Local Stories

Cave Hill: Lecture by Cormac Hamill

Cave HillOn Thursday 16th March MHS members and guests were privileged to be treated to an unique insight into the geology, archaeology, botany and history of the Cave Hill This was delivered by Cormac Hamill, broadcaster and environmental campaigner. Cormac provided a comprehensive and entertaining exploration of the Cave Hill as he led us from the Basalt origins of the area to the present day hill with its five natural caves. In recent years, Cormac has been to the forefront in campaigning for the preservation of this natural treasure.

On our journey, we learned that man first appeared on the hill some 9000 years ago as the glaciers retreated. We heard how these early settlers made good use of the natural resources of the area, such as flint, to make instruments that aided their survival. The Celtic period, with its forts and souterrains, was also explored as were the 18th century politics of the Volunteers who trained on the hillside in preparation for anticipated French/American invasions.

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Cormac went on to talk about the Donegall family who were the original owners of Belfast Castle, which is situated high on the slopes of Cave Hill. The family’s influence on the city of Belfast and further afield was explored as were their fluctuating fortunes. A Maghera connection was also revealed.

Cormac’s talk was richly illustrated and he had brought with him rock samples and a flint artefact.He concluded with some excellent photography showing the spectacular views obtainable from the top of this historic and natural landmark which dominates Belfast.

Cormac has kindly offered to lead a walking tour of the Cave Hill.  Anyone who attended
the talk and wishes to take part should contact Peter Etherson at the Culture and Heritage Centre.

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Local Stories

Gatherin’ Spuds. By: Kenneth Murray

When I was growing up in Maghera in the fifties and sixties we were given time off school in October, known as ‘the potato gathering holiday,’ This provided an opportunity for us children to participate in the potato harvest – that is, those of us who were willing to take up the challenge and earn some extra pocket money in the process.

On my first day in the field I was gathering for a fair-minded man called Willie Paul. The work was steady throughout the day, and with the approach of evening, Willie duly decided it was quitting time. I received from him the much-loved, and later greatly missed, little ten-bob-note. To put this into perspective, my pocket money at the time would have been one shilling, while a quality bar of chocolate would have cost sixpence. This was the first time in my life that I had earned any money and I arrived back in Maghera, after walking home with my friends, a proud boy. I decided to buy a present for my mother and purchased a small bottle of perfume for 1/6 in Bobby Martin’s Chemist shop, which left me with 8/6 – a small fortune to me.

Conditions varied greatly from farm to farm. I can recall gathering at a farm on the verge of the town on the station road with my good friend Mervyn Cochrane and other children. This was one of the hardest day’s work we ever did. I can remember gathering to meet Mervyn and the large amount of potatoes lying between us. We had to go to the house to be paid, with the two of us receiving ten shillings but with some of the younger children receiving considerably less than this, perhaps as little as five shillings. This caused a bit of a stir when some of the youngsters arrived home, with one or two of the mothers considering going to the house to protest but then, I think, they decided to grudgingly accept it.

I was keen to gather potatoes during these years, even doing so after school, walking down the Mullagh Road with my good friend William Anderson to work on Marshal’s farm. It would have been common at that time for the farmers to have cruised about Crawfordsburn on a Friday night booking gatherers for the next day. If we were heading out into the country to a farm, getting to and from the field was, on occasion, verging on the comical. I was often amazed at how many gatherers could be transported safely in the back of a mini-van.

We gathered the potatoes into a large wooden creel, which two of us could lift, moving it forward of the potatoes yet to be gathered. It was wise to take time to scrape the muck off it as we worked, keeping it as light as possible. If the potatoes were being transferred from the creel to the bag that would have been the wrong time to share a joke, as this could have meant the potatoes toppling down the side of the bag instead of into it!

The small grey Massey Ferguson tractor was popular amongst the farming community in Maghera at that time – even for taking the wife into town to do a bit of shopping. This tractor, with a digger attached, dug the potatoes for us to gather. Once a drill had been dug, if the farmer was in no great hurry, he waited until we had gathered it all before digging the next one. This allowed us to have a short break before resuming work. Alternatively, if the farmer was in a more determined mood, he would have been digging the next drill while we were still gathering the previous one, what we would have referred to as ‘digging two ways’. This, of course, meant no break for us between one drill and the next.

I previously mentioned about the difference in conditions from farm to farm – a difference I still remember to this day. One pleasant day still stands out in my mind, I was gathering for Linton in the townland of Grillagh, and we were gathering ‘blues’. The pace was leisurely and the countryside was peaceful. As we gathered the potatoes they were placed in a heap forming a neat line. They were then protected from the weather by soil and straw. This process was known as pitting. The ‘blue’ potato was well liked and more common at that time than it is today – rather like a plain white unsliced loaf with a hard top and no wrapping paper! It was good to eat and, not being too small, easier to gather. In the middle of the day the woman of the house brought the food to the field in a large basket. I can remember so well the delicious egg and onion sandwiches we had that day along with the good strong mug of tea. It was almost like having a picnic. I received twelve shillings and sixpence for that day’s work. For a young gatherer like myself this was as good as it got.

