Tributes have been paid to a Ballymoney historian who “was a great storyteller and an important bridge to the past”.
An iconic figure in the local community, Samuel Alex Blair, sadly passed away on Saturday at his Kilraughts home. A Service of Thanksgiving for his life will be held in Kilraughts Presbyterian Church tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11.30am. The house is strictly private.
Described as a larger-than-life character, the retired Dalriada teacher wore many hats in the town and further afield. He was a writer and lecturer, public speaker and storyteller. He also had decades long associations with Ballymoney Drama Festival, Ballymoney Probus Club and the Ballymoney Agricultural Show, to name but a few. He also wrote ‘Mollie’s Memories’ as a tribute to his good friend, the late Mollie Holmes.
Alex first came to Dalriada in 1952, as a pupil, but returned in 1965 as a teacher, first of English and then History, later becoming Head of the History Department.
An erudite and quite prolific writer, he produced “The School called Dalriada” to mark the Centenary of the School in 1978. His responsibilities included recorder at the School Swimming Gala and announcer at Sports Day, while his Sixth Form History Field Trip to Paris was an established annual event. He produced The Dalriada, the School magazine, for over ten years and under his guidance the Historical Records Society mounted fine historical exhibitions on local areas which were the focus of interest at Speech Day for many years.
Appointed a Senior Teacher in 1994, he was responsible for liaison with feeder primary schools and organised a productive series of information meetings for Primary School Principals, while in his role as Public Relations Officer, he notably organised a tribute for Mr. Gordon in March 2000 which attracted high praise for both content, tone and the selection of contributors. In this and everything he undertook for the School, Mr. Blair had the knack of making what he did appear almost effortless. In fact he was a meticulous organiser who left nothing to chance. To use one of his own phrases, he was, “a powerful case” – a larger-than-life character.
Ballymoney will miss this well-known local historian with a fund of stories rooted in the traditional ways of County Antrim. He was the first resource for would-be-local historians or visitors to the area researching family history. His sharp and often keen-edged wit together with his uproarious laugh made audiences laugh. He will also be sadly missed by the members of Ballymoney Probus Club and the Drama Festival on whose committee he served for four decades.
Mr. Jim Armour, the great grandson of Dalriada Founder-Headmaster has commented: “Dalriada and the larger community have lost a great storyteller and an important bridge to the past”.
Meanwhile North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey also expressed his sadness continuing: “It was with a great sense of sadness and shock that I learned of the passing of Alex Blair. To us all he will be remembered as “our Historian” our authority in all things past. We in Ballymoney owe him a great debt of gratitude for securing in print and the spoken word the history of many of our churches, organisations, characters and events. His voice was recognisable, his history talks memorable. I can recall many occasions when the presence of Alex Blair just made the event with his stroll down memory lane. I had the privilege to be present on many of those occasions and hear Alex in his own distinct style recall the past and weave its significance into the present.
“He was always willing and helpful if asked to take part in an event. I was pleased when he agreed to give a talk on the connections of Ballymoney and North Antrim with the United States on the visit of the American Consulate to the Town. He was indeed a man who made history come alive, interesting and even humorous.
“To his family we extend our sympathy, in the knowledge that the name of Alex Blair will live on in History.”
Ballymoney councillor Ian Stevenson also paid tribute to Alex, adding: “I knew him first as a pupil at Dalriada who inspired many of us to a great love of history. He was an excellent teacher who made history come alive and is fondly remembered by his past pupils. I also had the privilege in meeting him many times in my role as councillor.
“Alex was a humble genius who had an encyclopaedic knowledge and with his death potentially go many local stories of people, which he loved to recount at his many well attended lectures. Few if any locally did not know him, and his abilities in the general field of history were recognised far and wide, yet for all this he never changed.
“He put history into context and told it as it was, taking into account the different perspectives and piecing them together. He was actively involved in the community and no more so than at the local agricultural show. He will be missed by so many, in whose lives he played his part, though he would not have wanted a fuss. He was a son of Ballymoney who we were glad and privileged to know and to call our own and as said, he will be greatly missed.”
Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim UUP Assembly member and Party Leader, also extended his sincere condolences to the Blair family circle.
Assemblyman Swann said: “Over the years, Alex established himself as one of the leading historians and academics in the constituency. Not only was he a terrific historian, but he was also a magnificent story teller. Such was his reputation for contributing to the local community, he also developed a very strong reputation in agriculture. He served as a Vice President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and for many years, thoroughly enjoyed attending the annual North Antrim Agricultural Show in Ballymoney.
“Alex also had an outstanding personality. He will always be remembered as a man of the community whose presence was larger than life and whose laughter could fill a room. He will be sadly missed, not just by his family circle and vast array of friends, but also by the entire North Antrim community. We have lost a real legend.”