Maghera Past and present – A view of Maghera in 1913

Lower Main Street, Maghera circa 1903 400x254

Maghera Past and present – A view of Maghera in 1913The Larne Times & Weekly Telegraph covered the town of Maghera in an interesting and wonderfully detailed article featured in their 8th November 1913 edition. This was part of their ‘In Ulster towns and villages’ series of articles and gives a wonderfully informative  zeitgeist of Maghera on the eve of World War I:

          IN ULSTER TOWNS AND VILLAGES

WITH CAMERA AND NOTEBOOK.

MAGHERA PAST AND PRESENT

 Co. DERRY’S OLDEST TOWN.

Progressing to Maghera in continuation of our series of articles on Ulster towns and village the ancient town of St. Lurach is the next natural stopping place after Castledawson and Magherafelt, the outlines of whose history we reviewed last week. If instead of the sequence of geographical situations we had consulted the interests of cultural precedence, Maghera should be given premier place in Derry by way of its rank and standing as the oldest town in the county.

The authority of Lewis, without whose topographical records the country would be much [poorer?] it is not necessary to establish the fact that Maghera is a place of great antiquity. The town to this day bears silent but indisputable testimony, not merely to its existence, but also its great importance, in early epochs of Ireland’s history, when many centres have grown up in the intervening centuries had not taken form from out the forest that covered wide tracts of what is now [ ] pasture land. The Plantation [period marks] the beginning of quite a large [  ] in the northern towns of Ireland. Not such Maghera. Three hundred years have passed into history since first settlers under King James’s scheme of colonisation [mov]ed to the regions watered by the Lower Bann. Twice or thrice three hundred years would not carry us back to the times when Maghera first assumed prominence as a centre of.

LIGHT AND LEARNING.

 St. Lurach’s Old Church.

Although we are told there is no precise account of the original foundation of an abbey for Canons Regular, believed to have been established there at a very early period, yet it is beyond controversy that at so remote a time as 537 the ancient see of Ardstra or Ardstrath was removed to the town. In the olden times the place was called Machaire Ratha Luraigh- Machaire meaning a plain (as in Magherafelt, the plain of the rushes). Gradually the name changed to its present form, Ratha Luraigh means the fort of Lurach, St. Lurach being the patron saint of the parish. This eminent ecclesiastical, of whom the town has more than one memorial, substantial as well as legendary, throws the mind back to the days of St. Patrick himself. Lurach, like many another Irish saint, was of Royal Lineage, and had close family ties with the patron saint of Ireland. One has but to turn to the ruins of St. Lurach’s Church, happily in an excellent state of preservation, to find abundant confirmation as to Maghera’s importance in the era in which Ireland won its first fame as the home of saints and scholars. The old church and grounds have been the hunting ground of the antiquarian and archaeologist who have written and lectured upon some of its features which have a distinctiveness of their own among Irish ecclesiastical remains. Some portions bear marks of very remote antiquity. The square-headed western doorway, with its representation of the Crucifixion, rudely sculptured in high relief with the company of the apostles, has long fascinated the attention of those who find a delight in the study of these memorials of an age, of which relics are but too few. It has been estimated that the date of this interesting piece of sculptury is between the years 960 and 1,000 A.D.. Lewis, in his indispensible Topographical Dictionary (1837) mentioned not only the fact that in the churchyard are the tomb and pillar of Leuri (or Lurach, but added that the grave of the patron saint was opened early in the last century, when a silver crucifix was found in it, and was carefully replaced. It has been placed on record that this addendum had been better suppressed, as it is related that a couple of thieves came afterwards, opened the grave, and

STOLE THE SACRED RELICS.

An information was sworn by the late Alexander Hipson, of Maghera, describing the thieves, and the late Rev. Spencer Knox had them followed to Magherafelt and Moneymore, but unfortunately all traces of them was lost. Readers of the “Ulster Journal of Archaeology” were indebted over ten years ago to the late Mr. A. K. Morrison and to Mr. S. D. Lytle for a copy of the deposition of Hipson, describing the disgraceful act of vandalism, and we take leave to reproduce it here. MADGHS

It was sworn and signed on January 20, 1865, before Mr. J. J. Clarke J.P., at Largantogher, as follows:-

