Maghera Roots

Gatherin’ Spuds: Kenneth Murray

Kenneth Murray 3My family moved to Maghera in August 1958, when we were allocated a bungalow in Crawfordsburn Drive. My grandparents were already resident in Crawfordsburn at the time and my association with the town of Maghera and Crawfordsburn began perhaps before I was a year old. By the time we moved ourselves, I was six years old, the youngest in the family.

In those days we were given time off school in October, known as ‘the potato gathering holiday,’ (Nowadays it is known as the mid-term break.). 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. It was not to the liking of everyone, and I cannot recall ever having gathered potatoes with my great friend John Kennedy, for instance.

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.

IMG_0412Conditions 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 began to take a keen interest in angling while still a small boy, fishing in and around the town with the wee Mullagh River, between the Milltown Road and the Tobermore Road, being a favourite location. On one occasion, I can remember we were gathering in a large field immediately beside the Moyola River, in the townland of Ballinhone, where the work was steady and there was not much scope to take in our surroundings. Despite the heavy work, I took every chance I could to head over the bank where I could study the river, wondering what it would be like to try my luck there. I had to go carefully and keep a watch out so as not to be guldered at or to be seen as losing interest in what I was there to do.

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, Fergussonhe 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.

The face of the countryside has, of course, changed greatly since my childhood, in particular in relation to the development of land for housing and the use of pesticides in farming. There were four fields that lay between the Drive and a small wood where we would go to build a tree hut or even light a campfire to cook an al fresco meal. We played football in the first field beside the drive. Then, going through the hedge into the second field, I could run downhill with the dogs towards the stream that divided it from the next field on. The excitement would build as we went on further and approached the wood that was like our own private playground.

Memories linger of walking along the side of a field, past the slowly ripening barley gently ripening in the summer breeze, of sticklebacks in the tiny stream that was little more than a trickle, of the surprise of finding frogspawn in what was little more than a puddle and, overall, the evocative call of the hidden cuckoo.

I look back on my time in the fields and townlands of Maghera helping to bring in the harvest with great affection. So here’s to the dear little town. I hope it will prosper and I wish the society every success.

Past Events

Press & Sponsors Night Maghera Agri-Show & Country Fayre


Press, Sponsors & Supporters Evening

The officers and members of Maghera Agri-Show and Country Fayre are pleased to announce a major sponsor for their 2nd annual show this year on 5th August to be held in the Show Field on the Mullagh Road Maghera , by kind permission of the Presbyterian Church and William Paul. The change of venue has been prompted by the expansion of the show this year to include an additional 80 classes for Horses,  Ponies and Sheep and also the interest shown by the Agri-Businesses from throughout the Province.  The Home Produce, Arts & Crafts and Photography sections have been revamped to suit everyone who is interested in displaying their produce at the show.

Cunningham Covers Maghera and Naas Co Kildare, have very kindly offered to sponsor the prize fund in support of the Equestrian Section of the show. We are delighted to have Cunningham Covers on board this year and it is comforting for the organisers to know that Gordon  and his team  have the vision and  understanding that an Agriculture Show and Country Fayre is necessary  and essential  for the town, not only for the Agriculture community but for all of the community locally and further afield. With sponsors’ support and voluntary helpers the show will remain in the town and on the events calendar for many years to come.

A highlight of the show this year is the Open Championship & Novice Working Hunter Horse Classes carrying a prize fund of £1000 and a perpetual Trophy to the overall champion Working Hunter. The introduction of the Sheep section at the request of a number of the local sheep breeders was added to the schedule this year. This section is very kindly sponsored by The Northern Co-op, Swatragh Livestock Mart.  A range of weight classes for Mares, Foals and Riding Horses together with a number of Pony classes for the young riders is scheduled to take place. The Clydesdale Horse section featuring a Riding class is always a spectacular sight for the visitors. All Equestrian sections have  with them  very inviting prize money for the class winners.  The vintage section again this year will be much bigger with a prize fund of £100 for the most original exhibit.  A variety of trade stalls have already booked their places all of whom are making a return visit having enjoyed their time with us last year. We invite all types of businesses from the area and further afield to come along and use our show as a marketing  platform  for their product.

We thank all the volunteers who helped make the show a success last year.  Please come along this year and be part of our team.  We appreciated all the financial support from the sponsors in 2016 and trust that you will return this year. The show will be a fun day out for all the family with lots of entertainment and interests for the children and parents alike, so please come along and support us on the day and help us build on the success of the 2016 show.  Further details are available by contacting  the Secretary Carol Collier on 028 79549835 or 075 68548752 or James Armour (snr) 028 79549835, Mob 00353876954944. Schedules will be available to download from our website  and  available on facebook page, maghera agri show2017. Or drop into the Heritage Centre at 17 Coleraine Road.

Past Events

Sponsored Walk: Swatragh and Back

IMG_0468Swatragh And Back! That was the Sponsored- Walk-Challenge to raise funds for the  Maghera Historical Society. The event was a great success with just under £1,000 raised on the day. Special thanks to Jean Dunne for organising it all so well and we are very grateful to all our sponsors and everybody who supported us. This was an amazing result and far surpassed all our expectations – so congratulations all round!



Past Events

MHS Perpetual Trophy Quiz

IMG_0457The Maghera Historical Society Perpetual Trophy Quiz took place last Thursday 27th April, in Walsh’s Hotel. Joint winners on the night were tables 6 and 7. Sinead Kelly, Eugene Kelly, Brian Kielt, Peter Convery on table 6 and Emma Stewart, George Stewart, Noel Stewart and Matthew Stewart on table 7. Congratulations to the winners!!! James Armour stood in on the night for regular Quizmaster Peter Etherson and presented the trophy to Sinead Kelly and Emma Stewart representing their team.


Past Events

The Price of a Loaf: Denver Boyd

Denver 19




On Wednesday 12th of April 2017, Denver Boyd gave a talk on ‘The Price of a Loaf’ which was a brief explanation of the origin in circulation from 1780 to 1837. The opportunity was afforded for the audience to handle the types of coinage in circulation to give them an idea of what they might have encountered if they had been in the South Derry area 200 years ago and, of coredurse, the purchasing power of that coinage was discussed. At the end of the talk various members of the audience expressed how interesting they found the talk and many questions were asked and answered. of coinage, a precis of Irish coinage up to the 1780s and a more in depth discussion of the official coinage and the token coins in circulation from 1780 to 1837. The opportunity was afforded for the audience to handle the types of coinage in circulation to give them an idea of what they might have encountered if they had been in the South Derry area 200 years ago and, of coredurse, the purchasing power of that coinage was discussed. At the end of the talk various members of the audience expressed how interesting they found the talk and many questions were asked and answered.

Local Stories

Tale of an Ancient Town

Joseph McCoy brought the history, stories and legends of Maghera alive in his fascinating talk: Tale of an Ancient Town.