Caring minister who also left his mark with music

Obituary: Rev Bill Clarke

Rev Bill Clarke:  Born October 18th, 1924 –  Died February 12th, 2017

Rev Bill Clarke: Born October 18th, 1924 – Died February 12th, 2017


Rev Bill Clarke, who has died in his 94th year, was a Presbyterian minister noted for pastoral care, empathy for the disadvantaged and sick, and commitment to education. During his long ministry, he served in Dundalk and then Omagh.

He was noted for his healing ministry, which attracted people from a variety of backgrounds. As an educationalist, he served as a governor of several schools in Tyrone and Louth, and as chair of the Western Education and Library Board.

Home wine-making was one of his hobbies. Visitors to his home greatly admired his vintages. He was also a link to the small group who kept uileann pipe playing alive in the first half of the last century. His father William Clarke made one of the first commercial recordings of uileann pipe playing, in 1928. His son was proud to live to see a plaque in his honour unveiled in their native Ballybay, Co Monaghan.

Robert William Wylie Clarke was born just outside Ballybay, Co Monaghan, in October 1924, youngest of three children, two boys and a girl, to Robert William Clarke, a clock-maker and jeweller, and his wife Margaret (née Johnson).

House full of music

The young Bill Clarke grew up in a house full of music. As well as being an uileann piper, Robert William Clarke played the bagpipes in a local pipe band. As a child, Bill Clarke used often listen to groups of musicians play at night in the house which was a meeting place for musicians, uileann pipers in particular.

These were an eclectic bunch, including James Ennis of Dublin, father of piper and folklorist Séamus Ennis, and Br Gildas, an uileann-piping De la Salle Christian brother from Kerry. Tragically, William Clarke died of tuberculosis when his younger son was nine, and the music was stilled.

The Rev Clarke was educated at Hall St National School, Ballybay; the Masonic School, Dublin; and Trinity College Dublin, where he studied English and French. After Trinity, he studied for the ministry, first at Edinburgh University, then at Assembly’s College, Belfast.

Prior to ordination he was a student assistant minister in an Edinburgh church. During that time, he spent the summer supplying the pulpit in parts of the Orkney Islands.

After ordination, he was assistant minister in McQuiston Memorial Church in Belfast. For over 20 years he ministered to the congregations of Dundalk, Carlingford and Castlebellingham.

In 1971 he moved to Tyrone, as Minister of Trinity Church, Omagh, and Gillygooley. Afterwards, he was fortunate to enjoy over quarter of a century of retirement. During much of it, he supplied the pulpit in churches in the Derry and Donegal Presbytery. However, he faced personal tragedy later in life, with the deaths of his wife and only son.

He is survived by his daughter-in-law Kathryn; grandchildren Alice, Adam and Daniel; and sister-in-law Martha. He was predeceased by his wife Alice, and son Liam.