Monday, 9 January 2012
Blue Plaque for Ulster-Scots writer and storyteller
This is a very late report of the unveiling of a blue plaque in Ballyclare on 8 October 2011 to a local man whose fiction and stories were grounded in the observation of the people in his local community around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The occasion was a double celebration as the Ulster-Scots Language Society launched a reproduction of his best-loved book, The Auld Meetin' Hoose Green. Both events were at the Town Hall in the village Square.
Archibald McIlroy was born in 1859 in a townland close to Ballyclare, where his father was a small farmer. He studied Belfast at the Mercantile Academy and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Hving worked as a clerk in the Ulster Bank he set up his own business on his own account. He became a JP, and a member of Down County Council, a position that gave him the chance to promote the cause of land reform, a contentious issue in late-Victorian Ireland.
McIlroy's young son started his writing career by badgering his father for stories. A series of sketches based on his youthful exploits around Ballyclare became McIlroy's first book, When Lint was in the Bell. This book's popularity encouraged him to write The Auld Meetin' Hoose Green in1898, a humorous re-working of tales told to him by his mother, and by workers in the east Antrim countryside. McIlroy uses the true Scotch tongue of the countryfolk in his writing. The book sold well on both sides of the Atlantic.
Five more books followed, By Lone Craig-Linnie Burn, A Banker's Love Story, The Humour of Druid's Island, Burnside and By the Inglee Nook. The popularity of his writing made McIlroy in demand as a lecturer, when he would regale audiences with tales of old Ballyclare. In 1912 he travelled to Canada to work for the Presbyterian Church, but his final journey was to be on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk off the coast of Cork by a German U-boat on May 7th, 1915. One of almost 1200 souls who perished that day, McIlroy never returned to the land of his birth.
Although the weather was indifferent there was a great turnout of the local people for the occasion.
In the Town Hall after the ceremony Ronnie Hassard, Principal of Ballymena Academy, McIlroy's biographer spoke movingly about McIlroy's life, work and times. Jeanette McKendry, of the Ballyclare Historical Society read excerpts from The Auld Meetin'-Hoose Green. It was interesting to listen to the authentic voice of the local people over a century ago as conveyed through McIlroy's words.
A musical group from Ballyclare High School entertained the company. It was a wonderful performance and soundly acclaimed.
In the Town Hall there was an Exhibition of McIlroy's life and work, contributions from the Ballyclare Historical Society, refreshments courtesy of the Borough Council and the launch of the reprinted book by the Ulster-Scots Language Society.
By the end of the day it was clear that Archibald McIlroy was forgotten no longer; the book and the plaque being tangible reminders of his contribution to his community and to the world.