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.