Magherafelt is a town historically in County Londonderry astride the old highway from Belfast to Derry and Donegal. The A6 now bypasses it to the north, and the counties have been abolished as units of local government, so from 2015 Magherafelt has been part of Mid-Ulster District. Its population in 2011 was 8805.
"Magherafelt" derives from Machaire Fíolta, meaning "plain of Fíolta", and there was a monastery settlement here in medieval times. There's nothing left of that now, and the present town was created during the 17th century plantation era. English authority had been shocked by an uprising in Donegal and the burning of Derry, so they handed the whole kit and caboodle over to a London business consortium. These gentlemen created the walled city of Londonderry, divvied up the territory between their merchant company members, and brought in loyal Protestant colonists to prevent future Troubles. The Worshipful Company of Salters came ninth in the merchant hierarchy, and they were allocated a tract in the south of the county around Magherafelt. "On a wreath of the colours, a cubit arm erect, issuing from clouds all proper, holding a covered salt argent . . . " (and so on, at some length) - why, their coat of arms alone should be enough to cow those damned rebels. (It's among those displayed in Londonderry's Guildhall.) These companies ruled until 19th century local government reforms; the Salters diversified into other food additives and chemicals, and still function as a charity.
The plantations established a population that would have no truck with a catholic-dominated independent Ireland, and in 1921 County Londonderry was one of the six Ulster counties that became part of Northern Ireland within the UK. Magherafelt's fortunes rose and fell with that of Belfast and the wider province. Late 20th century economic slump and sectarian tensions fed upon each other; 11 people were killed locally in this phase of Troubles, and in 1993 town centre was wrecked by a car bomb. It's nowadays a quiet market town on the edge of the Belfast commuter belt.
Ulsterbus 110 / 210 runs from Antrim via Randalstown and Castledawson to Magherafelt (50 min), and continues to Moneymore and Cookstown (another 20 min). They're every two hours M-F, with only four on Saturday. On Sunday only two buses run, but they start from Belfast Europa station. Antrim is usually the most convenient railway station, with trains between Belfast and Londonderry, and buses from Lisburn via Belfast International Airport.
Bus 89 also runs twice M-F from Cookstown, but takes a roundabout route via Killycolpy and Ard Bo.
Bus 127 runs from Ballymena (also on the railway) via Portglenone, Bellaghy and Castledawson, taking an hour to Magherafelt. They run hourly M-F and every two hours Saturday.
Goldline Bus 278 runs in university term-time, with one bus Su-F from Monaghan via Armagh, Moy, Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Garvagh and Coleraine to Ulster University, Portstewart and Portrush.
1 Magherafelt Bus Centre is on Union St in town centre.
Buses between Belfast and Londonderry stop at Maghera Park & Ride on A6 south edge of that village. The stop is within walking distance of Ballynahone Bog.
By road from Belfast follow M2 past Antrim then A6 west. From the south you can avoid Belfast if rush hour is looming by branching off A1 at Newry and heading through Armagh, Dungannon and Cookstown.
Bus 389 runs from the Bus Centre to the west-side housing estates then north to the Mid-Ulster Hospital. It's hourly M-F and every two hours Saturday.
- Town centre is the typical Irish strip of 19th century low-rise interspersed with modern buildings. The Bridewell at the foot of Broad Street was once the courthouse and jail, and is now the library.
- 1 Seamus Heaney Homeplace, 45 Main St, Bellaghy BT45 8HT, ☏ . M-Sa 11:00-17:00, Su 13:00-17:00. Famous Seamus (1939-2013) grew up in Bellaghy. This exhibition depicts his life and poetry. Adult £7, conc & child £4.50.
- Bellaghy Bawn is a 17th century fortified house on Castle St, Bellaghy, 200 yards south of the Heaney Exhibition. It's nowadays a local history museum but is closed in 2021.
- 2 Ballynahone Bog is a raised bog, of a type once widespread across north Europe, and still plentiful in the Republic. The retreat of the glaciers left lakes which infilled to bog, and the moss and vegetation built up and built up over centuries, like a huge sponge. As soon as you cut into it for road-building, field drainage or peat, the water rushes out, the bog dome collapses and the habitat is lost. Ballynahone is the last large example in Ulster: it was damaged by peat-cutting in the 1990s but that's been halted, and dams put across the ditches to retain the water.
