For the first meeting of 2003 Bellaghy Historical Society had as speaker Mrs Muriel Bell, well known Local Historian from Magherafelt, to talk about the Paupers Grave at Magherafelt and its connection with the Workhouse and the Famine.
Mrs Bell spoke of the conditions which had given rise to the need for Workhouses or Poor Houses, which were built as a solution to the problem of poverty and destitution caused by the sub-division of land among families whose numbers increased at least fourfold in the course of two or three generations. The Famine of 1847 had greatly exacerbated the difficulties experienced by the poor, although our county had suffered less than many others (the worst being Cork) because of its alternative source of income in the weaving and spinning industries.
Conditions in the Workhouse were Spartan in the extreme, fever was rife and easily transmitted, so the numbers dying in the institution rose to as many as five a day in the worst years. A very unceremonious burial was given to the dead in the Paupers plot unless they had relatives prepared to take their bodies home for a more dignified burial. The plot itself had to be moved further away from the buildings when the incidence of typhoid fever caused officials to realise that its original site was so close to the well as to cause contamination. The new site was officially recognised and a memorial was erected there by the Ballinascreen Historical Society in May 2002.
Mrs Bells talk was very carefully researched and movingly expressed so that the large audience at the meeting listened with wrapt attention and in thanking her, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin expressed the gratitude of the members not only for the content of her talk but for putting forward the date of her visit by a month in order to facilitate Mr Tom McErlean, who had been booked to lecture in America and whose flight date there made it impossible for him to fulfil his engagement in Bellaghy. He will now come to Bellaghy Historical Society on 11th February to speak on Archaeology in Northern Ireland with special reference to the Bellaghy Townlands. The meeting will take place as usual in the Old School Centre at 8 p.m
Local Historian Mrs Muriel Bell was the guest speaker at the January meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.