Past Events

Poetry Evening in the Heritage and Cultural Centre

Organised by Raymond McNamee and compered by James Armour, the first poetry evening run by the Mghera Historical Society in the Heritage and Cultural Centre was a resounding success. Local poets read their work, old favourites were aired and the mood ranged from nostalgic and serious to humorous and witty. As it worked so well and everybody enjoyed it so much it has been decided to run a similar event in May so keep an eye out for the dIMG_2559ate.

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Poem Title                               Author                          Reciter


The Grassed Market;             Miller Kane           Raymond McNamee



The Lake Isle of Innishfree;  WB Yeats               Caroline O’Doherty

Digging                                  Seamus Heaney                  “

Mid- Term Break                   Seamus Heaney                   “



Mayogall Asses                      Miller Kane            Patricia Brodrick

Tamlaght O’Crilly                  Harry Armstrong                 “



The Moneysharvin Ball           Mick McAtamney    Peter Etherson

Donnellys Mill                         Mick McAtamney              “


Young Toms Creamery Can     Roy & Eliz Shiels     George Shiels

The Night The Auld Doll Died George Shiels                    “

Well Done My Son                    George Shiels                   “


Tom Gray’s Dream                  Retta Brown              Raymond McNamee

The Volunteer Organist           Gray & Lamb                           “


The Village where I was Born  Barney O’Kane         Joe McCoy

The Rowan Tree                                   “                              “


Drumnacannon bridge               Harry Armstrong      James Armour

The Arab Orange Lodge            Crawford Howard              “


The Cremation of Sam Magee   R W Service            Raymond McNamee

Fair Maiden                                PJ McMenamin                      “


Marquess of Queensbury Rules  Francie Kielt           Barney Kielt

Caskey’s Downfall                               “                               “


Green Eye of little Yellow God   Milton Hayes          Raymond McNamee

Me an Me Da                               WF Marshall           Raymond McNamee


The Master                                  Anne Brennan          Anne Brennan

Station Breakfast                                   “                                “


The Diagonal Steam Trap           Crawford Howard    Raymond McNamee

St Patrick & the Snakes                             “                               “


The Council & the Peacock        Francie Kielt             Barney Kielt

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Past Events

February Quiz Night

Once again Peter Etherson stepped up to the mark to deliver a quiz to test the limits of our general knowledge! In a close fought contest the winners were Ann Brennan, Carol and Matt Collier and Clare McKendry. As Jeremy Vine might say ………..Can nobody beat these Eggheads???? Try your skill at our next quiz coming up in March.Quiz 2

Past Events

St. Lurach. Patron saint of Maghera

The 17th of February is the feast day of St. Lurach, patron saint of Maghera. To mark the occasion Denver Boyd and Joseph McCoy gave a joint talk in the Heritage and Cultural Centre on the life of St. Lurach and the origins of the town itself – which grew up around the monastery founded by the saint. IMG_0917

Local Stories

The Old Bleach Linen Company

Arthur Houston visited the Heritage and Cultural Centre on the 16th February 2017 to deliver a scholarly and educational talk on the historic Old Bleach Linen Company based in Randalstown. Arthur has researched the subject in great depth and his enthusiasm was evident in the work that went into the preparation for this very interesting lecture. We are very grateful for the time and effort put in and all who attended the talk
have come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the subject based on the range and depth of the information presented by Arthur.


Past Events

Quiz Night

Peter Etherson, our firm but fair Quizmaster presided over a quiz in Walsh’s Hotel on Thursday 26th January at 8.00pm . All the questions were prepared by Peter and the feedback was that, while the standard was suitably challenging, the topics and range of the questions were very well-judged. It is intended to run a Quiz Night every month to act as a fund-raiser for the Society as well as being an enjoyable social evening for everybody attending.

Congratulations to the winners: Ann Brennan, Carol and Matt Collier, Clare, Frank and Veronica McKendry.



Past Events

Lesser Spotted Upperlands

On 19th January 2017 David Morrow gave a beautifully illustrated lecture here in the Heritage and Cultural Centre on the subject of the flora and fauna to be found in the area of Upperlands. He drew on his deep knowledge of the subject to deliver an interesting and enjoyable talk and open our eyes to the subtleties of the natural world around us. We will all glean a great deal more from our country walks having been inspired by David to look out for the details and delights of our local habitats. No doubt many of us will now be looking forward to visiting the walks and pathways around Upperlands too, as described so well by David.   Lesser Spotted Upperlands

Local Stories

Leap Frog and the Stooks: By: James Armour

Autumn was a very exciting time on the farm for myself and my four brothers. At that time of year there was always something interesting happening when we arrived home from school. One of the most exciting activities for us was reaping the corn. Then the neighbours would be there to help with tying the sheaves while myself and my brothers would take turns at sitting on the rear seat of the reaper operating the gear lever that engaged the driving mechanism.