I Alexander Hipson of Maghera in the county of Londonderry carpenter do solemnly & sincerely declare that in or about the year 1839 I think in the month of March I was in the employment of the Rev. James Spencer Knox rector, of the parish of Maghera, when one morning having to pass through the old graveyard on my way from the glebe house to the town of Maghera to buy nails I met two persons dressed like gentlemen in the graveyard, one had a paper in his hand, on which there was writing. He asked was I a native of the town I said I was. He then enquired if there was a long grave in the churchyard in which Saint Lorny was buried. I said I had often heard of it. He again asked if it had a black whin stone for a head stone I told him it had. He looked at the paper and bid the other gentleman to come along. We went together to the grave which I pointed out. He took a rule out of his pocket & measured the grave which he compared with the writing on the paper with it and the headstone. At his request I got him a spade from James Cassidy who was planting potatoes. On giving him the spade he gave me a half crown piece & said to me & Thomas Quinn who had just come up that we might go and have a glass. We went to Billy Crocketts had a glass & divided what was left of the half-crown between us. I then went to Harry Porters the nailer, got the nails & returned  through the graveyard, and there found the two gentlemen filling up the hole in the grave that appeared about 2½ feet long & about 2 ft broad. I don’t know the depth. On the grass was a handkerchief spread out the wind raising it up I saw underneath a cross which might be about 18 inches long. They then left taking the cross with them. I began to think I should tell Mr. Knox & went to the hall door, but he was not in the house. Half an hour after I returned I found him in his study and told what had occurred.  He sent me immediately to the hotel kept by Mr Falls to make enquiry who said, they had been gone for some time, but whether to Moneymore or Magherafelt he could not say. Mr Knox & myself then drove in his gig to Magherafelt but could not find any trace of them there but got a fresh horse & proceeded to Moneymore, with no better success-  came back by Desertmartin to Magherafelt hoping to meet with them Mr Knox having left instructions in Magherafelt to have them detained should they make their appearance there. Mr Knox told me afterwards he had reason to believe they had gone to Dungannon & was greatly displeased with Mr Falls as he blamed him for misleading him.

This is the story which, in point of detail, certainly seems very circumstantial. The resting-place of St. Lurach is marked by a rude whinstone, which is evidently the remains of a cross. The hope has been more than once expressed that some suitable monument should mark the resting-place of Maghera’s patron saint, but this natural and commending desire has not yet been realised. There is a local tradition that an underground passage existed between the old church and the church of Mullagh Hill, about a mile distant. No one, however, has been industrious enough to test the accuracy of tradition by any extensive excavation.

A FAMOUS WELL

Another reminder of St. Lurach is the well which perpetuates his name to the present day. It is in the centre of the town not far from the principal street, at the entrance of Mr. John Marker’s yard. The well was for a considerable time the principal source of the water supply for the town, but was closed in recent years by the district authorities, and a pump erected over it. The legends concerning the efficacy of the waters of the well, as may well be conceived, are numerous.

Reverting to the earlier times we recall that for nearly 600 years Maghera continued to be the seat of the diocese but in 1158 it was united to the See of Derry and the cathedral church was established in that city. The transference meant more than a mere loss of prestige to the ancient town, for it appears to have declined rapidly in importance after that period, and a few events of historical interest occurred, except occasional depredations during the insurrections of the O’Nials, to whom the surrounding territory belonged. On the plantation of Ulster the lands of the ancient See of Maghera were confirmed to the Bishop of Derry, and other parts of the parish were also assigned by James I to the Mercers’, Vintners’, Salters’, and Drapers’ companies of London, who retained possession till their disposal under the Land Acts of the last few decades. In the war of 1641 Maghera suffered very heavily, being burned by the insurgents under Macdonnell. It was in that terrible period that the ironworks which were established at Drumconready in the reign of Charles I, were destroyed. In 1688 the town, which had scarcely recovered from its former devastation, was assaulted by the Irish adherents of James II, and the inhabitants were compelled to abandon their houses and seek refuge in the city of Derry. 1641 and 1688 are outstanding dates, but much could be written of long periods during which hardships tried the people of Maghera, as well as the country’s inhabitants generally. We must hasten on, however, and come to

THE 1798 EPOCH,

Which not unnaturally had its influence upon the folk in and around Maghera. Times were different then, and the general discontent, which was generated by causes which should have been removed, found expression in the well-known incidents of the period. In our reference to the history of Presbyterianism we touch incidentally upon ’98. Suffice here briefly to relate that in Maghera a corps was formed called the Maghera National Guards, which was composed principally of Presbyterians, and a number of Roman Catholics and even a few Episcopalians joined the ranks. The corps was about 5,000, but only a tenth of them had firearms, the remainder carrying pikes, pitchforks, spades, and bludgeons. They assembled at Crewe Hill on the 7th June, 1798, but owing to the defeat of the other corps of United Irishmen in the neighbourhood when the soldiers put in an appearance they disbanded. Some of the leaders escaped to America. Walter or “Watty” Graham was not so fortunate. He found shelter in Limavady, but was betrayed, and brought back to Maghera, where he was hanged, the place of his execution in the Square being pointed out to the present day. His servant man, reputed to be dull-witted, was ordered to proclaim at intervals as his master’s head was carried on the top of the pole through the streets- “Behold the head of a traitor”. The man, whether intentionally or not is not known, cried out,

“BEHOLD THE HEAD OF THE CRAYTURE!”

