Article - M Johnston 2005
Tom Graham says he has spent his whole
life collecting and restoring things.
Tom Graham and his son
Steven who run the Heritage Centre
Much of his working
life was spent travelling around Northern Ireland
in conjunction with his poultry business. As
he drove around the countryside he always kept
eye for things which relate to a rural
way of life which was fast disappearing.
He would frequently see things lying in fields,
barns and houses which had been discarded and
he would offer to salvage them. He has collected
large things like tractors, ploughs, harvesters,
binders etc... and smaller things like domestic
appliances, utensils and personal belongings.
The result of his life's work is the
Heritage Centre in
The centre is set in beautifully
maintained gardens which include a fountain,
a bridge and a waterwheel.
Tom has achieved all of this in two main stages.
During his working life he acquired the bulk of
items that now make up his collection. "There
wasn't a great lot of spare time then to get into
work." he says. Now in happy retirement, he
has finally had the time to get down to the slow
and painstaking task
of restoring the hundreds of things he has gathered
up. He says "..since I've retired I can
spend six days a week working on my projects if
A very rare example
of a wartime David Brown tractor
in the original camouflaged soil-coloured
On his four and a half acres, he has large sheds
filled with artefacts of every description. One
common thread links all of these items together...
they reflect and celebrate a way of rural life
in Northern Ireland that has passed into history.
Some of his exhibits date to before the famine.
Some are only thirty years old.
Antiques don't have to be
made of precious stones or metal...
Oil & fuel
cans which would have been used on farms, lovingly
right down to the brass caps.
exhibition of rural memorabilia doesn't stop with
farming implements. He has built his own exhibits
so called because it was once the dwelling place
of a local man called Jamie Mullan, is a typical
example of a farmers dwelling of the 1800s.
The interior of "Jamie's
Cottage", built by Tom
Graham, exactly as it might have looked 100 years
is not apparent at all is that this little home is
in fact a reconstruction. It was built by Tom himself
in 1998! This marvellous cottage, complete with its
half-door and open fire, is appointed and
furnished with a level of accuracy that many
museums would envy. Inside, the cottage is filled
with genuine artefacts of the era including a working “Gingerbread
clock” from the famine of the mid 1800s. Tom
used home made cement blocks to construct the shell
used various inventive
and creative techniques to “age” the
finish inside and out which now looks - and feels
- a very
convincing hundred and fifty years old.
Throughout the season, Tom guides many
visitors of all ages around his centre. He says that
school children are the most fascinated. They ask
“where is the sink and the hot water”
and “is there no bathroom?” Adults are
not so surprised about the lack of these facilities.
Some of the older ones have their own memories of
dwellings just like this and want to sit in the chair
by the fire for a few minutes just to reminisce about
an era passed by. It was an era when farmers worked
the land with horses, chill ploughs, sowers and reapers.
The smallest church
Tom has also built a little church in the centre.
I'd feel safe in saying that this must be the smallest
in Ireland, measuring only about ten feet square!
1920 wooden washing
It has all the authentic features though... a bell-tower, three stained-glass
windows, a single pew, and of course, a pulpit. This structure too was built
using home-made blocks.
Among the unusual artefacts in the centre, one which stands out
for me is the 1920 wooden washing machine
called "The Majestic". When you turn the handle a four-pronged
agitator rotates back and forth in the tub.
It would easily take a full day or more to go around
this centre and see everything properly. The inventory
of Tom’s collection of implements and artefacts
runs into many thousands of items.
Nothing is thrown away...
here are some old signs of local businesses from
around the Kilrea area
Whereas many collectors like to keep their precious
collections private to themselves, Tom Graham believes
important to open his up to the public so everyone
has the chance to celebrate their history and heritage
of rural life ‘on the land’.
museum where the information is limited to what's
written on plaques, if you go to Claragh and ask
Tom about something, he's sure to say "Well now
there's a bit of a story behind that item..." be
ready to listen!
Click below to hear Tom Graham talking
to Ronan Lundy on "Your Place & Mine" on
18th June 2005.
