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Bekan. A Window Into a Rural Parish in East Mayo. Where is Bekan?. Bekan parish is situated in East Mayo about midway between the towns of Claremorris and Ballyhaunis. Beacan: Saint or Legend?. According to local tradition, St.Béacán was born about a mile west of the centre of Bekan Village.

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A Window Into a Rural Parish in East Mayo

Where is bekan
Where is Bekan?

Bekan parish is situated in East Mayo about midway between the towns of Claremorris and Ballyhaunis.

Beacan saint or legend
Beacan: Saint or Legend?

  • According to local tradition, St.Béacán was born about a mile west of the centre of Bekan Village.

  • The old church gable standing in the cemetry is believed locally to be the remains of a monastic settlement founded by St.Béacán

  • . A circular mound of stones topped by an iron cross just outside the main cemetry wall is said to mark his grave

  • The 9th July was supposed to be the Saint’s Feast Day.

    (See article by Tom Waldron on Mayo Abbey)

Prehistorical bekan
Prehistorical Bekan

  • This is the megalithic wedge tomb at the highest point of the parish.

  • These tombs were in use as far back as 3,500 years ago.

  • This was restored in 1983 by students from Galway University under the direction of Dr. Etienne Rynne.

  • The site was officially handed back to the state.

A recently discovered wedge tomb
A Recently Discovered Wedge Tomb

  • Situated on lands belonging to the Forde family of Larganboy, this mound of stones has been identified as a wedge shaped gallery grave.

  • It is West facing, as is the Greenwood tomb and may date from around the same period.

Rev.Fr.Michael Comer R.I.P. standing on the mound of stones now identified as a megalithic tombin his native Larganboy

Old bekan
Old Bekan

  • This is the earliest map of Bekan from Sir William Petty’s atlas, called Hiberniae Delineatio, which was published in 1685.

  • The present townland names of Cloonacurry, Brackloon, Reisk, Derrymore, Treenrevaugh and Cloonbulban, among others are readily recognisable on the map.

  • Compare this with the next map of 1894 which shows the boundaries of the Catholic parish.

Island ogham stone
Island Ogham Stone

  • One of the finest examples of a celtic standing stone in the country.

  • This Ogham stone stands on lands owned by the Kelly Family about two miles from Ballyhaunis on the Knock road.

  • There is an inscription on the stone which translates as Cunalegi avi Qunacanos (Cuna Legi grandson of Quna Canos).

  • According to some experts, there appears to be a hollow chamber at the base of the stone.

Links with the ancient celtic gods
Links with the ancient Celtic gods

  • Manannan Mac Lir - (The Other World Lord or Mythical Mariner) is famed in County Mayo as a magician in late folklore. He lived in the Castle of Mannin in the Parish of Bekan which is about half an hour from Castlebar. The term Mac Lir means son of the sea rather than son of Lir as in the Children of Lir. His horse, which features prominently in the sculpture on the Mall, was known as Enbhar (which means water foam) and indeed Manannan is described as "a rider of the maned sea". His link with water is also apparent in that two of his daughters Glina and Monoge gave their names to two lakes in County Mayo. Manannan is also known as Oribsiu which is believed to be the word from which Lough Corrib is derived. When he died he was buried in Connaught and a new lake is reputed to have burst open over his grave. It is intriguing to speculate that this lake was in fact Mannin Lake which, ironically, was drained away in the 1960s as part of the Moy drainage scheme. Is his grave to be found in the swampland which now marks the old Mannin Lake?

  • (The above is the text of an article from the website on the fountain in the mall.)

Ancient dwellings
Ancient Dwellings

Bekan Lake


  • This is Bekan Lake. In the centre of the picture is a little island, overgrown with trees and coarse grass. This is widely believed to be the remains of a crannóg (lake dwelling). These came into use during the Iron Age but continued to be inhabited well into medieval times.

  • An ancient dug-out canoe, which was probably used to access the island is embedded in the mud at the bottom of the lake.

  • The remains of several crannóga have also been identified in the local Mannin and Island lakes.

