July 9th, 2020

Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries

During our 'New Parameters' photography programme, participants were given access to the National Museums NI collection and tasked with sourcing and sharing their favourite images. 

One curious participant, Ross Farrell, decided to find the locations and see what they were like today. When Ross located the spaces in the photographs that he had been admiring, he made some heartbreaking discoveries. Here is his story in his own words. 

Seeking Samon's Stone

"There are many images from Belfast that I could have said were my favourite but I wanted to find a photo that made a connection with the area that I live in - Crossgar in County Down. I researched on the NMNI website and came across a photographer called William Alfred Green (1870-1958) who came from Newry. One of his photos is called Samson's Stone and was taken in Downpatrick, a town which is about 5 miles from where I live. 

I had never heard of Samson's Stone and when I asked about it, it became apparent that not many others had either. The NMNI photo features a large stone with two young men sitting on top of it. They are rather well dressed for the occasion and it looks like they may have been out for a relaxing day in the countryside. 

From researching, I discovered Samson's Stone got its name from a story about Samson who pulled down a temple in Gaza. He did so with such force that a piece of the stone from the temple flew over the Mediterranean Sea and descended on a small hill outside Downpatrick. 

Having discovered the story of the stone I then wanted to find it and find it I did! It is a small hill now surrounded by houses with a path leading up to it. It appears to be a local gathering point for young people as I found many empty beer cans and bottles littered about the place. The stone has graffiti over it and it and has lost the appeal it once had 100 years ago which is quite sad and I'm sure the people who use it as a gathering point for anti-social behaviour have no idea of the story behind the stone. 

By comparing the then and now in the two photos reminds me that it can be so worthwhile to document through photography all the ordinary aspects of life."

Unveiling the identity and heartbreaking story of Phelim Magennis

"So after a little bit of research and another trip out, this time to Killyleagh which is 5 miles from where I live, I found this stile. It is known locally as Mary's Stile and there is a really interesting but sad story, of how it got its name. The original photograph tells the story of a young Phelim Magennis from South Down who is sitting on the stile, which looks into the graveyard of the Killowen Church. He is looking forlornly at the grave of his wife, Mary, and their young son, both of whom had died from cholera after the famine in the 1800s. 

Phelim had decided to emigrate to America after their death following the dire times in Ireland after the famine. This photo is him paying his last visit to their grave as he knows he will never return. The story itself is well known through the poem/ballad of Lady Helen Dufferin from which Helen's Bay and Helen's Tower in Clandeboye are named. I

 visited the stile and graveyard to take a few photos but the place has been destroyed by vandals and the grass is totally overgrown. There are the remains of a few headstones which have been worn down through the years and just one of the gable walls of the church now exists, which of course, has been vandalised with graffiti. 

I was trying to see if I could find the grave of Mary and her son but it is impossible. Perhaps a local historian would know where in their grave is. The stile is still there and I include it in my photos along with a few others. 

I wonder what happened to Phelim and did he make it to America."


Project Contacts

Shauna McGowan

Community Engagement Officer at National Museums NI

Niamh Baker

Curator at National Museums NI

028 9039 5285

Danielle Carragher

Community Engagement Officer at National Museums NI

Related News

View All


Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries
Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries
Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries
Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries
Photographer shares his story of heartbreaking discoveries

Nerve Centre, 7-8 Magazine Street, Derry-Londonderry, BT48 6HJ | T: 028 7126 0562 | E: info@nervecentre.org

© 2024 Making The Future, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Website by Reflex Studios