Past Events

Traditional Music Evening

Traditional music evening in Maghera Heritage & Cultural Centre
Enjoying an evening of traditional music in Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre

Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre hosted a relaxed evening of traditional music and song last night – Saturday 29th October. Mick McElkenny, Phillip Hutchinson and Laurence Moran brought back memories of earlier years of neighbourly get-togethers among friends.

Mick McElkenny at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre
Mick McElkenny at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre


Alice McMurray joined the trio for a few nostalgic songs and we must thank everyone involved for their input – particularly Pat Rafferty for organising the evening and Annette Rafterty for the welcome refreshments.

Phillip Hutchinson and Laurence Moran at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre

Past Events

Ancient Irish DNA. Where do we all come from? A talk by Professor Dan Bradley TCD

Professor Dan Bradley speaking at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre
Professor Dan Bradley speaking at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre

It was standing room only at Maghera Heritage and Cultural Centre on Thursday night, 27th October, when locally-born Professor Dan Bradley returned to his roots to deliver a fascinating lecture on ancient Irish DNA. Professor Bradley has led a team, at Trinity College Dublin, which  sequenced the first ancient genomes from Ireland shedding new light on the genesis of Celtic populations.

The science of genetics is really the science of inheritance and provides a wealth of information about ourselves and our ancestry.  Using a technique called whole genome analysis, the team examined the remains of a stone-age woman farmer, one of the first farmers in Ireland, who was buried over 5,000 years ago in Ballynahatty near Belfast and those of three men buried in Rathlin Island during the bronze age – between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. The results give a fascinating glimpse into where we came from who we are and what characteristics we share as a people
Among many fascinating observations Prof. Bradley illustrated how early Irish farmers were similar to southern Europeans.  It also appears that with the advent of the Bronze Age genetic patterns changed quite dramatically as newcomers from the Black Sea area of eastern Europe settled in Ireland. Prof. Bradley also observed that Ireland has the world’s highest frequencies of genetic variations pertaining to lactase persistence – the ability to drink milk into adulthood – and certain genetic diseases, including one of excessive iron retention called haemochromatosis. This appears to have resulted from the Bronze Age migration which eventually arrived on Irish shoresimg_1358
Prof. Bradley was closely questioned in a follow up Q and A session which continued over tea and late into the evening. Thanks to Dan and his team, the question of who we are may not be as simple as many of us thought. Many thanks also to those involved in arranging the evening. In particular, to Prof. Bradley who gave so generously of his time and also Annette Rafferty who yet again provided the welcome refreshments.


Past Events

Society Launch

The MHS began as an informal group of members, drawn together by a shared interest in the history and heritage of the town. Local historian Joseph McCoy led the group, which had a large and enthusiastic number of followers on Facebook. Inspired by the obvious support in the area for the Society it was decided that the time had come to place it on a more formal footing, elect a chairman and committee and adopt a constitution setting out the aims, objectives and structure of the Society.


The first step was to call an open meeting in the Link, on the 10th November 2014, which was attended by about 40 people from the district. James Armour, who had recently returned to the town after a long absence,  was the  organiser of this development. On the night the purpose of the Society was discussed in depth. This included its role in  researching and  promoting  local history and heritage as well as documenting and preserving it. A core value of the Society was seen to be its openness and inclusivity.

Office bearers and a committee were elected on the evening to help move the new society forward. In alphabetical order these were James Armour, Denver Boyd, Izchel Boyd, Bruce Clark, Brendan Convery, Fergal Cudden, Peter Etherson, Kate Lagan, John Marquess, Joseph McCoy, Pat Rafferty and William Sufferin. Joseph McCoy was elected Chairperson, Denver Boyd Vice-Chairperson, James Armour Honorary Secretary and John Marquess Treasurer.

The next few months were a busy time for the MHS with a constitution being drawn up and adopted to give the organisation a legal foundation. A comprehensive programme of events was put in place to run throughout the year and a fund-raising plan was put into action which turned out to be very effective in establishing a financial basis for the Society to operate from.

On the 31st March 2015 the MHS was formally launched by Dr. Bill Macafee, the distinguished historian and author, at a gala event in Walsh’s Hotel, Maghera in front of an audience of over 150 people.