Many of the people emigrated to America at these times. England had cause to regret her misrule of the country afterwards. In America the Ulster people proved England’s most bitter enemies when that country was wrested from the British. It is a well-known fact that the Declaration of Independence was principally signed by Irish Presbyterians. Two of the signatories on that historic roll are Charles Thompson and a man named Hawthorne, two Maghera Presbyterians. Only two of the signatories added any address, and one was Thompson, who was proud to place Maghera after his name.

MODERN MAGHERA – INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT.

It is a long skip from 1798 to 1913, but in the interests of space we are compelled to make it. As we have said, Maghera is a town which can boast an historic continuity that none of its neighbours can eclipse. While proud of its almost unique record in this respect, the town by no means lives in the past, its inhabitants being animated by a spirit of progressiveness that has left its impress in many directions. It enjoys the reputation of being the most progressive market town in South Derry. Modern Maghera is improving materially both as regards size and importance. The installation of electric light is one of the indications of its up-to-dateness.

  

By far the most important event in recent times was the establishment of the new handkerchief embroidery works in Hall Street by Messrs. Glendinning, McLeish & Co., Belfast, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. The advent of this industry as thus introduced holds encouraging potentialities for the future, and will be destined to mark a new era in the history of the town. The splendid structure in fine modern style means more than an ornate addition to Maghera’s buildings, but will prove a boon to the people around, as the prosperity of the works will reflect its influence on the town in an altogether gratifying way. The number of hands employed at present s necessarily somewhat limited, but larger schemes are in the air, including the erection of a large factory, into which the girls, after training in the embroidery works, will be qualified to pass. We trust, with every well-wisher of the town, that nothing will stand in the way of expansion and development. Our illustrations include one or two representations of machine embroidery as carried on in the interior of the well-lighted and pleasantly-ventilated works. The Juxtaposition on the same page of such widely differing views as that of the old Abbey Church and of those depicting his recent industrial development may seem to savour of the incongruous. And yet is there not in them a faithful reflex of Maghera- the one representing the glory of its storied past and the other pointing to the hopes of a brightening future?

A word or two must be said in regard to the churches. The present parish church, of which the respected incumbent is Rev. A. H. Maturin, dates back to 1820. The exact date upon which the last services were held in the old church is not known, but it is likely that the devotions of the church people were conducted there up to the consecration of the present church. The inscription on a stone above the doorway of the modern parish church reads:

ERECTED

A.D.

1820.

REV. J. SPENCER KNOX,

RECTOR.

A. SINCLAIR AND W. MILLER,

CHURCH WARDENS.

Colonel Clark has recalled the fact that his late father, who was born over a century ago, worshiped in the old church. Compared with its venerable predecessor, the “new” parish church is but an “infant”, and yet in a few short years the centenary of its consecration will be celebrated!

PRESBYTERIANISM- A UNIQUE HISTORY.

Columns could be written, and indeed, have been written, of the history of Presbyterianism in Maghera. To the researches of Mr. S. Lytle, a leading merchant of the town, the community owes much for the information which from time to time he has brought to light concerning former times not alone in regard to the Church of which he is an honoured member, but in regard to the general history of the town. As Mr. Lytle pointed out on a public occasion over five years ago, the Presbyterian Church in Maghera has a history in many respects unique. The church was on two occasions closed by a partial Government, once it was burned, and in 1798 it was used as temporary quarters by the Tipperary Militia. The first mention that can be found of the Maghera congregation was in 1665, when a Mr. Anthony Kennedy, of Templepatrick was sent to supply the pulpit for two Sabbaths. The first minister appointed was Robert Rowan, who was placed in charge in 1658, but, after the restoration, which occurred a short time after his appointment, he went over to the Episcopalian Church and became rector of Maghera. The Presbyterian Church was closed, but the congregation continued their worship in a building accommodating 500 people provided by Major Montgomery, a member of the Established Church. For his catholicity of spirit the major was arrested- such was the spirit of tolerance in those early times. The succession of ministers till the famous Dr. Glendy was- Rev. James Kirkpatrick, Rev. John Tomb, Rev. Archibald Boyd, Rev. James Dykes, and Rev. David Smylie. In 1785 the church was removed to its present site from Fair Hill, where one of the foundation stones of the former building is to be seen. The name of Rev. Dr. Glendy, who was a man of outstanding abilities, stands out conspicuously on account of the prominent position he took in the rebellion of 1798. Upon the disabilities of the Presbyterians and all religious bodies except the Established Church and the causes of the ’98 rising it is happily not for us to dwell here, as they are common history. There is no evidence to show that Dr. John Glendy was not a United Irishman, but there is not the slightest doubt that he was in thorough sympathy with their principles. He was, accordingly, a marked man. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and when the soldiers arrived at his house, which occupied the site of Mr. Henry Shiver’s house, they found Dr. Glendy had escaped. Hs house and property was burned, and the doctor found refuge in “The Grove”, where Mr. Wilson now resides. He eventually made good his escape in feminine garb, and in Baltimore, America, founded a church, over which he presided for many years. He became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, then

