Tumbled beech tree resurrects tale of Margaret’s grave in Magherafelt

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The story of Margaret’s Grave is a piece of south Derry folklore that stretches back into the mists of time and, if there is any truth in it, has its origins in disappointed love.

The tragic tale has resurfaced again after a beech tree on the Coolshinney Road, about two miles from Magherafelt, were brought down in the storms which swept the countryside at the start of the year.

Reports suggest that the tumbled beech marked the grave of Margaret Osbourne who was denied a church burial because she practiced witchcraft.

This flies in the face of the tale which was first recounted in the pages of the Mid Ulster Mail by W.H. Maitland 100 years ago.

While Maitland tactfully avoids the exact circumstances of her death, subsequent articles and letters published by the Mail suggest she took her own life.

One article, which appeared in 1959, says she died by suicide in a local barn following a failed love affair.

Because of the circumstances she was denied burial in sanctified ground and, as was often the custom, buried by locals in a public space.

On ordinance survey maps, the location of her grave is clearly marked as being at the junction of Coolshinney Road with Megargy Road (where the flag-pole stands).

Over 50 years ago there was a grass triangle in the middle of the road at the junction and some believe this was where Margaret was laid to rest.

Maitland states in his history of Magherafelt that after being found, her body was buried but subsequently disinterred and taken to Desertlyn churchyard.

She did not rest there for long and was later moved - on the command of the landlord - presumably to Megargy crossroads.

Maitland wrote: “...the remains (were) buried at the place now known as Margaret’s grave, and in order that the coffin would not be again removed, it is said that he (the landlord) caused a quantity of large stones to be placed on the top.”

Whatever the truth behind Margaret’s demise and interment, the story will no doubt crop-up again in the future as is the nature of folklore.