James Armour, the Honorary Secretary, acted as Master of Ceremonies and began by explaining the aims of the organisation  and pledging that the Society would straight away start looking for suitable premises in the town to set up a Cultural and Heritage Centre which will serve many functions. He said that he saw the Centre as a focal point for all those interested in Maghera, both its past heritage  and its present-day culture. The Centre would act as a safe archive for artefacts, memorabilia, photographs etc. relating to the local area, it would be open to the public and reach out to all communities and cultures in the town, seeking to include as many people as possible in its work.  ‘The Society is for everybody, it has an open door policy and all the people of Maghera are welcome to join’

James then referred movingly to a book he is writing based on his childhood memories growing up in the Beagh with his four brothers on his father’s farm. He dedicated the work he has done on behalf of the Society to the memory of his parents and his brother Uel, a well- known figure in the town who sadly passed away in his early years.

Joseph McCoy, the Chairperson of the MHS gave a very inspiring talk on the foundation of the organisation. Drawing on his deep knowledge based on many years of research he spoke of the history of the town. He was followed by the Guest Speaker, Dr. Bill Macafee. He congratulated the Society on the Launch which he likened to the launch of a ship setting out on a voyage of discovery. He emphasised the importance of all historical societies and spoke with passion of the need to document and record the history and lives of people from the 1950s onwards, an era that is now part of history and must be documented before it is too late.


Cllr. Jim Campbell, marked the launch as one of his last official engagements as Vice-chair of Magherafelt District Council and a representative of the people of the local area – an historic occasion itself. He wished the society well and pledged to give what help he could going forward. Denver Boyd, the genealogist on the team, and Vice-Chairperson of the society, spoke of the fragility of memory and how soon information could be forgotten if an effort was not made to document it. He emphasised that the Historical Society had a vital role to play in recording the past to preserve it for our descendants. As part of the ceremony Brendan Convery, through old cine film footage of the town, and Pat Rafferty through a display of old postcards, reminded us how Maghera looked in days gone by. Bruce Clark (who set up a display of artefacts from his family’s Linen Industry) gave a summary of all that had been said and thanked the speakers. He then went on to give a fascinating personal and philosophical slant on the role history can play in a person’s life.



Past Events

Time Capsule


30th December 2015 – 30th December 2115

One of the first projects to take place in the Heritage & Culture Centre was the preparation and sealing of a Time Capsule. We thought that this was a good way to represent the aims of the Maghera Historical Society. The Capsule is not only a way to communicate with the generations to come, but also symbolises the whole town coming together to work towards a positive and peaceful future for our descendants.


Over the year everybody was invited to contribute messages, memorabilia, photographs, newspapers, information and messages to be sealed within the Capsule. The local schools all became involved with many pupils giving photographs and messages which will not be seen again until the Capsule is opened in 100 years-time.

The official sealing took place on the 30th December 2015 in the Centre. James Armour acted as Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and in this role explained that the idea behind the Capsule was to bring the town together and act as an expression of faith in the future of Maghera. He said that he believed that the way to understand the hearts and minds of a generation was through an appreciation of the memories, stories and songs of everyday life rather than the major political issues of the time. Through the personal information preserved in the Capsule people in Maghera, a hundred years into the future would get a real insight into life in the town in 2015.

Joseph McCoy, Chairperson of the MHS then spoke and drew an interesting comparison between the modern day capsule and the way in which an historical structure, such as St.Lurach’s, can function as a time capsule itself.  As Joseph said, ‘Walking around the old church you are aware of the changes in the masonry and stone work from the early Christian beginnings of the site through to the 10th century walls, the magnificent, carved lintel dating from the medieval period and the tower added in the 17th century.  The church stands as a built record of over a thousand years of history’.

Fergal Cudden, the youngest committee member of the MHS, represented the younger people of the town at the ceremony. He spoke of growing up in Maghera and how he enjoyed the peaceful friendly pace of life there. He referred to his deep connection with the town and how he saw this sense of belonging continuing down the years to future generations. He also spoke of his hope that the Maghera Historical Society would, ‘Shine a new light on the history of Maghera and make it something that the newer generation will be both interested in and proud of.’


Mrs.Elizabeth (Lizzie) Shiels, now in her ninety-first year, was next invited to speak. Lizzie shared memories of her life growing up in the area. She spoke of a different age, now gone forever and evoked images of a simpler, and perhaps happier, way of life. Remembrances of Christmases long ago were brought to life in a poem written by Lizzie. The verses highlighted the contrast between today’s consumerism and the values of earlier times, leading the audience to wonder what sort of life, hopes and aspirations our descendants would experience so many years into the future. Lizzie herself acted as an inspiration to everyone gathered at the ceremony as she brought such energy, goodwill and optimism to the idea of forging a link between ourselves and the unknown future inhabitants of the town.