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,

Who became his friend, and in 1805 Glendy was appointed chaplain of the House of Representatives, and in 1815 served the Senate in the same capacity. Dr. John Glendy’s successors in the pastorate of Maghera were Rev. Charles Kennedy, ordained 29th July, 1801 ; Rev. Smylie Robson, 16th June, 1843 ; Rev. Dr. Witherow (afterwards professor in Magee College), 1st October, 1845 ; Rev. Dr. Leitch (now President of Assembly College, Belfast), 2nd October, 1866; Rev. R.H.F. Dickey, B.D. (now Professor in Magee College), 26th January, 1880 ; Rev. Dr. Hall (who afterwards took up duty in Colbrooke Row, London, and Coleraine), 16th September, 1891 ; and Rev. Dr. Magill, 4th February, 1900, who resigned in 1903, when he was appointed professor in Toronto, and is now Minister of Agriculture in Canada. The present minister is Rev. Wm. McMurray, who was ordained on March 3, 1904. It is not out of place to add that during Mr. McMurray’s pastorate many improvements have been effected. What is practically a new entrance to the church has been made, at a cost of about £400, while there has been purchased an acre of ground adjoining for a graveyard. A wall has been built all around, and stabling and coach-houses, for the use of country members, have been provided, while electric light has been installed in the church. Among many others, the following may be mentioned as having been at one time members of Maghera Presbyterian Church- The Rev. Dr. Cooke, who was baptised by the Rev. Dr. Glendy in the Presbyterian Church; Rev. Jackson Graham, Rev. William McCullaugh, Rev. Joseph Barkley, Cormany ; Rev. Thomas Lyttle, Sandymount, Dublin ; and the Rev. Robert G. Milling, Ballinahinch ; also Judge Barkley, all of whom have passed away. Rev. John Macmillan, late Moderator of Assembly ; the Rev. Dr. Patterson, of May Street, Belfast; Professor Woodburn, of Magee College ; and Rev. James Woodburn, of Castlerock, were also members of the church in former days.

FAMOUS MAGHERA MEN.

