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Tea Break

Maggie Doyle
Magy's Farm, County Down

Maggie Doyle and Linley Hamilton b.jpg

Maggie Doyle and Linley Hamilton

In 2023, Magy's Farm in Northern Ireland was shortlisted as one of three locations for 'Venue of the Year' at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. The Award eventually went to The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen, Scotland, but for Magy's Farm, the nomination itself, from all the venues in the UK, was quite an achievement, paticularly due to its location.

Magy's Farm in County Down is in rural Ulster, an hour and a half away from the main town Belfast. It has only been running gigs for a short while, adding other projects along the way. It is run by husband and wife Maggie Doyle and Linley Hamilton. Linley is a well-established jazz trumpeter and a lecturer at Ulster University as well as leading his own jazz ensembles. Maggie is an award winning radio producer and former Editor of Music Programmes at BBC Radio Ulster where she worked for many years before taking early retirement in 2019. She is currently taking a Diploma in Poetry course at Queen's University Belfast and plans to release her first collection in 2024.

You only have to look at their website page of past and future jazz gigs to see the names of musicians the venue attracts, and it is not surprising that Maggie tells me that many of them nominated Magy's Farm for the award.

I was able to learn more when Maggie dropped by for a Tea Break:

Hi Maggie, Thanks for dropping by, it’s nice to see you. Tea? Coffee?

Tea please Ian, with milk but no sugar.
It was good to meet you and Linley at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards event in July. Many congratulations on Magy’s Farm being shortlisted for the Venue of the Year Award. I know it was won by the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen, but to be shortlisted as one of the three nominations from among all the venues there are is amazing.

Yes,, it was a real honour to be shortlisted for the PJA Venue of the Year and we deeply appreciate all the support from those who voted for us. Many congratulations to the team at The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen!


I like the byline for Magy’s Farm on your website “Where Music Grows”. Is the venue actually a farm and what is its story, and how come it is ‘Magy’s’ Farm and not Maggie’s Farm?

Yes Ian, our Magy’s Farm venue is located on our farm at the foot of Dechomet Mountain in the Dromara Hills in County Down.  Dechomet is said to be from an old Danish word meaning ‘good viewing’.  The surrounding scenery is spectacular with views of the Mourne Mountain range, the Belfast Hills and, in the distance, Lough Neagh and the Sperrin Mountains. I grew up on this small dairy farm where my mother, also called Maggie, kept the place going when my father Nicholas died after a short illness in 1974.  My sister Carmel and I were 8 and 12 years old and we helped Mum with the twice daily milking of our 8 cows and all the associated chores on a working farm. Mum passed away many years ago and the little farm with a byre and small outbuildings lay unused until my husband, jazz musician and educator Dr Linley Hamilton, and I decided to move back there in 2019. We built a new house on the site and converted one of the outbuildings into a small performance space where musicians and students could rehearse and perform to a small audience of approximately 35 people.

Since then, the popularity of ‘Magy’s Farm’ has just grown beyond our expectations and we’ve had world class musicians like Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart, Jim Beard and Jon Herington, Paul Jost and many more English and Irish performers on tour playing here.  So,the little farm where I grew up has been transformed into a recognised venue on the international jazz circuit and it makes me very happy that the place has come alive again through music, hence our line – Magy’s Farm – ‘where music grows.’ The name Magy’s Farm instead of ‘Maggie’s ‘ is simply because that title is already in use for other businesses on the internet so our spelling makes us easier to find.

Magys Farm.jpg

I hope that people who come to the Farm appreciate that Dromara is an historic place going back to the 1300’s and named after a “ridge of heifers”. Quite clearly farming land. Is it picturesque?


Yes, Dromara is the nearest village to us, about five miles from the farm.  It lies in the shadow of a mountain called Slieve Croob which means ‘mountain of the hoof’. The famous River Lagan rises at the summit of this mountain and flows from there all the way to Belfast city.  The area has a rugged and dramatic beauty with lots of hills and drumlins that lead to unexpected viewing points around many bends on the country roads. 


How on earth do you and Linley manage to keep all your interests and other work going!? Apart from his band, Linley lectures at Ulster Magee University, while you  have a podcast, you are a writer and are also on a Diploma in Poetry Course at Queen’s University in Belfast. Can we expect a collection of your verse, and have you written any about music?


Linley has an amazing work ethic and thrives on managing several projects at once although, in recent times, the country air and leisurely walks have helped him take things a bit easier.  Nonetheless, he continues to teach music at the University in Londonderry (a good 2-hour journey from here) and he is totally committed to developing the next generation of musicians and singers.  He also has weekly gigs at Bert’s Jazz Bar in the Merchant Hotel in Belfast and plays with other local bands from time to time.  Earlier this year, he released his sixth album Ginger’s Hollow which has received great reviews following a successful tour.  When I took early retirement from BBC Northern Ireland in 2019, I did an MA in Creative Writing at Queen’s University in Belfast which led to the publication of my book ‘Mountain Notes – A Nature Diary’ which is really the story of our return to the farm and our reconnection with the natural world all around us here in the mountains. I love writing about local places and, using my radio production skills, I make a seasonal podcast called ‘The Mountain Gate’ which features some of my writing but, mostly, interviews with other creative people living in the area.  I am currently doing that part-time MA in Poetry and hope to publish a collection next year.  It will feature poems about the area, nature and, of course, music! 


