Well-known Orangeman who helped preserve set of minute books dating back to 1796

Matthew (Matt) Clarke, who was a well-known and respected member of the community in Armagh and Richhill, was a prominent member of the Orange Institution and other loyal orders.

Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 2:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 3:45 pm
Matthew Clarke

Born on St Matthew’s Day, September 21, 1941, he was one of six children of Matthew and Maud Clarke, of Fruitfield, Richhill. His sister Eva is the last survivor of that family unit.

Educated at the Hardy Memorial School, Matthew left at the age of 14 to join the Bairnswear Company at their factory on the Loughgall Road in Armagh. There, he proved to be a dedicated, hardworking employee, and he stayed with the firm for the whole of his working life.

In the course of his employment he worked his way through the ranks, to become the engineer in Armagh, and when the factory closed there, being transferred to Scotland for two years and England for another 14 until his retirement.

Bairnswear also introduced him to his future wife, Doreen, who worked in the clerical department: the couple were married in Lislooney Presbyterian Church, and celebrated 50 years of marriage last summer.

The couple had two children, Colin and Neil, and the family grew again with Colin’s marriage to Orla and Neil’s marriage to Nichola - and then the arrival of the apple of Matthew’s eye, his granddaughter Grace.

Matt Clarke had many interests, mourners heard at his funeral service in St Matthew’s Church in Richhill.

Rev Gary McMurray told the congregation that his chief interest had probably been his garden, which was always immaculate, the result of hours outside working on his plants, and working in his greenhouse.

“While Matthew enjoyed gardening, and growing things, perhaps his greatest pleasure was in sharing his produce with everyone - tomatoes and cucumbers; chrysanthemums to brighten the homes of family and friends in winter; cooking apples for tarts and crumbles at Hallowe’en; his generosity and thoughtfulness was always evident, especially at Christmas,” he said.

A dedicated member of the loyal orders, Matt Clarke was a member of Ballyleaney Purple Star LOL No 11, in which he had served as Worshipful Master, and District Master of Richhill, as well as serving on the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

He joined the lodge in the early 1960s and served as WM between 1974 and 1976, and a lodge spokesman said he would be greatly missed by the brethren.

“He was a great man. He involved himself in everything to do with our lodge, even attended the five-a-side football tournaments which we have won seven out of the last 10 years, pool competitions and so on. He was an ever-present at the hall and will be sorely missed,” he said, adding: “Matt was a faithful and loyal Orangeman and he will be sorely missed by all within the Orange family.”

In addition to serving as District Master of Richhill District LOL No 2, he was also a committee member of the Sir William Allen Fund, and as a member of the Grand Orange Lodge he worked on a number of committees. As a member of Grand Lodge he also worked on a number of committees, principally relating to Orange Hall and Orange Arch Insurance.

A keen lodge historian, he was instrumental in preserving one of the oldest private lodge minute books in existence; his lodge, Ballyleaney Purple Star LOL No 11, found all their lodge minute books dating back to 1796.

In co-operation with the Grand Lodge, the oldest minute book was digitised and copies lodged with both Schomberg House and Sloan’s House Orange museums. Mr Clarke was also a member of the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Derry. He was a lifelong member of St Matthew’s Church in Richhill. Interested in motorsports, he was an avid follower of Formula One on television and also attended the North-West 200 races each year.

Despite his many interests, he was never happier than when he was spending time with his family, whether it was enjoying a takeaway at home or a holiday abroad.

Following his retirement, Matt Clarke began to struggle with poor health in various ways, but he was always brave, never complained, and did not let his challenges hold him back, still wanting to get up and out when he could.

His family will remember him as someone who was at the very heart of the family and who loved having something to work on as well as enjoying a laugh and keeping up with all that was happening.

His family thanked all the medical staff who cared for him at home, and also the staff in the Renal Unit at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. Thanks were also expressed for all those who came to the funeral to pay their respects.

Following the funeral service, interment took place at Kilmore Parish Churchyard. Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to Kidney Care UK NI, made payable to Jackson Stoops & Sons, Funeral Directors, 44 Moy Road, Armagh BT61 8DL.

Mr Clarke is survived by his wife Doreen, sons Colin and Neil, daughters-in-law Orla and Nichola, granddaughter Grace and his sister Eva and nephew John.