Amongst the men of wide renown who claimed the neighbourhood of Maghera as the place of their nativity and upbringing, foremost place will be given to the late Rev. Henry Cooke, D.D., L.L.D., the eminent Presbyterian orator and theological controversialist. Dr. Cooke was born on the 11th may, 1788, in a cottage, traces of which no longer remain, in the townland of Grillagh, about a mile and a half north of the town. His father’s house stood on the declivity of a hill. The road to Coleraine then passed over the summit of the hill ; now the new road winds around the base, and on the sloping ground between the old road and the new road was placed the mansion. Like almost every other great leader of men, Cooke was of humble origin. The stock from which he sprang, though poor as the world estimates wealth, was rich in independence and industry. His father was a farmer and his mother had been a farmer’s daughter. By fidelity to their common task they were enabled to transmit to their children, of whom Henry was the youngest, the priceless inheritance of a stainless and honoured name. Much of his stock-in-trade as an orator was inherited, his attractive appearance and his marvellous powers of memory. His speeches were word pictures that dazzled the eyes of all with their beauty. His mind was a galaxy, not of old masters, but of original works of art, whose colour and technique nevertheless revealed an intimate acquaintance with all the best. Neither as a lad at school nor as a youth at college did Cooke display any evidence of the great powers that lay slumbering in his soul, yet, though uncapped with academic honours, he did not go empty away, but carried with him a taste for reading, combined with a knowledge of how to read, which were the highest accomplishments in the gift of a university. As a boy Cooke had witnessed the horrors of the ’98 times, and they left a deep impress on his young mind. Thus he became the confirmed antagonist of every liberal sentiment and the consistent supporter of the powers that were. His college days having drawn to a close, he was ordained, though only in his twentieth year, as assistant and successor to the Rev. Robert Scott at Duneane, a settlement which turned out anything but happily. It could hardly have been otherwise, the two men being as far removed as the poles from one another in temperament and ability. Scott not only held Arian views, but discharged his duties with apathy. Cooke was evangelical and deeply interested in his mission and in his message. He deemed it wise to resign, and after a short interval, occupied as a tutor, he was installed in Donegore, a large and important congregation of about 500 families. The spheres of his subsequent labours were Killyleagh to Belfast. His reply to the Rev. J. Smithurst, which was the beginning of the struggle between Arianism and orthodoxy, culminated in the great debate that took place in Lurgan on the 30thof June, 1829. The one political act of Dr. Cooke’s life , which gave most satisfaction to his brethren, was the bold stand which in 1841 he made against the Repeal of the Union, his challenge of Daniel O’Connell to a public discussion of the whole subject, a challenge which the “Liberaltor” deemed prudent to decline, enhanced his already great popularity. Had Dr. Cooke been guided by no higher motive than the ambition of worldly success he would have sought some more conspicuous field than a remote province in Ireland for the exercise of his great and varied powers. A Scottish parish, a London congregation, a seat in the House of Commons were positions quite within his reach at an early period of his career. But on principle he shut out all such suggestions, and gave his undivided strength to the Church in whose membership he was born, and to the community among whom his lot had been cast. For the last 40 years of his life he was the most conspicuous personage not only in Belfast, but in Ulster. When at the close of a long and laborious life death called him away (13th December, 1868), the whole province did him honour in a manner such as was never shown to any man who hitherto died in Ulster. Belfast buried him with the burial of a king.

Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, the famous Biblical commentator, was a native of Maghera district, having been born at Moybeg in 1760. Although as a lad he received a very sparse education he blossomed forth into one of the most learned divines of the Wesleyan connexion, a man distinguished for the remarkable variety of his gifts, especially as a linguist. He was president of the Conference three times, an almost unique record. His great work was his commentary, the first volume of which appeared in 1810, and the last in 1826. By special request of the British and Foreign Bible Society, he prepared their Arabic Bible. Dr. Clark was offered a bishopric in England, but declined it. He died of cholera in London in 1832.

Hall Street (Wth RIC baracks)    Hall Street National School

PLACES OF INTEREST

We approach the end of our review with a brief allusion to some spots of interest in the neighbourhood. About an English mile from Maghera, at Tirnoney, there is a very fine cromleac, near to which Lewis says there is an artificial cave formed of field stones and covered with flags; but that there is a souterrain there is doubtful. To the northwest of the cromleac, about 200 yards distant, there are the ruins of Killelagh old church, a very ancient structure, but unfortunately no reliable record can be found regarding its erection. The building, like so many others, is stated to have been destroyed in the wars of 1641 by the Earl of Tyrone and subsequently rebuilt. Lying close to the wall of the churchyard is a large flat stone, 3ft. by 4ft., and about 6in. thick, with two basin-shaped cavities. Close to this old church is a very fine rath, with one circumvallation. About two miles farther there is a sweathouse in Tirkane, with a well a few yards distant from its entrance. The favourite explanation of this sweathouse is that it was used to perform the purpose of Turkish baths, and as a cure for rheumatism and kindred complaints. A fire was lighted on its flagged floor, and when well heated, the fire was cleared out, and after the patient had dipped himself in the well, he was closed up in the house until he perspired profusely, with beneficial results. There are several other places in the neighbourhood of traditional interest, such as giant’s graves- one in Slaghtnail and one in Corlecky, also the remains of what is said to be one of the places of some of the Irish kings in Granaghan. At there is a very large and perfect rath at Dunglady. It is encompassed by treble walls and a trench, but unfortunately, there are no records regarding its occupation. It is said to be one of the most perfect in Ireland, and commands a most extensive view of the surrounding country. There are several other raths and forts in the parish. Numerous celts, swords, spear heads, and ornaments of bronze and brass have been found in the parish and vicinity.

In a sketch like the foregoing much has necessarily been omitted, but we trust we have indicated, even in a general way, sufficient to show that if Maghera had been excluded a prominent place in our present series the omission would have been grave and unpardonable.

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