James then invited contributions from the floor. The first to make a contribution was Cllr. Martin Kearney. He reminisced movingly about his childhood and the importance of memory and history for everybody. He dwelt on the importance of personal and local history in the life of a community. In this context he felt that the Time Capsule gave the people of Maghera a wonderful opportunity to come together, and by sharing their experiences give those in the 22nd century a picture of the town today.

Kevin Daly, a Committee member of the MHS, then spoke about well-known characters in the town in the past. In particular, he acknowledged the role played by Mr. Roy Shiels, Lizzie’s husband, who had devoted many years to helping the young people of the town and ran a football team known as ‘Roy’s Chicks’. Kevin’s emphasised how important it was for the identity and spirit of the town that the full time-line of its history be carried on, unbroken, into the future.

Cllr. Anne Forde gave us her memories of growing up outside the town on a farm in the Carrick. This gave us another perspective on a past way of life when Freddie Cauldwell and his threshing machine travelled from farm to farm and neighbours all worked together to bring the harvest in. Again Cllr. Forde dwelt on the importance of ensuring that a record of who we are and what we stand for is passed on to our descendants and she complimented the Society on the idea of the Time Capsule.

Tommy Collins agreed that the Society had given the people of Maghera a significant opportunity to keep history alive through the generations and Cllr. George Shiels made the final contribution of the evening with his usual wit and wisdom. Cllr Shiels also referred to his father, Roy Shiels, who, he said, had inspired him to make a contribution to society throughout his life.


The Time capsule itself was then locked by Lizzie and Fergal to begin its journey one hundred years into the future to be opened again on the 30th December 2115.

Putting together the capsule was a daunting task in itself, as a special container had to be constructed which could be filled with nitrogen before being hermetically sealed to preserve the contents intact. Within the Capsule special paper, ink and packaging had to be sourced and used to protect against deterioration over the next hundred years. Pat Rafferty and John Marquess, both members of the MHS committee worked behind the scenes to make it all happen.

The celebrations continued in the Centre until late at night with everybody enjoying the music provided by Alan Hutchinson and Friends with vocalist Alice McMurray.

Past Events

Storytelling Festival


Maghera’s first Storytelling Festival, ‘Come Here Till I Tell You’, took place on the 22nd and 23rd April 2016 in the Link. The event, which grew out of a conversation between James Armour, George Shiels and Liz Weir, was put together by the Maghera Historical Society, through the Heritage and Cultural Centre. The Festival was a huge success with over 700 people taking part in a range of activities and performances. For two days, story-tellers and performers from all over the province descended on Maghera to enthral and us with the help of local musicians – John Burns, James Bradley and Frupp legend, Vincent McCusker.

Liz Weir, a storyteller with a world-wide reputation, who is based in Cushendall worked closely with the Society to help organise the whole event and ensure its smooth running. Liz acted as MC for both evenings in the Link as well as delighting us with her stories. RoyArbuckle, Joe Brennan, Ian Coalter, Declan Forde, Steve Lally and our own George Shiels from the Crew, brought us stories, tales, myths, legends, poems and songs. Some were funny, some were sad and some nostalgic. All were entertaining and enjoyable and we are already looking forward to next year’s Festival.


The children in three local primary schools also benefited from the Festival with Liz Weir and Steve Lally visiting Knockloughrim PS, Maghera PS and St. Mary’s PS. The children were introduced to stories old and new which encouraged creativity and the development of literacy skills in an enjoyable and fun way. Liz Weir held a family story-telling event in Maghera Library on Saturday morning, with the support of Librarian Carol O’Doherty, which was very well attended by parents with their young children. On Saturday afternoon, Earned Wisdom, a story-telling workshop was run by Pearl Hutchinson and Liz Weir in the Heritage and Cultural Centre. This gave guidance to those people wishing to put a structure and shape on their stories and memories for retelling and recording.


Summing up, James Armour thanked all those who took part and said that he was delighted with the success of the Festival and that it was the first step in putting Maghera on the map as a centre for cultural events. In particular, he took time to thank the storytellers and musicians as well as everybody who had come to listen, Liz Weir and Maeve O’Neill for their organisation, Heather Boyd and the management of the Link for their helpfulness, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Mid-Ulster District Council, Poetry Ireland, Libraries NI for their sponsorship.