Note on Maghera article Journal RSAI 1902

In a continuation on page 320 of the Journal of the Royal 


In his interesting Paper on Maghera, Mr. Milligan derives its name from Machaire, “a plain,” and. Ratha, “a fort,” “Machaire-Ratha becoming Maghera.” With this derivation there is much reason to disagree. The true derivation is given by the Rev. Mr. Sampson in his “Statistical Survey of County Derry,” published in 1802. “According to some,” he writes, “ the etymology of the word is Magherra-Nadhra, i.e. ‘ the field or plain of solemn vespers.’ I have heard that a monastery of Canons Regular had been founded here. It was a consistorial seat, and a place of convocation.” This derivation is obviously borne out by the spelling of the word in ancient documents. In the Inquisition of 1609 it is spelled Magherira, “Out of the 6½ balliboes of Erenagh land in Magherira, &c.” See note, Colton’s  “Visitation,” p. 76 ; also note at page 81. In the “Estate of the Diocese of Derry,” compiled by Dr. George Downham, Bishop of Derry (1616-1634), we find the following : — ” The parish church of Maghereragh is repaired at the cost of the parishioners for ye furnishing of it my Lo: Primate hath granted for a time the fines of the recusants in this parish.” These were plainly two different attempts made by learned writers to give in English spelling the word as it was pronounced at that time.

This pronunciation has been faithfully preserved, and can still be heard among the oldest inhabitants. It is fairly conveyed in the following spelling, Magherărāw.

A poem on the siege of Derry, republished in 1790, makes Maghera rhyme with ‘ draw ‘ and ‘saw.’

” Lieutenant Col. Stewart from Maghera

Did to the city with a party draw.”

“Captain Mulholland came from Maghera ;

From Tubbermore we Ensign Johnson saw.”

The documents quoted above, the native pronunciation, and these extracts conclusively prove that Magherra-Nadhra, and not Machaire-Rath, is the correct etymology of the word. The hill whereon tradition states the monks used to chant their vesper- song is still pointed out, and is commonly known as Vesper Hill.

1 By the Rev. Joseph M’Keefry, m.k.i.a. (Page 320)


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