Local Stories Maghera Railway

My Grandfather, The Station Master


My grandfather, Wilbert Herbert Wilson was one of those men who commanded a quiet respect- not because of any great achievement but because he led by example. This respect came easily to us, his grandchildren, and to all who knew him. He was a Draperstown man whose father was Royal Irish Constabulary Sgt. William John Wilson and whose mother was Margaret Sargent, a dressmaker from Draperstown.

While still little more than a boy he left Draperstown with his uncle, Henry Sargent, his mother’s younger brother, to seek work in Canada arriving in Manitoba. Unfortunately, young Henry was shot by accident while out hunting a short time after their arrival and sadly did not return to Draperstown. My Grandfather came back to Ireland in 1916 still a young man. He tried to enlist in the army but his application was rejected for medical reasons. His twin brother was accepted and saw action with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. (Like his brother, Gordon was a railwayman too).

On his return, my grandfather obtained work as a railway clerk and married my grandmother, Mary Lynn, in 1918 at Magherafelt when they both were twenty-six. My grandmother was a dressmaker from Tobermore, the daughter of John Lynn a shoemaker, and Margaret Gilmore. Her sister, Margaret, also worked as a dressmaker.

My Grandfather became the Station Master at Killagan Station, midway between Ballymena and Ballymoney, before being transferred to Maghera in 1928 where the family took up residence in the Station House. The family had a maid called Lily who came with them from Killagan and who met and married Joe O’Hagan- later settling in Crawfordsburn close to my grandparents’ house.

My grandfather attended the Parish Church where he was in the choir along with my mother. He was a fine singer with the ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ being a particular favourite. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge. As Stationmaster in Maghera my grandfather had a considerable amount of bookwork to contend with but was ably assisted by my mother in this capacity if assistance was required. As there was a considerable amount of ground around the stationhouse at this time, even a small field, he was able to maintain a small farm after his career had come to an end. My grandparents stayed at Station House until they moved to Crawfordsburn in 1953.

As a small boy I can recall my grandfather taking me around the Coleraine Road to see the Maghera Reds playing football. We walked along the laneway with the players towards the pitch in there red shirts and white shorts. The Dallas boys, two brothers, were playing at this time. The simple game was much enjoyed by those of us standing at the touchline. He later took my brother and myself to watch Coleraine playing at the Showgrounds. He also took my brother to see Northern Ireland playing at Windsor Park and when I was old enough he took us both. He loved the game and I can remember going down the town on a Saturday evening to wait around in O’Donnell’s shop in Hall Street to get him a copy of the ‘Ireland’s Saturday Night’. The ISN was an important source of information for the ordinary football fan until it ceased publication. Behind the counter ’The Rose of Maghera’ Mary Jane Glass and her assistant were waiting patiently with the rest of us for the precious bundle to arrive. The Derry bus, itself seemed reluctant to stop so increasing the tension and adding a sense of urgency to the occasion lest it should trundle on past without making the important delivery. After the ensuing scramble we each departed to our various abodes with our precious copy of the ‘Pink’ to be read at the earliest opportunity.
My grandfather was a keen angler, and so it was as I grew up I became one too. His quarry was the native wild brown trout and he would have considered the quest for a salmon as pot luck, devoid of the necessary skill involved to catch a decent trout. As a small boy I remember him coming through the door at night returning from the river and dumping his catch on the worktop. He would then sit in a wooden chair which was in the corner of the kitchen so that we could remove the large waders he was wearing and if- due to the large number of patches applied- the socks had got damp we knew not to tell our grandmother about this. He had a selection of fishing rods a hand-made creel and a wallet for his flies.

In particular I remember that he took me to fish with him one day when I was little, near Swatragh and I closely followed his progress along the stream- being careful not to scare the trout in the process. In later life he began to travel with good friends Hans Gabathuler, manager of the handkerchief factory in Hall Street, and Willie McKee the breadman from Tamney Crescent to the Glenelly river which he became very fond of.

One day I also fished there with him myself. As he became older his friends would have been watching out for his safety. At last, sadly, the day came when he had to say goodbye to the river. After that I remember Willie kindly bringing a nice catch of trout to the house one evening for us to eat. If I had a catch myself, I arranged them on a plate and presented it to him for his approval as he sat in his favourite armchair reading the paper or doing the crossword.

Although I no longer fish myself I still have his favourite fishing rod in my collection. Ironically, I was fishing with this on 3rd October ’75 for trout, using light tackle, when I hooked and landed an Atlantic salmon weighing 6lb 3ozs at Drumcannon. The Upperlands river was a personal favourite of mine and produced the best trout fishing in the Maghera area at the time.

I sometime made notes about my fishing with regard to what I had caught and where I had caught it. One day I came across some notes my grandfather had made of a similar nature and I realised how alike we were in our approach to our chosen pastime.

After my grandfather retired from the railway, he became secretary of the Northern Ireland Rifle Association which was a continuation of the clerical work he would have been doing when he was Stationmaster. I can recall being at a meeting with him and my brother at a shooting range in the townland of Moneyshare outside Tobermore on the Draperstown road where my brother and I were changing the targets. It was the month of August and it was nice to get a little trip out of the town. There was a bar in one of the buildings where the barman was Norman Clarke who lived in one of the prefabricated houses in Crawfordsburn- commonly referred to as ‘Tintown’. My grandfather was at the centre of the proceedings making sure it all went smoothly. He was assisted by the marshal- Wee Willie Cunningham with his armband.

