Tag Archives: Alec Blair

Bellaghy Historical Society – April 2010

Alec Blair: April 13th, 2010
Rev. W.F. Marshall: Bard of Tyrone
Born 1888, William Forbes Marshall was the second of three sons of a schoolmaster,
Sixmilecross, Co. Tyrone.
He attended the Royal School, Dungannon. At age 16, he left for Queenʼs College, Galway
from where he graduated, 1908, with an Arts degree and with an LLB, 1910.
W.F. arrived in Aughnacloy, 26-06-1913, to serve as minister, his first posting.
He took up ministry in Sixmilecross, 1916, where he married Suzanne Mc Kee of Belfast.
They had three children-Charles, Margaret and John.
He later moved to Castlerock where he served longest as minister.
He regarded the Presbyterian Ministry as his calling and as the most important thing in his
life. He was most elequent as preacher. He wrote his sermons late Saturday night. None
was ever published. however, he always gave childrenʼs addresses during his sermons-in
fact, he was a pioneer in this area.
He was expert on the communion service: he studied Calvin, the Jewish Passover as well
as Eastern practices. He lectured in Oxford on the subject.
He studied the Ulster dialect and in 1942 was made a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
In 1952 a Doctor of Divinity honorary degree was bestowed upon him.
He lectured at Magee in elocution for student ministers.
W.F. said of himself that he was not a poet but a bard, a verse maker. He was a product of
the place from which he came. He used the speech or parlance of the people of the areawhich
was unusual for a Presbyterian minister of that time.
His most famous verse, “Me and Me Da” (“Drumlister”) was written in 15 minutes! It
became very popular at concerts and gatherings. It propelled him into notoriarty when
broadcast on BBC Home Service.
He went on to use radio as a vehicle to provide literature to the populace. His BBC
broadcasts “Ulster Speaks” were published 1925- 6p for 5 0r 6 books in the series.
Six post bags of mail would arrive at Castlerock and he answered every letter!
He used different local Tyrone/Derry?antrim speakers to illustrate the subtlties of
dialectical differences.
He wrote Shakespeareʼs “Midsummerʼs Night Dream” in Ulster speech which proved to be
closer to the original version than present day modern English!
W.F. had hoped to produce an Ulster Dialect Dictionary but his lifeʼs work was destroyed
when his pupate the script!
He then wrote a novel, an adventure set in the Sperrins, “Planted by a River”.
1943- he published “Ulster Sails West”, telling of the emigration of Ulster people to the
U.S. in the 1880s. He gave the proceeds to the Ulster Unionist Council to help fund
campaigns in America opposing De Valera and Irish Republican politics.
Marshall wrote a play “Cordoroy Bag” -with 32 scene changes!
It is for verses that he is deservedly remembered.They were written for pleasure, to give
others a laugh. He was a humourist and he became a household name. He wrote about
the people of Sixmilecross; fishing was his hobby; ceili-ing was an enjoyment.
Upon his death, 25-021-1959, Blackstaff published ʻLiving in Drumlister”, a collection of
most of W.F. Marshallʼs verses.

Bellaghy Historical Society – December 2008

The Speaker at the December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was the well known local Historian, Mr Alec Blair whose subject was “The Planter and the Gael”.

He pointed out that they made what might be called a volatile mixture as the Planter was generally taken to be Protestant and British and the Gael to be Catholic and Nationalist. In fact he pointed out that there was no such thing as a true Gael as Ireland had been invaded very many times centuries ago (for example by marauding groups such as the Vikings and Normans) and that the Gael was a mixture of different bloods. There were Gaels in France and other countries in Europe and he quoted Irish names which had obviously descended from these times.

The first Planters were mostly Scottish and were sent here because they were expelled for various crimes they had committed and a lot of them went back . The seventeenth century plantation had been more successful because the King oversaw it and with the disastrous intervention of Cromwell it had become the most resented episode in Irish History. He then gave examples of the strife it had caused – from the rebellion of 1641 up to the present day.

He also interspersed his talk with poems written by “both sides” which demonstrated with humour how well, in fact, they had got on. His concluding points were to illustrate what a mixture we all are, tracing the origin of names from the Planter and the Gael which illustrated that many families had “changed sides” over the years and pointing out that in present times we had learned to respect each others cultures and points of view.

Mrs Mary Breslin thanked Mr Blair for his talk which had been listened to very attentively by his audience and reminded members that the meeting in January would be a showing of events and customs in very old films by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission.