Today marks the centenary of the death of one of the great benefactors to St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower.
Chevalier Bernard Hannigan died on the 21st January 1914 after a long life of 80 years.
He died following a short illness lasting three weeks. Although he was a Justice of the Peace at the time of his death, his profession throughout his life was as a pawnbroker, and he also held a prominent position in the poultry industry, something which his family were involved in to a large extent over many years.
His parents were called Bryan and Catherine Hannigan and in the 1839 directory of Londonderry his father is recorded as being in the egg, fowl, and butter shipping industry and his address is given as Bishop Street. This was an address the Chevalier himself lived in until his dying day, just on the corner of Palace St., with his sister Catherine. The house was previously occupied by his brother William.
He was well-known for his charitable works, especially to the Long Tower Church, making large donations to it over many years. The altar piece, “The Crucifixion”, which now hangs at the bottom of the stairs leading to the St Patrick’s Aisle Gallery, was donated by him many years before the present church was built. Another piece which was donated by him is the large jewelled monstrance, a gift in 1897 to mark the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Columba. The monstrance is inscribed with the relevant details under the base.
In the year 1907 Rev Fr. Willie Doherty announced to the congregation in Long Tower his intention to erect a new church there, due to the poor condition of the existing structure. He said he’d been able to procure extra land adjacent to the existing building and Mr Bernard Hannigan had gone a considerable way to offset the cost of the new build.
The church was built, and on 31st May 1909 and amid great fanfare and celebration, it was opened.
Later, on the 12th January 1911 ,it was announced that Mr Bernard Hannigan was awarded the Order of St Gregory, with the title of Chevalier, at the age of seventy seven. This honour was bestowed on him in the Bishop’s rooms in St. Columb’s College, due to his services to the poor and for his great generosity to the church.
As was mentioned earlier, the Chevalier died in January 1914 and was buried amidst much fanfare, his coffin being carried to the church with ceremonial sword and hat on top.
Immediately after his funeral mass the coffin containing his mortal remains was removed to the Derry City Cemetery.He lies in the same grave as his brothers and sister and mother. For some reason unknown to the author his father does not rest in this grave. In Long Tower there is a grave marked with the name Bryan Hannigan (1784-1842), which I believe to be his father.
In his will, which runs to three A3 pages, he left more monies to assist Fr. Willie in his paying off the debt due on the Long Tower Church build, so much so that the press reported: ” Long Tower parish now out of debt”. The priest had to go to the pulpit to clarify the position and confirm that a large amount of debt still remained despite Chevalier’s most generous bequest. There was also money to finance a trust which is still in operation today and yields a return towards a local charity.
If there is anyone out there who can add to this story or fill in the gaps in Bernard Hannigan’s life please contact Ivor Doherty on 02871265090.