We had lots of fun playing hide and seek around the stooks, watching and learning from the men mowing the hay, gathering sheaves to make stooks and later on ‘carrying in’ to my father when he was building huts of corn. These were the more enjoyable tasks for us when we were young but we also felt that we could have much more fun in the cornfield if none of the older people were around.

On Sunday, after Sunday school, when all was quiet we would disappear after dinner and head outside to make our own fun and have a good time. Uel, my older brother, whom we knew as the ringleader would always devise something. One Sunday he noticed that our neighbouring farmer had just cut his field of corn and of course, the recently built stooks had not yet wilted or bent over.  They were standing very upright as if in a military stance. Uel decided that these stooks were just exactly what we needed to have our game of leap frog. The stooks were of uneven height some had four sheaves others had three, so of course we were daring each other as to which one of us could jump the highest without knocking over the erect sheaves. We played for hours, had a great time but did not realise that half of the field of stooks were demolished as a result of our activities.

We headed home and on arrival we were asked by mother where we were, to which our reply was, ‘Just playing in the field’. ‘What field’? asked mother. ‘Ah just out the lane,’ was Uel’s reply. ‘Alright then, now get ready for bed and don’t forget you have school in the morning’.

Monday morning arrived, we were packed of to school and on the way we passed by the field we had so much fun in the previous day. Perhaps at the same time as we were having our mid-morning break the neighbouring farmer arrived in with my father for a chat and to discuss the problem he had experienced during the night with his field of corn. ‘Sam, did you hear the storm last night, the wind must have been fierce?’ No, I didn’t hear a thing’, was the reply. ‘That’s very funny, because do you know that field of corn we cut on Friday? It was completely flattened last night, must have been the wind. I’m surprised Sam that you didn’t hear it.’ My father would have thought for a moment or two and silently said to himself, ‘I know what happened to your field of corn stooks’.

Local Stories

The Mouse Who Came to Dinner: By: James Armour

The autumn was a favourite time of the year for most farmers. That was when they could harvest the crops that had been planted in the spring. By now the long hot summer was but a distant memory, the days were becoming shorter and the nights much longer. The golden landscape, the trees shedding their leaves, the pigeons coming home to roost in the beech trees before their last leaves fluttered to the ground were signs that a long harsh winter was approaching. Autumn brought the threshing of the corn and seed hay – the result of nature having done its duty over the earlier months.

At threshing time neighbouring farmers would arrive at the farm with an implement of their choice to take up their position around the haystack and threshing machine carrying out the task which they felt most suited them. It could be forking sheaves, taking off and tying bags of corn, threading the baler, feeding the thresher or maybe just wandering around not committing to any task in particular, but having a good craic with everyone. Father would often make the comment about such a person, ‘Sure he’s only here for his dinner’.

At 12.30 my mother would blow the whistle letting everyone know that dinner was on the table. The old Fordson tractor’s revs would be lowered, the drive belt pulley disengaged and, with a snatch of Freddie Caldwell’s sleeved arm, the belt driving the thresher would hit the ground at about 10mph. With the result of its rotational movement, the belt would screw its way along the ground and come to rest many yards away from its working position.

Dinner at midday on a working farm was a very formal affair, each worker entered the kitchen, after removing their cap (which they placed behind them on their seat) and took up their position around the table, the same position they had taken in previous years when helping at threshing time. One particular very close neighbour, Hugh McKeown, arrived every year with his pitchfork with the intention of forking sheaves of corn from the stack up on to the thresher. Normal protocol dictated that whoever was forking from the stack ensured the bottoms of their trouser legs were tied tightly with a piece of binder twine, this of course was to prevent any mice or small rats making their way up the wearer’s trousers. My father often told the story about Hugh, who one year unfortunately forgot to tie his trousers at the bottom with of course the inevitable happening. So, at this particular threshing event, when Hugh was sitting at the dinner table enjoying his well-earned meal, a little mouse made the journey from the leg of his trousers up through his waistcoat and shirt eventually popping out on to his shoulder where it sat wondering what to do next. Then a neighbour from across the table shouted ‘Hugh there’s a mouse on your shoulder’. Suddenly, at hearing the noise, the mouse took one giant leap into the unknown and landed straight in the middle of Hugh’s plate of stew. I think my father exaggerated a little here when he went on to say that Hugh picked up the mouse by the tail, wiped it down with his hand and then threw it out through the door, returning to carry on with his dinner. My father’s final comment was, ‘You see, Hugh doesn’t like to waste good food.’