He smoked without taking the cigarette from his mouth as he surveyed the range and was generous with the brylcreem trying to keep the hair out of the way. Herbie McNicholl who had a drapers shop in Hall Street at the time was also involved in running the Northern Ireland Rifle Association as Hon Treasurer. I thought it was brilliant the way I could come and go to see Norman at the bar for refreshments and sandwiches as often as I liked without the need for payment.

I suppose this was partly because of our work changing targets- though on a summer’s day in Moneyshare with our grandfather and his companions we would not have required any payment. Sunday was a very quiet day in our household. I attended the Presbyterian church Sunday School in the morning with my friend John Kennedy and then we waited around for the main church service at noon. The family had a seat no. 3 in the balcony and the minister was Rev Denis Clark. The Sunday School Superintendent was Bobby Martin and I still have my prizes signed by the Rev Clark and Mr Martin from 1959 onwards. Our teacher was Sue Peden.

My grandfather was with the Church of Ireland. After we got home from church, we had our Sunday dinner which was the best dinner of the week prepared by my mother. We also wore our best clothes referred to as our ‘Sunday Best’. My grandmother insisted that we kept this day special and so there was no housework done or television turned on.

This was the time that my grandfather, my brother and myself set of up the road in our ‘Sunday Best’ for the Sunday walk. As we walked, we met other groups of people we knew, who were also dressed the same, coming in the opposite direction. There was very little traffic and so it was more carefree than it would be today.

From Crawfordsburn a favourite walk was straight up the Pound Road to a small reed-fringed lake we called Killylagh Lough and then back to the estate. Alternatively, by turning left after the first hill on the Pound Road we headed towards Ballyknock Hill having to pass a house where the dogs were not too friendly along the way. As we climbed the hill the farmhouse on the left-hand section of the road had a magnificent flowering currant hedge which, when in bloom produced a marvellous scent. On Ballyknock itself the view was very impressive.

Here was the beautiful glen that the balladist had been singing about. The verdant braes and the lovely plain. The happy vista of my childhood and my own dear corner of Derry. Then after due appreciation of the splendid panorama we set of down the hill with the option of returning home by a different route through the Glen of Tullyheron. At the foot of the hill the tiny Mullagh river was winding its way through the quiet meadows towards the town on its journey to meet the Moyola at Curran.

Here too was a cottage at the bridge by the stream- and the rustic pathway there. So thoroughly invigorated, we made our way towards the Glen Road corner then Crawfordsburn and home. At the junction of the Pound Road and the Wee Calahame Road there was a patch of land covered in whin bushes called Kelly’s Rock. The first house on the Pound Road adjacent to this place was Dan Scoot’s Cottage.

It is amazing, and perhaps thought provoking, that some people at that time were allowed to live in what was little more than a superior garden shed with a half door, if they so wished, and nobody bothered with them or tried to tell them how to live their lives. The walk along Calahame Road past Kelly’s Rock was very rural with perhaps about two houses.

In the first house lived Miss Kathleen Grey who was in charge of the local girl guides. The second house was Graham’s farmhouse which had an apple orchard and this was more or less the end of the road except for a laneway that ran straight ahead to a derelict cottage with a plum orchard. A laneway continued on around past Graham’s house to a small glen type area known as Fairies Castle.

It continued on to a small wilderness before it joined the main road to Swatragh on the other side of the hill outside town. My grandmother was a lovely person who was perfectly content to look after my grandfather to the best of her ability throughout his life and to do the best for her family. Her work as a dressmaker proved useful as she was later able to make the clothes for her children to wear. She was part of a knitting guild in Maghera which helped to knit items for the soldiers at the front line during the war.

The women sometimes placed notes inside the socks for the recipients to read. My grandmother and her sister Margaret, who had her own little bungalow in Crawfordsburn Drive were always ready to knit a really fine sweater for myself or one of the other grandchildren as soon as one was needed. We were asked to pick the wool ourselves with a personal favourite of mine being an off-white wool with a fleck in it. Those sweaters were made to last! When I was little and out playing in Crawfordsburn I often came through the back door of no 36 to be given a buttered slice of plain white loaf sprinkled with sugar and one for my friend also.

My Grandmother was an excellent cook and loved to bake. My brother and I many times received our supper here before going home and my grandmother and her sister would have taken the trouble to prepare sandwiches for us and home-made buns.

My grandmother was also involved in helping to run the clinic in Maghera at the time when national dried milk and other items were being given out. I remember that she kept a supply of these items in the outhouse at home so that if a woman had been unable to get to the clinic for some reason, she could bring her coupons and still collect her requirements from my grandmother.

She did her best to make sure that no one left disappointed. After I had grown up, if I was beset with any particular problem, I was able to discuss the matter with my grandmother. I could also talk with her about life in general at any time. She was an inspiration to us all. My grandparents enjoyed their time at no 36 in the company of their family and, it would have to be said the most decent of neighbours. I learned so much from them during our time together.

How to enjoy life and be thankful for what I had. Not to get too despondent. The appreciation of the beautiful countryside that was all around us. How not to spend money- or at least to spend it wisely. I very much appreciate this opportunity to pay tribute to Herbie and Mary my wonderful grandparents. It was a privilege to have known them

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.