Celebrating the culture
and heritage of an era passed by - the Claragh
Heritage Centre is a non
profit-making venture. Visitor donations are given
to charity. Visitors should book in advance - Tel:
Art in Northern Ireland
First Tractor in Lislea
Ireland – Life and Work of Margaret Gallagher
(Includes footage of Margaret Gallagher at home)
Stephen Graham - Dec
Thankyou From Tom and all at the Claragh for all the
kind comments. it makes it all worth while. Have a
merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Kevin Taylor - Nov
What a great idea. Indeed what a brilliant family
with its priorities in the right place.
Keep up the good work. And well done to the team for
highlighting such a little gem. Hopefully I will visit
in the new year.
Andrew Milliken - Glasgow -
A fantastic collection of historic memorabilia and
from an educational perspective this is so beneficial
for local schools and the surrounding community.
Congratulations Tom and Stephen for a smashing Heritage
Centre. I look forward to visiting the next time i'm
Denis Hyde - Sep '06
I need to go and visit this wonderful place soon.
Helen Evans Western
Australia - April '06
Hi Tom - I was alerted to your display by my cousin
in Australia. Great to see this collection online,
when I get back to Kilrea in the near future I will
be paying a visit. My grandfather's business name
plate is displayed - J Bloomfield & Sons- so I
will let the family know they can see it online along
with the many other interesting artifacts on display.
Keep up the good work Tom for the younger generations
to see. Grateful Granddaughter - Helen Evans.
Fionnbarr Diamond, the Erganagh -
Hi there Tom and family. I'm looking forward to getting
home next year with my son, Louis, and of course a
visit to your museum which is quite something judging
by the photos. I remember seeing your collection of
tractors, especially the Allis Chalmers when I was
a wee lad. I've a few stories to tell you of the machinery
they use on the iron ore mines here in the Pilbara,
Western Australia. Quite a different scale altogether.
("Hello Ruth, across the Tasman!!")
Kay Muirhead - Nov 05
I enjoyed looking through this website, as my Mother
was from Kilrea. I now live in England but my parents
live in Ballymoney, so on my next visit I intend to
see the Heritage centre. Do you know of a family history
centre where I could research my family tree????
Linda Long - Oct 05
I found your article very interesting. It's nice to
know that someone is maintaining a piece of history
in the town of kilrea. Each article of the past that
is displayed became a small step into our present
leading us to the future. I know someone that was
raised in kilrea (Knipe is the name)and next time
I see him I'll ask if he has paid a visit to Jamie's
cabin. Keep up the good work you are doing!
Nigel Burtney - July
Visited Tom and his collection at the weekend, a truly
remarkable showing of the times gone by. Tom himself
was a wealth of knowledge knowing the history and
dates of all items within his collection.
Tommy Collins - August
Tom A great collection and a great asset to the town
of Kilrea , wonerful that you were featured on Your
Place and Mine sending you this mesasage from THE
BIG YELLOW BUS parked in Kilrea Diamond on 3rd July
205 as part of the Fairy Thorn Festival
Jean-Yves & Monique Meuric
- July '05
We visited Tom's heritage center in last May.
We are living in Brittany and found there many tools
we have seen and used in our youth, and also many
ones we didn't knew it could exist , specially this
surprising wooden washing machine ! Tom has hours
and hours to spend with his visitors.
Thank you Tom !
Ruth Graham - NZ -
Having grown up on these wonderful grounds I can only
say that it still amazes me to go home (I live in
New Zealand) and see what Dad has erected or added
to the collection. As I walk around he is able to
tell the story behind even the smallest item and it
has given me an insight into days gone by. It is a
treasure well worth a visit and he is a great historian.
Walter Crawford - June
A real treasure right on our doorstep. I have visited "The Claragh" Heritage
Centre and found it almost impossible to tear myself
away and Tom was
the perfect guide.
Well worth a visit.
'Seventy Plus' - June
What a wonderful collection of memorabilia, a truly
magical glimpse into the past. Visiting the centre,
especially Jamies cottage, must be an absolutely amazing
experience for school children growing up in today's
technological age. This would give them a glimpse
of how almost all of our forebears lived. Thank you
for this extraordinary report and photographs and
for the many other extremely interesting articles
to be found on your web site.