Sad death of Country Comes to Town co-founder

Jim Dickson
Jim Dickson

Jim Dickson, who died last week after a long illness, was best known in the area as one of the founders of the annual Country Comes to Town (CCTT) festival each September in Portadown.

Jim (70), whose home was at Wentworth Green, Portadown, passed away in hospital after a long and brave fight against illness. He will be sadly missed by several organisation which he served with totally commitment and selflessness.

He will be missed most of all by his loving family – wife Roberta, daughters Gemma Haugh, who runs her own business, Ceara Dunlop, a primary school teacher, Claire Dawson, an environmental health officer, and son Kenneth, a sheep farmer in Aberfoyle, Scotland.

He also leaves sons-in-law Clive, Richard and Keith and daughter-in-law Lynne. There are six grandchildren – Elsa, Elijah, Lydia, Jessica, Caleb and Jacob.

Jim was a big man in stature and in outlook, and through his service to the community received the MBE in 2011 – it was presented at Buckingham Palace by the Prince of Wales, a day which the family will never forget.

He was born Thomas James (Jim) Dickson to Johnny and Peggy Dickson of Vicarage Road, Portadown, one of two sons and was predeceased by his brother George. Family values were the main driving force and he loved nothing better than helping his father in the family’s market gardening business.

The young Jim was educated at the local Battlehill Primary School and at Clounagh (then Intermediate) School after which he was employed by Thomas Hyde, the Mandeville Street building firm, as a joiner.

He spent his early working life within the construction business, going out on his own as a digger driver. Then in the mid-1970s, he set up his own joinery works at Carleton Street, employing upwards of 30 people, constructing houses and businesses.

After that, he worked in the concrete industry, working for firms like Taranto de Pol in Tandragee, specialising in concrete piling.

In the meantime, he and Roberta were married at her home church, Derrymore Presbyterian, near Limavady in 1981. Jim, though, was a lifelong Methodist – firstly at Battlehill, then Ballinary at the Birches and laterally Mahon Methodist.

The Ballinary connection came when he bought the Bronte Lodge Public House at the Birches where he developed his community ethos. He set up the Birches Community Association, and helped with the Birches Cosy Club (for pensioners) and the Heritage Club. He was also involved in an active farmers’ group, and the Bronte Lodge was a fulcrum for many community aspects.

CCTT was, though, his greatest love. Fellow Birches man Mervyn Carrick and Jim tailor-made for the challenge, after they agreed that Portadown – with a rather negative image – needed something positive to place the town on the map. And how they succeeded, with Jim secretary and Mervyn chairman.

It was far from being an inward-looking group. They forged links with Ballina in Mayo and with Stirlingshire in Scotland to make it all-embracing. CCTT had wonderful links with Ballina’s Salmon Festival and they formed an organisation called STRAP – Shamrock-Thistle Rural Action Partnership involving then three areas. And Jim and Mervyn were virtually honorary residents of Ballina where they widely known and respected.

Jim also thoroughly enjoyed the TADA Group – Tyrone, Armagh, Down and Antrim, a rural network which did sterling work.

He was organising secretary of CCTT for 13 years, and took great pleasure (as did Meryn) when they attracted the Connemara Pony championship to Portadown Public Park, opening it to the entire community on their special days in September.

Jim was also a Country Music fan and a friend of exponents like Hugo Duncan, John Greer, Kenny Archer and Brian Coll. He also owned a number of racehorses over the years, his favourite being ‘Ballycrum’ named after the townland near Limavady where his in-laws lived.

The packed funeral service was at Thomas Street Methodist and the mourners included 13 from Ballina, among them a former Chairman of Mayo County Council and Mayor of Ballina.

The service was conducted by Rev Ken Robinson, with Mervyn Carrick giving a heart-felt tribute to the memory of his great friend and colleague.

He said, “Jim Dickson was a big man with a big heart – caring and compassionate, always enquiring about the welfare and well-being of others, weeping with those who wept, rejoicing with those who rejoiced.”

He added that Jim – as a community man – galvanised local people into self-help enterprises in what he judged was a battle to fight a deficit in rural communities.

After going through the many aspects of Jim’s life, he finished, “Thank you, Jim, for your valuable contribution forged at ordinary people level on the basis on mutual respect and understanding.”

Burial was at the family plot in St Saviour’s (Dobbin) Churchyard at Vicarage Road where Jim Dickson began his life 70 years ago.

Donations in lieu of flowers are to Craigavon Area Hospital 4 South Comforts Fund, c/o George McNabb & Co., 106 Bridge Street, Portadown BT63 5AP.