That's quite a busy agenda, Maggie! As well as featuring some prominent jazz musicians at the Farm – Tom Ollendorff, Kit Downes, Ant Law and Alex Hitchcock, Christine Tobin, Ivo Neame, as well as those others you mention, you have also established a Collective at Magy’s Farm – I’m not surprised you were nominated for the award! What is the idea behind the Collective and how is it going?


Well, we set up The Magy’s Farm Collective during 2020/21 when performances of music stopped because of the Covid pandemic. Linley knew how much his students were missing opportunities to play together and develop their skills so we decided to offer some of the singer/songwriters a chance to grow by providing tuition and coaching online with friends of ours who are professional songwriters/musicians/producers.  This proved very successful and by mid 2021, five girls had recorded three original songs and took part in the Women’s Work Festival in Belfast.  Since then, we continue to support other young jazz musicians by offering them the Magy’s Farm space and facilities (which includes a piano, full drum kit, double bass and PA) for free to rehearse (Linley’s coaching a jazz quintet practicing there as we are having a tea break!).

Magys Farm Collective 2b.jpg

By the way, what do you usually have with your tea or coffee break over there? I only have a selection of biscuits I’m afraid - Ginger Nuts, Digestives .... I do have some Coconut Creams but I believe that Mikado biscuits are popular in Ireland? I got in some Mikado biscuits once but they were  finished off rapidly by three little maids from school. Anyway, do help yourself, Maggie.


Yes Mikados and Coconut Creams are popular here but I prefer a plain biscuit so it’s a McVities Digestive for me at tea break time. Thank you!
I see that one of the bands you had back in January was called ‘Aren’t Blakey’? I love that name! Are they a local Irish band?

‘Aren’t Blakey’ was a fun name for a six-piece Irish band that played at the farm earlier this year. It was a project celebrating the music of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. Linley played trumpet with Daniel Rorke on sax, Scott Flanigan on piano, Cormac O’Brien on bass and Paul Dunlea on trombone.
One thing that amazes me is that Magy’s Farm is out in the countryside, not in a town, although it is about half an hour from Belfast. Is your audience local or do people travel to you for gigs from the main cities?


Yes, people do travel from Belfast, Dublin and beyond to our gigs and we have a core audience of local fans who go to almost every gig for which we are eternally grateful.
If you could invite any international band who hasn’t played yet at the Farm to sit in on our tea break and give us a taste of their music, who would you ask?

The Michael Blicher Trio featuring Michael, Dan Hemmer and Steve Gadd – watch our website!
Nice. Michael has broadcast a short video from Copenhagen about their new album and tour here, so people can get a taste of what to expect. If a band would like to play at the Farm, how should they contact you?


They can email, or call Linley on 07803 968199, or contact us through our website here where you can find out more about us.

Magys Farm Art Hoenig Trio.jpg

The Ari Hoenig Trio at Magy's Farm

We have to be impressed with what you and Linley have achieved there in just four years, Maggie. It sounds like there is a lot of very dynamic stuff happening. How do you see the future panning out?

We never dreamt that this little farm on the side of Dechomet Mountain could become such a popular jazz venue with international musicians performing and asking to come back again and we will just keep going as long as our loyal audiences continue to support the shows. We have no plans to expand as musicians and audience members tell us regularly that it is the intimacy of the venue and the pre-show /post-show drinks in the kitchen that make Magy’s Farm welcoming and unique. For both of us, it is a privilege to be back here in this special place hopefully honouring the memory of my mother and father and grandparents who worked so hard to hold on to this farm. I think Linley has transformed the farm with his vision and his connections within the jazz and wider music industry and I’d like to thank him for his inspiration and generosity of spirit.  Together we try to make performers and audience feel welcomed and appreciated at Magy’s Farm.
I think we should play a track from Linley’s recent album Ginger’s Hollow while we finish our coffee. Who was Ginger? Do you have a particular track you like?

Ginger was a timid, little feral cat who had been bullied by older cats and was living under the hedgerow that lined a dip in the road near here.  We fed him twice every day and he would be waiting for us beside his bowl beneath the hedge.  Sadly, he was killed by a car one morning and we buried him in a meadow beside the farm.  He touched our hearts very deeply and Linley decided he should be remembered by naming the album after him. I love the track Ginger’s Hollow  – there is a sweetness in the melody and arrangement that recalls the memory of our much-loved companion.

Thanks for dropping by, Maggie. I have no doubt that we shall be hearing much more about Magy's Farm in the coming months.


Thanks for the tea and biscuits, Ian. I think I had better get back and sort out the donkeys - they will be wanting their tea break too!

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