The life story of Larne’s most famous bard is to be told in a fascinating new book due to be launched later this year.
John Clifford, also known as the Bard of Kilwaughter, was a talented playwright, actor, musician and poet who had a deep and abiding love of his east Antrim roots and culture; the way people in the countryside talked, lived, worked and told stories.
John was ahead of his time in the 1960s, as he was recording all of this information in an effort to preserve the customs and traditions that lay closest to his heart.
And John’s remarkable story has caught the imagination of Comber woman Laura Spence, who has dedicated herself to compiling his life’s work into a single book.
“The Life and Collected Works of John Clifford – The Bard of Kilwaughter” will present an overview of John’s life, interposed with transcripts of his one-act kitchen plays and his many vernacular poems.
Born in 1900, John was hired out to work on a farm when he was just a teenager.
He spent many years working in England where he continued to educate himself and honed his skills as an actor. In fact, he appeared in several films and on stage during his life, and was good friends with Irish film actor, Richard Hayward.
Upon retirement, John returned to Larne and began a new career as chief librarian in Larne’s Carnegie Library. He helped to establish the Larne and District Folklore Society in 1968 and the Larne and District Historical Society in 1971.
As his short career as chief librarian came to an end with the construction of a new library, John was appointed curator of the Historical Centre (now Larne Museum and Arts Centre) by Larne Borough Council and began a new career when almost 70-years-old.
He worked tirelessly in that post, building up a collection of artefacts for the centre, helped by members of the Society.
John died in 1983 after a short illness.
Well-know local historian and John’s close friend, Liam Kelly told the Larne Times: “John was a great man and I still miss him even after all these years.
“I often said that with his energy, he would have put a man half his age to shame. Organising exhibitions and two re-enactments of Larne Hirin’ Fair were part of his workload, which he completed with relish and of course his talent for composing poetry continued right up until his death.”
Author Laura described John as a “fascinating character”, adding that she also has a family connection to the east Antrim area.
“My mum, Katie Muirhead was from Larne and lived in the Roddens and my grandfather, David Muirhead, was a teacher at Greenland Secondary School in Larne, so I spent a lot of my time here when I was younger,” Laura said.
“I have a deep interest in authentic Ulster Scots culture, particularly the Rhyming Weaver poets, and during my time as a local history producer for the BBC, I encountered John’s son, Raymond. We got talking about his father and his story immediately peaked my interest.
“John was such an interesting character who wrote about local topics in an east Antrim dialect. From what I have learned about John, he had a very dynamic personality and could gather people to him quite easily.
“He contributed so much to the Larne area and I feel he deserves recognition for his achievements.”
Laura has spent years painstakingly sifting through archives and speaking to John’s family and friends, in a bid to gather every item of written material he ever produced.
And while she is confident she has compiled the definitive collection of the Bard of Kilwaughter’s life’s work, Laura is now calling for local people to assist her in tracking down any potential hidden gems.
She added: “I would look pretty foolish if I launched this book, claiming it was the definitive collection of John’s work, only to later discover there was something I had missed.
“If anyone has any written material relating to John that they think may have slipped under my radar, I would ask them to take it to Larne Museum and Arts Centre, or contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org”
It is hoped that “The Life and Collected Works of John Clifford – The Bard of Kilwaughter”, will be available in stores by the end of the year.
The launch event will take place in the John Clifford Gallery at Larne Museum and Arts Centre.