Townland names hold a special place in our hearts and in charting their histories we get an insight into our own past and where we came from.
Three years ago a local historical society started to build up a detailed picture of the townlands surrounding Maghera.
It generated so much interest in the local community that it became known as the ‘Maghera Townlands Project’: focusing on the history and heritage of the townlands.
People identify closely with their townland and people from a townland identify closely with one another.
They lie at the centre of life in most rural communities and have traditionally inspired huge loyalty and affection.
There are more than 60,000 on the island of Ireland with around 9,700 of these in Northern Ireland.
James Armour, of Maghera Historical Society Heritage & Culture Ltd, is delighted the project is about to be officially launched.
He is appealing to local people to get involved with the project and share information they might have in the family about the townland they were brought up in so that it can be preserved and shared.
“We get visitors from overseas looking for help in tracing their relatives who left many years ago to live in the US or Canada and all they might have is a townland name,” said Mr Armour. “We can tell them about each townland, who lived there, the number of farms, dwellings and names of fields.”
He described the project as unique and said it could be added to as new information about a particular townland became known to them.
“We want to hear from people about their memories of growing up in a townland, so it can be recorded for future generations.”
The project is funded by Mid Ulster District Council PEACE IV Local Authority Action Plan. Council has received £2.8m from the PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), under theme 3.2 Shared Spaces and Services, and matched funded by TEO and DRCD.
It will be formally launched at an event in Walsh’s Hotel, Maghera, on June 30 at 1pm, by the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Sean McPeake.
Dr Thomas McErlean NUU, the well known archaeologist, will also speak at the event. Everybody is welcome to attend.
Dating back to at least the 12th century, each townland has built up its own history, heritage and culture over the years.
Mostly this information was never written down and lives only in the memories of the local people.
With changing social patterns all this wealth of knowledge runs the risk of being lost forever, to ourselves, our children and to future generations.
Maghera Townlands Project, based in the Heritage Centre on Coleraine Road, sets out to gather as much local information as possible relating to Maghera and its surrounding townlands, before it disappears from living memory.
The project will operate over the next 15 months as a team of volunteers, co-ordinates the work in the Centre and collates the material gathered.
As this information is being collected it will be on display in the Centre. It is hoped to employ a curator to help out over the summer.
They want to go back in time as far as possible, it has been said that ‘every stony acre has a name’. Each field in a townland had a name until recently.
Now with changes in farming practices these names are being forgotten.
As part of the project the old field names will be gathered up and recorded.
But it is not just field names, a wealth of stories, memories, traditions, folklore and customs are there to be recorded also.
Everyone is invited to contribute to the project, or simply drop into the Heritage Centre to see the work as it progresses. Call in or phone James Armour on 028 79549835.