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Local Stories Publications

The Life of Charles Thomson

John McHugh (A MHC Member) has made a very informative and enjoyable video on Thomson’s life and achievements. Charles Thomson was a patriot leader during the American Revolution, Secretary of the Continental Congress, signatory to the First Declaration of Independence and designer of the Great Seal of the United State.

He was born here in Maghera in 1729. He emigrated to America as a young boy and, although he arrived as a penniless orphan, he rose to become an eminent figure in his adopted homeland.

John McHugh’s video about the life of Charles Thomson.

He was known for his honesty, humanity and strict principles as well as for his abilities in regard to business and politics.

It is great that such a remarkable person be honoured in his hometown. We thank John very much for the idea of producing this work and for sharing it with us.

John himself was born in Fortwilliam outside Tobermore and, like Thomson, moved to America as a young child. However, he has always kept up his connection with the area and we are delighted with his support and promotion of our history and heritage.

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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’.

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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.’

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Local Stories

An Entrepreneur Born on the Streets of Maghera: By Conor O’Kane

An Entrepreneur born on the streets of Maghera.

When I was around 5 years old my dad had a joinery workshop on Glen Road. There were always a few trimmings and cut-offs lying around from the various wooden products he’d make. From these, myself and my friends would make bows and arrows and toy guns. We’d also steal a few sheets and planks to make tree houses and huts. If anyone was to dig up around what is now Fairhill Park they’d find the remnants of these old huts. This used to be a field in which we spent our summer months play fighting around the ruins of the old Fairhill school.

One day the entrepreneur in me kicked in and we discovered a wonderful use for the left-overs from my Dad’s work. At this time central heating was only for a few futuristic people. Everyone else had a fire and used sticks and coal to heat their homes. Myself and my neighbour filled turf bags with sticks. We got my dad to lift them onto a wheelbarrow and off we went on our trade mission along the houses of Glen close and Glen road.

Our customers were more than happy to hand over £1 for a turf bag of fire-lighting wonder. In a day’s work it wasn’t uncommon to get £10 – £15 between us. Although our entrepreneurial skills were working overtime at this young age, our savings and investments’ strategies needed some work. We’d take our sales for that day and make our way straight to Patsy Cassidy’s shop. (Now Kelly’s Eurospar). In those days £5 or £10 would buy enough sweets, ice lollies and lucky bags to cater for a party of around 30 children.

I loved my early days in Maghera. It was a wonderful, friendly town where everyone felt like family. I owe my current business skills and bad teeth to the story above