A unique musical instrument
A Unique Musical Instrument

In August 1791, a strange and unusual musical instrument was found in the Bekan bog. It was made of wood and was bound with a bronze ribbon from end to end.

The instrument is thought to be unique and, as no similar instrument appears to exist, it has been titled the ‘Mayophone’. It is a hollow wooden tube, measuring about two metres in length.

Simon O’Dwyer of Prehistoric Music Ireland, after carrying out extensive research, has reconstructed a new model. Along with a wide variety of Bronze Age and Iron Age horns the Mayophone was demonstreted in Bekan School on the 30th Jan. 2004.

The original is currently in the crypt of the National Museum. It has been established that it’s age is at least 1,300 years.

Simon O’ Dwyer with the Mayophone in Bekan N.S.

Bekan old monastery
Bekan Old Monastery?

Is this the remains of a monastic settlement founded by the legendary St.Bekan? Local folklore holds that it is, but there is no hard evidence to support this. It may be the ruins of an old church dating back to around the 14th or 15th Century.

To hell or to connacht
“To hell or to Connacht”

  • The statement above was attributed to Oliver Cromwell. All of the existing Catholic landholders had to be west of the Shannon by May of 1654 or risk death.

  • The effects of the Cromwellian settlement were felt in Bekan Parish.The Crean family and others received land in the parish.

  • 1649 Fr.Walter Fulgentius Jordan 0.S.A. was killed by Cromwellian soldiers while saying mass at Redpark in the village of Cloontumper.

Oliver Cromwell

A bekan song plaincstidh b ac in

Triallaimis siar go Contae Mhuigheo

Mar a ‘bhfuil an fear óg sin ‘tá I mBéacán

Frainc de Burc, an t-ógfhir suairc

Is ailne ar mhaise’s ar bhreáthacht;

A leaca gheal nua is deise snua

Is a shúile gorma gan aon smál,

Níl aon fhear clúiteach sa domahn

Nach aige ‘tá a rún is a chéadghrá

Let us go over to Co. Mayo

To the young man who lives in Bekan;

Frank Burke, that young gay blade,

Paragon of beauty and excellence:

With his bright flawless cheeks

And shining blue eyes’

Not a man of renown in all the earth

But gladly admits him to his confidence and friendship

A Bekan Song Plaincstidh Béacáin

This song probably dates back to around the mid 18th Century. The Frank Burke mentioned in the song was most likely a member of a family of minor Catholic gentry who owned Spotfield Estate down to the end of the 18th Century

The translation is by Prof.Nollaig O Muraile

A link with a famous musician turlough o carolan
A Link with a famous MusicianTurlough O’Carolan

  • A noted visitor to the Bekan area in the 18th Century was the famous blind harper Carolan. He was a caller at the home of Captain Gerald Dillon, whose family owned Mannin House. At one time.Captain Dillon had a tune named after him.The following is a short article on O’Carolan

    (source: Enc.Britannica)

  • O'Carolan Turlough, also called Terence Carolan (born 1670, near Nobber, County Meath, Ireland, died March 25th, 1738, Alderford, County Roscommon), one of the last Irish harpist-composers and the only one whose songs survive in both words and music in significant number (about 220 are extant).The son of an iron founder, O'Carolan became blind from smallpox at the age of 18. He was befriended by Mrs. MacDermott Roe, the wife of his father's employer, who apprenticed him to a harper and supported him for the three years of his training, then gave him money, a guide, and a horse. As an itinerant harper, he traveled widely in Ireland. Although never considered a master performer, he was highly regarded as a composer of songs and improvised verse. His tunes appeared widely in 18th-century collections.

Mannin House

The man who gave a new word to the english language
The Man who gave a new word to the English language

Following a protest by tenant farm labourers against Lord Erne’s English agent Captain Charles Boycott of Lough Mask House in 1880, the phrase and the practice known as ‘boycotting’ began.

Boycott had purchased 95 acres of land in Kildara, Tulrahan in the parish of Bekan in 1879 for £1,125.He paid £525 to the Bank of Ireland and took a mortgage of £600 on the rest.

After Boycott finally had to leave Ireland, he still liked to return occasionally to Kildara on holidays.

