John Clarke honoured with Blue Plaque

On a beautiful morning in Bushmills, the family and friends of John Clarke gathered at his former home and workplace to honour his life and extraordinary work with the unveiling of a blue plaque from the Ulster History Circle.

John Clarke (RIGHT) was born on 1 February 1889 at Lamnagh Beg, Ballintoy, son of Daniel and Margaret. He attended St. Mary’s Primary School at Ballinalea, but left, aged about 12, to work on the family farm in Broughgammon, and obtained no further formal education.

Despite this, by dint of extensive reading in Ballymoney Library, and ongoing research and experimentation throughout his life, he became a recognised expert on the science of potato breeding, producing dozens of varieties, some of which are still widely grown.

John Clarke won many accolades. He was awarded the Lord Derby Gold Medal in 1948, a Master of Agriculture Degree by QUB in 1950, the John Snell Medal by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge in the mid-1950s, and in 1957 the Belfast Telegraph Cup for Outstanding Achievements in Agriculture. John was awarded the OBE in 1969. He died on 28 May 1980.

At the blue plaque ceremony, Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed everyone to the special event, which the first of several such events in memory of a very special person.

Chris said that when he first heard Maurice McHenry speaking on Radio Ulster about John Clarke he knew that here was a first-class subject for a blue plaque.

Councillor Sandra Hunter, Chair of Moyle District Council, welcomed everyone to the event. John Clarke developed 33 varieties of potatoes, most which carried the prefix ‘Ulster’ and his work lives on in his most famous variety, the Maris Piper. She said it was a privilege to be able to till the same land as that used by John Clarke. She thanked Maurice McHenry, the Ulster History Circle and the National Trust for this memorial to John Clarke.