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A History Of Watty Graham

His connection with the town of Maghera and how the Gaelic Football Club carries his name.

Walter Graham was born at the Crew, Maghera, and the house, although burned to the ground in the 1798 Rebelion, was rebuilt and remodernised many times through the generations and relations that followed him. It still stands a fine long Bungalow type dwelling today in fine repair. Like all good and well educated Presbyterians of his day he became an Elder of the church as was his father James Graham. He became an United Irishman and was in charge of a Unit in the District which was made up of Units of National guards and United Irishmen.

Watty Graham was a born leader and very intelligent and he used to travel to Dublin. As a Delegate to the Synods he came into contact with other United Irishmen. Through this it may been how the rebellion was planned although it started mostly in the Northern Province.
And as time seems to repeat old ideas Watty and his friends were arrested through the information of an Informer. They were taken to Derry City and held with some other United men. They were taken before the judge who was sympathetic to their cause and they were all freed. When they came home again to Maghera and the surrounding area plans were then prepared for the day when the final order would come from Henry Joy McCracken.

At last the day did come and to quote the order: " Army of Ulster " tomorrow we march for Antrim , drive the Garrison of Randalstown before you and hasten to form a junction with the Commander-in-Chief. The first year of liberty the 6th day of June, 1798.

They set out for Maghera, Co.Derry with five thousand men, five hundred of these bore firearms the remainder had pikes and turf spades. This of course may be a slight exaggeration because no one was sure of exact numbers.

On the seventh of July messengers came from Antrim with the news of the defeat of the volunteers and their Landlord Lord O'Neill had been wounded and that General Knox and Colonel Leight were advancing on Toome, Castledawson and Maghera. A Captain Keyland and his calvary were seen in advance column. The Legion from Maghera and District fled and left their leaders to make the best of it with the Crown Forces. From then on the writing was on the wall for the United Irishmen in Co.Derry.

Colonel Glendy who was the Reverend John Glendy of Maghera Presbyterian congregration had to flee his home. Eventually he made it to America after hiding for some time with friends as did others like McKeever, Hardy, Harper and Shiels. Another rebel called Billy Cuddy cheated the gallows when a friendly soldier cut him down half hanged. To confuse the authorities a mock funeral was staged and in the graveyard of St Lurach's Church, Maghera is a weather beaten headstone with the inscription, "Here lies the body of William Cuddy". There are older versions of how this man died - let them be true or false - he was also the victim of his beliefs.

Maghera was garrisoned by troop of Ayrshire Soldiers and a detachment of Derry Militia. There are records of the soldiers being married to local girls. The Meeting House was built after that time on Fairhill and there was a military barracks and fort next to it.

It would be interesting to point out as at this moment in time at the old fort stands a house known as "Johnny Taylors" and next to that on the grounds where the Barracks was built stands a beautiful house called "Fairhill House" and where the old Meeting house was now stands a Ledu advance factory.

These troops did ensure that Martial Law was maintained when it was imposed and some were housed in the area in residences including that of Rev. Glendy.

Two brothers called Grey were arrested in Derry City and one of them turned informer and told the authorities that both himself and his half brother had borne arms under McKeever at Maghera. The other brother was put on trial and a case was proved against him, but as he was convicted on the evidence on the evidence of his brother the sentence was migrated to one thousand five hundred lashes. On the first day he was given three hundred of these.

An award of five hundred pounds was put on the head of Watty Graham for information relating to his capture. When he became aware of this he set off to try and get to America leaving the Crewe and his father, mother, wife and two children. He made out for Magilligan intending to cross to Moville where a passage had been arranged for him. On his way he stopped at a house of people named McKenna where he was given food.

The soldiers were hot on his trail and when they did not get answers to their satisfaction they burned the house to the ground, the house being the birthplace of Fr. John McKenna who later built Glen Chapel where he is buried. A plaque to his memory can be seen on the left hand wall as you walk towards the altar.

Walter Graham continued his journey and again stopped at the Rectory of (Tamlaght) Magilligan with the intention of collecting four hundred pounds of a debt owed to him by a Reverend Church. This man, 'Church', once came from the Maghera area and was inclined to be a tout for the soldiers. Mr. Church saw a way to get out of his obligation to Watty Graham and also enrich his own purse. He told Watty he had to go to Maghera to collect some money he was owed. So off he went, gloating about the reward he could get.

While Church was away the servant girl who had overheard the remarks he made to his wife suspected some kind of treachery, although she was sworn to secrecy by Church. The next day during dinner which consisted of potatoes herrings and sweetmilk while serving Watty Graham she tried to warn him of the impending danger when she was leaving the dish on the table she remarked "a herring never was caught for its belly". Watty missed the first hint, but when putting down the jug of milk she again said a herring was never taken on a bait, he said "girl you mean something by that". In her distress the girl ran to the window and shouted. "Colonel, the Soldiers are coming", they could be seen through the woods at the back of the Rectory. In a field at the front of the house men were digging potatoes.

Watty ran to them and shouted "Men I've been betrayed". He called to a slip of a lad "young fellow give me that shovel" The youth put on Watty's coat and ran as fast as he could. The officer commanding the soldiers and Rev. Church stopped and looked at the men in the field, one of them in a linen shirt, he recognised Graham and told the soldiers to take the man in the linen shirt. Less than a year after the betrayal of Watty Graham the Rev. Church got a call to attend a lady parishioner on her death bed. He saddled his horse and set off but within minutes his riderless horse came back home. The rector had been bludgeoned to death at the entrance to his own Avenue.

It seems that Watty was then taken to Coleraine and held there until a detachment of soldiers came from Maghera to take him back to his own 'Wee-Town'. There he was courtmartialed and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for treason and rebellion. It is strongly believed that Watty Graham was hanged on a large beech tree at the entrance to the present rectory gates on June 19th 1798. There was a porter Lodge there which acted as a guard house for the soldiers or yeomen as they were known at that time. The tree on which Watty was hanged was blown down on 21st September, 1945, there is still plenty of townspeople who remember that tree. It was used for firewood in the old Church school, a black stone building where St. Lurach's Parish Hall now stands.

It has also been told that he was hanged at the entry to the market house which was at an entrance to the market yard. There was a weigh-bridge in the market yard and it was there the linen tester used to sit above the carts and the weavers who lifted up the linen bolts to the tester so they had to accept his word on weight and grade of cloth.

Portrait of Watty Graham - Young man with long side burns dressed in a shirt and jacket