishop due to the illness of Bishop McLaughlin. This was an immensely popular choice and £200 was collected throughout the Diocese to make him a presentation. This sum would now be valued at tens of thousands and shows in what high esteem he was held, not just in Buncrana, but all over his Diocese.

But, his reign as Bishop was not to be a happy one. The great famine was already ravaging the country. His efforts were now directed to the relief of hunger and the saving of lives. It is a token of Bishop Maginn’s courage that in the midst of this horror he built, and in the darkest year of the Famine, opened the Parish Church at Cockhill on Sunday 13th July 1847. 1847 was known long after as Black ’47. Around this time the British Government thought of a scheme to relieve the desperate situation at home by a transfer of one and a half million Catholics to Canada. A circular was sent to the Bishops to find out their views on the plan – Bishop Maginn stood fast against this, as he stated, “wholesale system of etermination.”

Two years later he fell victim to Typhus, one of the many diseases rampant at the time and died on 17th January 1849, after an illness of just three days.


Cockhill Church.

Bishop Maginn travelled as far as London to gather money for the building of Cockhill Church. He accepted money from all creeds with equal gratitude. A loan of £1000 from the Commissioner of Public Works was the major part of his collecting efforts. It was guaranteed by Big John Granny of Glenard and one of the Kellys, and took 30 years to repay. But, it was paid out in wages to the workers at a time when they had no other means of survival.

There was a policy, much favoured by the landlords to keep Catholic Churches out of towns. As we see in the case of Cockhill, the Church was built approximately one mile outside, a fairly common feature all over Ireland. And it is a pity that all traces of the older Church, which Bishop Maginn replaced, have been lost. A visible link between the Mass Rock on one side of the river and the present Church on the other would be of great interest.




The Stations of the Cross in St Mary's Church, Cockhill

Mariani was an Italian artist who was brought to Buncrana from Italy especially commissioned to do paintings for Cockhill. He lived in the Mill Brae. He painted the Nativity scene and Twelve apostles above the High Altar at Cockhill sometime in the 1890s. He also painted the two sets of the Stations of the Cross. One set was first displayed in the Old Methodist Meeting House beside St. Mary’s Hall when it became a temporary church. Afterwards they were use in the Star of the Sea chapel in Desertegney when the old meeting house was demolished in the late 1950s. The set of duplicate stations were kept in storage until the Oratory was built in 1929 and were displayed there.





The Stain Glass Windows of the Star of the Sea, Desertegney.

The beautiful church at Desertegney belongs to a people who live beside and with the sea. The building itself, with its long nave (from the Latin word navis, “a ship”) and its prow shaped sanctuary and stern-like baptistery and gallery area, may be likened to a boat. The tower has been compared to a lighthouse. The church is dedicated, most fittingly, to Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Fifteen stained glass windows – all like portholes – fill the building with rich, glowing light. These splendid windows create both warmth and awe in the hearts of believers who visit the chapel. What might these windows seek to suggest to us?

The Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, was dedicated and opened by Bishop Neil Farren on the Feast of Saint Eugene, Patron of the Diocese of Derry, on Sunday, 23rd August 1964. Designed by Liam McCormick (1916-1996), who was later to gain international recognition as Ireland’s premier church-architect, and built by Hegarty & Co. It cost £33,000 to erect and was completed in nine short months.



Buncrana Parish - St Patrick's Road, Buncrana, Co. Donegal : Tel - 00 353 (0) 74 9361253