Posted by Shae on December 10, 2002
I was asked about the origin of the phrase by a student of the Unofficial University of Clare and, having searched the archives, found erudite ESC's explanation posted on May 19, 2000. Some additional and supportive information is provided by Terence Patrick Dolan in his 'Dictionary of Hiberno-English':
'Banagher, a place-name, a town in Co. Offaly in which the novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) spent some time as a Post Office surveyor but chiefly famous for its inclusion in the saying 'That beats [often pronounced /be:ts/] (or bangs) Banagher,' a common reaction to something extraordinary or absurd. Banagher was once a 'pocket borough', meaning that the local lord nominated its representatives in Parliament. The town became famous for this (once-common) undemocratic way of conducting politics, so if something was really anomalous it was said to 'beat Banagher.' Trollope, 'The Kellys and the O'Kellys, 221: "Conspiracy" av [if] that don't bang Banagher!""; Joyce, 'Finnegans Wake,' 87.31: "bank from Banagher"; Plunkett, 'Farewell Companions,' 293: "'That beat's Banagher,' he said."