Magherafelt is a thriving, friendly town with a population of about 11,000 people. It has great shops, restaurants and bars and the Mid Ulster Council’s leisure facilities are second to none. An indoor arena at Meadowbank is state-of-the-art and is one of the largest of its type in Europe.
Magherafelt has a reputation as a great place to live with good community relations, excellent schools and colleges and one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
Magherafelt has a fascinating history. It was formerly known as Teach Fiolta which translates from the Gaelic as The Monastic House of Felta or Fioltis.
There was almost certainly an Early Christian church here and St. Patrick is said to have visited the place. Indeed, some scholars believe that Magherafelt was the place Patrick was referring to when he wrote in his Confession – the story of his life – that he heard the Voice of the Irish, who lived beside the Wood of Foclut, calling him back to walk among them. Magherafelt is mentioned in the Ecclesiastical Taxation of Ireland 1302-6 when it was valued at half a mark. The site of this ancient church is marked by the ruins of a later Planters’ church that can be seen within the walls of the old graveyard to the rear of The Bridewell – just 200 yards from Laurel Villa.
The Salters’ Company
Magherafelt Town’s present layout owes much to its development by the Salters’ Company of London at the time of the Plantation of Ulster from 1615 onwards. Just a short walk from Laurel Villa is Broad St. This was the first street of houses built by the Londoners and it is often cited as a great example of early 17th. century town planning. It also features in one of Seamus Heaney’s poems. Although the Salters’ Company no longer have a direct involvement in the town, there are a number of company crests still visible on buildings in the neighbourhood, including one at the Rainey Endowed School, founded in 1710.
Some Historical Snippets
The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of 1836 noted that the inhabitants of Magherafelt ‘though not decidedly prone to amusement, are very sociable and hospitable, very united in themselves and attentive to strangers.’ The Memoirs also tell us that the Knipe Brothers from Magherafelt were the tallest twins in Ireland. Other writers have immortalised the town. The poet John Hewitt in the poem Ulster Names claims that ‘Magherafelt ‘breeds the best of men I’ll not deny it’ – and there is a famous traditional ballad called Magherafelt May Fair (often quoted by Seamus Heaney) that relates to the famous hiring fair which took place in the town. For football fans, Magherafelt is known as the birthplace of Peter Doherty, named in March 2020 by the Irish Times as one of the greatest Irish soccer players of all time.
Seamus Heaney and Magherafelt
Seamus Heaney’s home village is regarded as Castledawson and later on Bellaghy. His home town was Magherafelt. This was a bigger place and it was where he came with his mother and father for shopping trips and to get the bus to take him to boarding school. One of his very earliest poetry readings took place in the town and he kept coming back to it to do events here. The last poetry reading he did in Magherafelt was at Laurel Villa in June 2009. He was due to return on 20 September for the On Home Ground 2013 festival at Laurel Villa but tragically died a short time before. Magherafelt features prominently in Seamus Heaney’s poems and prose right up to his last collection. Our Seamus Heaney tour features many of the places and people he mentioned.
Magherafelt today offers something for everyone. Shoppers can choose from a number of small independent retailers including some exclusive ladies’ boutiques. There is also a selection of larger national outlets and the newly renovated Meadowlane Shopping Centre is regarded as one of the best in N. Ireland. Magherafelt is also fast becoming a mecca for beauty, health and well-being services. We can arrange appointments for any of these services.
Magherafelt Restaurants and Bars
For a small town, Magherafelt has a huge number of good eating places. We will be happy to book a table at any Magherafelt restaurant of your choice – are all within a few minutes’ walk from Laurel Villa.
Magherafelt’s nightlife is very varied and plentiful. Top-class live gigs are on offer throughout the year at some of the by many licensed premises in Magherafelt town.