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If you like to stay in places that are that little bit different then you’ve found the perfect spot. This Victorian house, built in 1872, has real character and a chequered history. Of the surviving nineteenth century buildings in Magherafelt, this is one of the most recognisable and interesting. It has featured in the European Heritage Open Days scheme and has been described by local historian Ivor Hawe as one of the landmark buildings of Magherafelt.
The house was built in 1872 by William John Derby a local linen merchant. The first occupants were Dr. John Murdoch and his wife Sarah, a daughter of Wm John. According to his tombstone in St Swithin’s graveyard across the road, Dr. Murdoch “was called away from a life of usefulness in Magherafelt in 1882.” A later occupant was Dr. Mitchell Hunter, a former surgeon to the Durham Light Infantry who became a family doctor in this town. He was a familiar figure as he did his rounds by pony and trap. His grand-daughter from Australia has been a guest [view her comments on our Recommendations page]. Dr Hunter also acted as Deputy Medical Officer of Magherafelt Workhouse. Countless artifacts are dotted around the house that preserve the memory of these former residents, including a collection of old medicine bottles from Dr Hunter’s era.
Bridal Party at Front of Laurel Villa January 1918
Back L-R: Rev. McCammon, Mrs McCammon, John Shiels, Mrs Shiels, Rev. Hanson,
Mrs Hanson, Master Charles Hunter
Front L-R: Mrs Martin, Rev. Martin, Gertrude Hunter, Rev. James Graham(groom),
Frances Hunter (bride), Mrs. Hunter, Dr. Mitchell Hunter
(Photo courtesy of Colleen Donohue Australia, neice of the bride)
Below is a News Item from Mid-Ulster Mail, Saturday 19 January 1918:
Interesting Magherafelt Wedding
A very interesting wedding took place in Union Road Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, 9th inst., the contracting parties being Rev. James Graham, B.A. Co. Monaghan, to Frances Mary, eldest daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Hunter, Laurel Villa, Magherafelt. The bride entered the church leaning on her father’s arm, who gave her away. She looked lovely in a beautiful dress of ivory georgetta, over satin, veil and wreath of orange blossoms, her only ornament being aquamarine and pearl pendant, the gift of the bridegroom. She carried a magnificent sheaf of madonna lillies. Miss Gertrude Hunter, the bride’s sister, acted as bridesmaid. She looked charming in a dress of white georgetta, over silk, with little touches of pink and a pretty velure hat. She wore a pearl pendant, the bridegroom’s gift, and carried a bouquet of pink carnations and asparagus fern. The bridegroom was attended by Rev. David Maybin, B.A., Cookstown. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. W.J.Hanson, assisted by Rev. Robert McCammon. A great number were present in the church to witness the happy event; the bridal party leaving the church amidst the happy congratulations of many friends and showers of confetti. They drove to Laurel Villa, the residence of the bride’s father, where they were photographed, and after luncheon the happy couple left by carriage for Cookstown, en route mail train to Kingston, where the honeymoon was spent. The bride’s going away costume was of tweed, with lovely velure hat and set of silver fox fur, the gift of the bride’s mother.
Another occupant of Laurel Villa was Monsignor John Ward Parish Priest of Magherafelt (1925-1950) who used it as a Parochial House whilst waiting for the present Parochial House in King Street to be built. In 1927 he founded St. Mary’s School Magherafelt , situated nearby, which now achieved a fine reputation in academic and sporting circles.
Laurel Villa has at other times been both a dental surgery and a veterinary surgery. The Miss Walshes gave music lessons here in the 1930’s and more recently pupils of St Mary’s Convent came here for some classes. Countless items are dotted around the house which preserve the memory of these former residents, including a collection of old medicine bottles that belong to Dr Hunter’s era.
The house as it stands today owes much to the work of Mary Kielt, Eugene’s late mother, who purchased it in 1961 from the Kilroe family. With her family, including her late daughter Dymphna, she transformed it into the guesthouse that has, over the years, become synonymous with Magherafelt.
Over the past thirty years Gerardine and Eugene have put their own special stamp on the house, creating features and facilities inside and out that make it such a special, boutique place to stay.
For all its rich and lengthy history guests have indicated it has a really warm and homely feel that is so often lacking in stately homes and modern hotels.