- 3 Kilcronaghan Old Church had a short life compared to the relics unearthed during its construction from 1806. Several features of its predecessors were incorporated, including the "hanging stone" - the projecting block of masonry used as a gibbet for the rebels of 1641. But already by 1823, the congregation (C of I) agreed that the new church was much too small. They carried on earnestly agreeing this for another 30 years then set about building a larger church.
- 4 Slieve Gallion is the eastern summit of the Sperrins, the range of hills stretching to Strabane. It's 528 m / 1732 ft, a volcanic plug rounded by glaciation. A paved lane winds up its south side to a radio transmitter, so it's more of an afternoon stroll than a proper hike. It's a popular site for paragliding. Don't confuse it with Slieve Gullion, which is to the south near Newry.
- Ballybriest on the west flank of Slieve Gallion is a dual court tomb: these were constructed around 3500 BC and used for later burials to 2000 BC. The east half of the tomb has lost most of its stone. It stands by the lane above Lough Fea, off B162 from Cookstown. 2 km northeast on the hillside is Corick stone circle, indistinct amidst the soggy heather.
- 5 Springhill House: see Cookstown for this 17th century Plantation mansion.
- 1 Ballyronan is the closest place to access Lough Neagh, the large freshwater lake in the centre of Northern Ireland. It has a marina, a camping and caravan site, a woodland park for strolling, and a couple of pubs.
- Cinema: Movie House is on St Lurach's Rd in Maghera.
- Golf: Ronan Valley GC is on Ballyronan Rd south edge of Magherafelt. Further out are Moyola Park at Castledawson and Traad Ponds at Ballyronan.
- 2 The Jungle, 60 Desertmartin Road, Moneymore BT45 7RB, ☏ . Activities such as clay-pigeon shooting and quad bikes, so it's more for older children and adults than kiddies.
- 3 Splash is a waterpark on Maghadone Rd, Moneymore opened in 2021. You'll be needing a wetsuit.
- Meadowlane is the shopping centre in Magherafelt, with Dunne's Stores.
- Tesco is on Ballyronan Rd, open M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 13:00-18:00.
- District 45 Restaurant, 7 Garden St, Magherafelt BT45 5DD, ☏ . W Th 17:00-21:00, F Sa 17:00-22:00, Su 12:00-21:00. Slick place in town centre serving modern European cuisine.
- Sizzlin Smokehouse, 25 Market St, Magherafelt BT45 6EE, ☏ . Daily 12:00-21:00. Lively family-friendly diner for grills.
- The Taaj, 44 Queen's Ave, Magherafelt BT45 6AB, ☏ . Tu-Sa 16:30-22:00, Su 14:00-22:00. Serving the standard Indian favourites, this restaurant gets mixed reviews.
- Maghera has a clutch of fast food outlets.
- 1 The Old Thatch Inn, 116 Hillhead Rd, Castledawson BT45 8ET, ☏ . M-Th 11:00-23:00, F-Su 11:00-01:00. Trad Irish pub with good food and warm welcome.
- Town centre in Magherafelt has Dorman's, Downey's, Mary's, Step Inn, Dry Dock, The Coachman and LJ's Tavern.
- Taphouse Bar is the main eating and drinking place in Bellaghy.
- Heaney Brewery is north of Bellaghy. No tours but they promise Japanese philosophy, as you'd expect in mid-Ulster.
- Terrace Hotel, 42-48 Church St, Magherafelt BT45 6AW, ☏ . Good mid-range accommodation and dining in town centre. B&B double £100.
- Laurel Villa is a B&B at 60 Church St near Terrace Hotel.
- 1 Brooke Lodge Guesthouse, 2 Laurelbrook, Aughrim Rd, Magherafelt BT45 6NT, ☏ . Clean friendly B&B east side of town. B&B double £85.
- 2 O'Neill Arms, 22 Main St, Toomebridge BT41 3TQ, ☏ . Upmarket country house hotel on lakeside, great comfort, service and dining. B&B double £130.
- 3 Walsh's Hotel, 53 Main Street, Maghera BT46 5AA, ☏ . Good mid-range hotel in 18th century town inn. B&B double £70.
- Ballyronan Marina (see above) has camping and caravan pitches Mar-Oct.
As of Aug 2021, Magherafelt has 4G with EE, O2 and Vodafone, and a mobile signal with Three. 5G has not reached this area.
- Cookstown, where kings of Tyrone were inaugurated, has many prehistoric sites.
- Antrim has pleasant castle gardens and an impressive Round Tower.
- Castlerock on the coast has the eccentric Mussenden Temple.