Following his death in 1897, the lands were sold to meet his debts and Boycott’s last link with Bekan was broken.

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott

Bekan old school 1889
Bekan Old School 1889

  • The picture shows the OPW plans of Bekan National School, built in 1889.

  • The plans indicate that the school was intended to serve the needs of 300 pupils.

  • This school was closed in 1969, following a strike, in which the parents withdrew the children from the school in protest at the condition of the school. It was later renovated and now serves as a community centre

  • The present school was opened in 1969. It was extended and refurbished between 1994 and 1996


Modern Bekan

  • Map of Bekan showing the boundaries of both civil parish and the older Catholic parish

  • The area inside the continuous line shows the boundaries of the Catholic parish as drawn in 1894.The broken line shows the area which does not correspond to the Catholic parish.

  • The area inside the broken line (upper right) shows the part of the parish which was transferred from Bekan in 1894.

  • The part on the bottom between the broken and continuous lines was transferred from the parish of Annagh (Ballyhaunis) to Bekan.

Religious matters
Religious Matters

  • The only remaining part of the old church in Bekan is the entrance shown in the picture. The church was built around 1835 and demolished around 1934. The site for the church was given by the Burke family.The remains of four parish priests are buried on the site.

  • The sketch shows the church of St.Margaret Mary Alacoque which was built in the 1930’s by Fr. Charles White P.P> to replace the old church.

    It was renovated in 1968 by the P.P. Fr. Thomas McEllin and the shrine to Our Lady of Fatima, on the left, was erected by his brother , Fr.Ned McEllin, who succeeded him.


Men who served in Dáil Éireann

  • Dr.T.J. O’Connell (1882_1969)

  • Born in the village of Falmore.

  • Trained as a primary teacher in St.Patrick’s Training College.

  • Served as General Secretary of the INTO from 1916 – 48.

  • Was elected to the Dáil in 1922 as a Labour T.D. for Co. Galway.

  • Served as leader of the Irish Labour Party from 1927 – 32, during which time he also served as a T.D. for his native South Mayo.

  • Míchéal Ó Cléirigh from Logboy, pictured ‘on the run’ about 1921

  • .He was born in 1897 in the village of Cuslough.As a young man, he became involved in the activities of the Irish Volunteers and took the anti-treaty side during the civil war after the 1916 Rising

  • .He was elected a Fianna Fáil T.D. for Mayo and served from 1927 – 44.

  • Michael Dalgan Lyons.

  • Born in Greenwood Michael Lyons was elected a Fine Gael T.D. for East Mayo in 1965.

  • He served from 1965 to 1969.

Where time stands still
Where time stands still!

  • Is this the last remaining authentic, inhabited thatched cottage in Co. Mayo? Its present inhabitant claims that it is! It is certainly the last in the parish of Bekan. This beautifully preserved cottage is the home of Paddy Fanning and is a wonderful living link with the past. Stepping inside is like stepping back over a hundred years in time. Indeed, Paddy claims that the house has stood since before the 1840’s.

  • The violin, hanging beside the fireplace, is evidence of Paddy’s great love of music. It is one of many instruments which he still has after many years involvement in music.

  • Like many more of his peers, Paddy Fanning was forced to join the mass immigration of the 1940’s and 50’s. He spent much of his time in London where he met musicians from other parts of Ireland. They played in the Irish clubs and at Irish weddings and social gatherings during the 50’s.

A noted bekan theologian
A Noted Bekan Theologian

  • Rev. Dr.Enda McDonagh.

  • Born in Bekan in 1930.

  • Studied for the priesthood in Maynooth College.

  • Appointed professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law at the age of 28. He held the post for 35 years, from 1958 to 1995.

  • Subsequently appointed Director of Postgraduate Studies and Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Maynooth.

  • He is the author of many books and has countless specialised articles in Theology to his credit.

Rev. Dr. Enda McDonagh

Maynooth College


Larganboy Wedge Tomb

Where to look

Thatched Cottage

Island Ogham Stone

Greenwood Wedge Tomb

Bekan Lake Crannog

Bekan Church

Bekan Cemetry

The map shows the location of some of the main features mentioned in this presentation.