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
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 – April 2010
Alec Blair: April 13th, 2010