MAGHERA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Secretary’s Report 1st AGM 30th November 2015
In November 2014 a group of over forty people from the Maghera community came together at a meeting in the town. The purpose of the meeting called by myself was to consider forming a historical organisation that would run parallel with the existing Genealogical Society and an existing Facebook page.
At that meeting the Maghera Historical Society was publically formed and legally constituted. A voluntary executive committee was elected from those attending all of whom had a shared interest in the history and heritage of the town. Joseph McCoy agreed to take on the roll of Chairperson with assistance from Denver Boyd as vice-chair. James Armour volunteered to act as secretary for the first year, with John Marquess agreeing to look after the finances. A further eight people put their names forward to act as committee members, they were: Bruce Clark, Peter Etherson, Pat Rafferty, Brendan Convery, Izchel Boyd, Kate Lagan, William Sufferin and Fergal Cudden.
The newly elected committee agreed to move forward in a positive and decisive way. James called upon organisational experiences he had from his past and said that after an absence of over forty years he would like to give something back to his home town in memory of his late brother Uel. He volunteered to act as secretary and said he would help steer the society through its embryonic stages and put in place a centre of informational excellence in the town for everyone’s use regardless of their background, reflecting the ethos of the new society which he saw as an all inclusive organisation with a definite plan and purpose.
The new Society was now operational and with each committee member parting with £20 to become a member, the treasurer John left the meeting with a smile on his face and with a start-up fund of £220.
The committee agreed that the society’s aims and objectives should be:
‘To promote awareness in the town of the importance of local history, heritage and culture and the duty of care the inhabitants have of preserving and maintaining Historical Sites, Monuments and Buildings within the town and surrounding districts’.
The core value of the society was that it had to be all inclusive and open to everyone of the town. All would be welcome and invited to become involved with the new organisation and to celebrate all that is best in the culture and heritage of Maghera and surrounding districts not only for the present, but to endeavour to record, document and preserve it for future generations.
Moving forward under the guidance of the secretary who drew on his previous organisational experience and training of the framework necessary to place a voluntary body on to a constitutional footing, a plan for the future was drafted and a constitution put in place in order to give the organisation a legal foundation.
Voluntary organisations are an essential ingredient for any community to thrive, flourish and prosper. They are the lifeblood of a town or village; they bring people together in a socially inclusive and practical way. However voluntary organisations cannot operate or become effective without funds for their survival.
Local authorities, with their ever decreasing financial resources, are finding it more and more difficult to support local voluntary groups. They have limited resources so what they do have available must be distributed fairly. A strict criterion is set out by the council and this must be met by applicants to be able to avail of their financial help. However, MHS with drive, enthusiasm and vigour while retaining an element of autonomy decided to introduce its own fundraising programme of events together with applications to a number of other ‘Grant Awarding’ bodies.
The society produced a calendar and by selling advertising space on it, raised over £1000. Through the secretary and with help from Maeve O’Neill, £15,000 in grants has been applied for; of that amount we have received £11,500, the remainder is pending and will be paid when projects are completed. Our funding support to date has come from: Lottery Fund, MUDC, Honourable The Irish Society, Enkalon Foundation, Workspace. The society has also been approved for grant aid by the Community Relations Council to help with printing costs for the magazine ‘Maghera Times’. An application for funding to Heritage Lottery Fund to help set up our recording studio and documenting system for conducting oral memories and personal interviews is being worked on at present by myself and Maeve and should be ready for submission by late January. The amount being sought is quite substantial and subsequently the application requires a great deal of research and thought to assist with a detailed presentation. For this we are in communication with the Oral History Society, London, the Linen Hall library Belfast and with Derry city Council.
Our events over the past year have been numerous; we have hosted and taken part in 23 different performances from the formation of the society, the publication of our calendar being the first of our endeavours.
Over the winter months we held three lectures, the first being a talk on the life and times of Harry Ferguson, this was followed in April by our committee member Bruce Clark giving a very interesting insight into the history of linen in Ireland and South Derry. The 31st March saw the official launch of the MHS by Dr Bill Mcafee, the occasion was attended by 120 invited guests all of whom gave us a very positive feedback.
Dr Tony Summers and Prof Diane Kirkby were our guest speakers in May, both Summers and Kirkby expanded on the significance of our local heritage in the form of historical sites within a ten mile radius of the town.
Also in may we were awarded charitable status by the charities commission NI, a significant milestone had been reached, however shortly afterwards we were given a Charity number by HMRC this meant we were exempt from paying rates for our new centre. The society now had charitable status and required the appointment of Trustees, James Armour, Joseph McCoy and John Marquess were the nominees.
To maintain our promise of inclusivity, a members meeting was held in June, this gave each member an opportunity to have a say in how the society moved forward and how it should embrace the future.
The Time Capsule project started in January and has been ongoing. The task of collecting information, photographs and written text is still active and will continue until a week before its burial on 30th December.
The 1st August saw the historical society make history itself by becoming a publisher for the first time. ‘From the Beagh to Maghera’ a book written by James Armour and edited by Maeve O’Neill was launched in the local library by George Shiels. The society has plans to assist local authors in the future and help them get their works out into the public domain. We are at present working on stories and poems written and submitted by George Shiels for editing and compiling into book form with a publishing date of mid 2016.
The society has just completed and published its first bi-annual magazine ‘Maghera Times’ the magazine is available here this evening. The glossy magazine carries its own ISBN number and will be available in bookshops, local shops and on the MHS website for £5, however it is free to members of the society. The magazine was compiled and edited by Maeve O’Neill with written contributions from businesses and local people. A very interesting read!
Another milestone was reached when the society entered into the next stage of its development. On 1st September, it took over the lease on the premises at 17 Coleraine Road. With a lot of hard work, dedication and enthusiasm shown by members of the committee the interior of the building was transformed over a period of 6 weeks.
In September we introduced the winter lecture series. Our first speaker was Mary Delargy, who enlightened the audience on the origins of various surnames from the local area. The ‘Hiring Fairs’ talk by Roy Hamilton again attracted a large audience with Roy in his humorous speaking style expanded on, what can only be described as slave labour, how workers were hired for general duties in the 19th century.
October was a hectic month, with our first charity auction raising £573 for the society; this was followed very quickly by the Hospice NI who held a fundraiser in the form of a Vintage Coffee Morning this event attracted more than 300 people into the centre and raised over £1000 for a very good cause. At the end of the month the society hosted the official naming and opening of the centre, the ceremony was performed by Mary Delargy from Linen Hall Libraries Belfast. Another highlight of the day was the parade of Clydesdale Horses and vintage tractors through the streets of the town to the accompaniment of open air music and song supplied by local musicians, Kenny Paul, Pat McKenna and his band and Alice McMurray.
Brendan Convery’s cine-film evening shown in St Lurach’s was a very interesting and jovial evening where life in the town in the fifties and sixties was relived by those who attended. Johnny Dooher ended our winter series of lectures by taking us back into the pre-famine years.
Our membership has continued to grow over the year, starting from a baseline of 12 people the society has expanded its membership which now stands at 65. Being a member means being involved and taking part in making decisions on how the society should move forward into the future, where the preservation of our heritage and culture must be of paramount importance and it must be preserved and properly maintained for future generations to appreciate.
In conclusion I would like to say that Maghera Historical Society, the Heritage and Cultural Centre have moved along a very exciting and interesting road in its development and performance. The society has hosted twenty events, welcomed over 2000 people to its functions, had a TV documentary recorded, which incidentally goes out very regularly on Irish TV, given 4 radio interviews, spoken to various other media outlets and received widespread newspaper coverage. However the crowning achievement was the opening of the Heritage and Cultural Centre for Maghera. Our final event for 2015 will be the burial of the time capsule in the centre here on 30th December.
I must personally thank my fellow committee members and the ordinary members all of whom so willingly and voluntarily gave their time and expertise to make my vision and foresight become a reality. A special thanks must be afforded to one particular person who offered his advice, guidance and then applied his expertise to the physical doing of all the general alterations that were performed to make the centre what it is today. No job was ever to difficult, I would often say to him, ‘ Will we get a plumber for that job or an electrician for something else or perhaps a carpet fitter for the tiles’ the reply was always the same ‘Naw James, don’t bother (or words to that effect) shure I’ll do that myself, I couldn’t be bothered waiting for someone else, I’d have it done while they’d be looking at it.’ and before I could draw breath the job was well under control. Pat Rafferty, thanks for all your help and patience for giving to the Society what you did, I envy your enthusiastic methodical approach.
Over the next few months we will be putting in place display units, computers, visual aids and other necessary equipment to make the place a centre of excellence. The centre will be open from 10am until 5pm Tuesday to Saturday.
Finally I ask you to spread the word about who we are and what we stand for, invite others to come along and join us and be part of planning the society’s future. May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Xmas and enjoy the year that lies ahead.
Signed: James Armour (Snr)
Hon. Sec. Maghera Historical Society