St Swithins Church
It was when the Revd Charles King Irwin was rector (1844-1861) that the new church of St Swithin’s was built. The architect was Mr Joseph Welland, with the first sod being cut on 28th March 1856.
Four years after the death of the Duke of Wellington, in the year the Crimean War came to an end, while Ireland was still recovering from the Potato Famine, the foundation stone was laid by the rector. A hole was excavated in the North-East column in which was placed a newspaper of the day, some coins of the reign of Queen Victoria, and a parchment scroll with the following inscription:
“Of his church, to be erected for the accommodation of the inhabitants of the Parish of Magherafelt, and dedicated to the worship of Almighty God by the name of St Swithin’s Church, the Principal Stone of the North-East column was laid on St Swithin’s Day, 15th July 1856, by the Revd Charles King Irwin, rector of the Parish of Magherafelt, in the presence of the Master, Wardens, and Clerk of the Worshipful Salters’ Company of London, who in addition to the free gift of an acre of land for a site, have munificently contributed £4,000 to the cost of the building”.
The work of building the church proceeded quickly and was completed in the Spring of 1858. The last Service was held in the Old Church on Easter Day, 4th April. On the Wednesday after Easter, 7th April, the new Church of St Swithin’s was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Kilmore. The congregation numbered 560, and the collection amounted to £25. The following Sunday the congregation numbered 614. The total building cost amounted to £8,000.
Apparently the Church got its patron saint in recognition of the generosity of the Salters’ Company whose head office, Salters’ Hall, is situated in St Swithin’s Lane, London. It is the only church in Ireland dedicated to St Swithin. He was bishop of Winchester in the 9th century. Though born into a noble family he remained a very humble man. When he died he was buried outside Winchester cathedral, as was his wish. Some years later it was felt more appropriate that his remains rest inside the Cathedral. The 15th July 971 was the day when this translation was to take place. However it rained so heavily on that day and for the 40 days which followed that the translation had to be postponed. This gave rise to the traditional rhymne associated ever since with St Swithin’s Day, 15th July:
St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it shall remain;
St Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mair!
The Old Church at Magherafelt
In the year 432 St Patrick came to Ireland. For nearly 30 years he travelled the length and breadth of the land establishing Christian communities wherever he went. There is a tradition that he founded the Church that is now in ruins beside the Rectory gates. The well close by was known as St Patrick’s Well. From which the present road takes its name – Churchwell Lane.
While it is not known exactly when the old Church was built records show that it was in existence as far back as 1425. It remained the only place of worship in Magherafelt until the 18th century, and continued to serve as the Parish Church until the new Church of St Swithin’s was opened in 1858.