Martha Magee (Day Twenty)

This is at the front entrance to the old building at Magee College in Derry where I graduated with a BA (hons) in Peace and Conflict Studies in 1993. I had four great years there and loved living in Derry. In the early 90’s the college was small enough to have at least a nodding acquaintance with everyone on campus. I was back up at Magee yesterday for a seminar and much had changed. Lots of new buildings and the car park was no longer free.  The College is part of the University of Ulster and we always had the feeling it was regarded by the powers that be as the poorer cousin compared with the Jordanstown and Coleraine Campuses. One thing has stayed the same at Magee. Pat Lynch the student Union bar manager in whose establishment I spent a lot of time and student grant, and it was great to catch up with Pat for a few minutes yesterday and I have to say he hasn’t changed a bit.

Magee College gained its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church of Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts.

Martha Maria Magee (née Stewart) was born in Lurgan about 1755. In 1780 she married Rev. William Magee, a Presbyterian Minister of First Lurgan, who died in 1800 leaving her dependant on the Presbyterian Widow’s Fund. Her two sons died in early manhood, one from an accident and the other from rabies during service in the British Army in India.  After inheriting a fortune from her two brothers, both military men, she moved to Dublin. With other charitable bequests totalling £40,000, she left, in 1845, £20,000 to endow a college for the education of the Presbyterian ministry. After prolonged controversy with the General Assembly, led by Henry Cooke, the trustees established Magee College, Derry, in 1865. Despite the donor’s intentions the college accepted all denoninations from the start. In 1970 it became an integral part of the New University of Ulster (now the University of Ulster). She died in Dublin on 22 June 1846.

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