Much-liked farmer was one of Islandmagee’s oldest residents

Mr Willie Woodside, who died suddenly at his home at the age of 92, was one of Islandmagee’s oldest and best-known residents.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 12:47 pm
Willie Woodside
Willie Woodside

The fourth child of John and Jeannie Woodside, William Andrew Woodside was born on March 31, 1928, at the Gobbins Farm.

He grew up there with his siblings Elizabeth, Bertie, Thomas, Gertrude and Sarah. Growing up, their collective efforts on the farm and in the farmhouse helped the family to become very close; this closeness and affection for one another remained, and right up until his passing the weekly phonecalls to Gertrude in Windsor, Ontario, and Sarah in Islay helped them keep in touch with each other’s lives.

Tragedy struck the family on May 21, 1935, when his brother Bertie was killed in an accident on the cliffs: for Willie the natural beauty of the Gobbins was forever tainted by Bertie’s death.

Willie Woodside attended Mullaghdubh Primary School, where the head teacher, Mr Douther, was keen for him to carry on at school. He came home, however, to the farm at the age of 13, missing out on an opportunity to attend Belfast Inst. As a consequence, when he had his own family he was very keen that his children made the most of their educational opportunities.

Willie continued to self-educate, however, being fond of reading and having an enviable ability to remember names, events, historical dates and facts. One of the anecdotes detailed at his funeral service was how, when he once met one of his son Michael’s work colleagues, he recited the principal towns of his home county of Sussex which the Islandmagee farmer had learned at school nearly 70 years before. His grandsons Rory and Finlay were very proud that their papa was able to provide them with an almost first-hand account of details around World War Two when they were doing their primary three history project.

In time, only Willie and his brother Thomas remained at the Gobbins with their sister Gertrude going to live in Canada and Elizabeth and Sarah finding new lives and homes in Scotland. The two brothers farmed together for many years and their areas of interest in the business complemented each other with Willie enjoying going to markets and dealing in cattle and Thomas doing the ploughing, hay baling and other field work. They were very close as brothers and when they decided to farm separately in the early 1980s that close working relationship and mutual respect remained. Thomas’s death in 1996 was particularly difficult for his brother, as their lifelong bond was broken and even many years later Willie would become emotional when we talked about his brother Thomas.

Willie Woodside thrived on going to markets and would seldom have missed the Ballyclare weekly sale. He was always keen to buy or sell something; coming home not having done some business was, he felt, a day wasted. He came to meet and know many farmers over the years and in recent times when his son Stewart or daughter-in-law Lorraine took him to Ballymena those same farmers would come and say hello and share stories.

A man with a keen eye for livestock, he always liked to buy stock that he thought would thrive well and “alter” as he put it. When he arrived home at night there was usually something in the trailer and he liked to ask his children what they thought they were worth - “where would your mind be” was how he would put it. If the figure came back too high he reckoned the individual would not be safe to let out to buy; but if too low then, in his mind, they were hopelessly out of touch with the price of cattle.

On one occasion he and his sister Sarah were returning home after taking their mother to Cork, where she was sailing to Canada to visit Gertrude and they met a farmer in Tipperary moving cattle. Willie got chatting to him as he liked to do and ended up buying the cattle. He returned to Tipperary a few days later in the lorry to bring them back to Islandmagee, which was quite a journey in the early sixties.

In between farming and cattle marts he found time for socialising too and enjoyed attending youngfarmers’ dances. He was friendly with his cousins from Castletown in Ballynure and it was through his cousin Margaret that he met his future wife - Rubena Crawford from Belfast. Their first date was at a dance in Ballyclare town hall and after four years they were married in March 1965. Rubena predeceased him just before Christmas.

The couple set up home at the farm and over the next 11 years a second generation of Woodside children grew up on the Gobbins farm, retaining many happy memories of those times. While a fall in 2016 resulted in a reduction in his ability to get around, he still retained a strong interest in the farm and in Islandmagee, and was always pleased at the visits he received from friends and neighbours.

He received excellent care from his teams of carers over the last four and a half years and the family has expressed thanks to them for their friendship and commitment to him on a daily basis, something which he much appreciated.

His son Michael, said in a tribute at the funeral service, that his father would be deeply missed by all those who loved him. “He has been described as a true gentleman and a legend that Islandmagee has lost. He made an impression on the lives of so many people and he will never be forgotten,” he said.

Mr Woodside is survived by his sons Michael, Stewart, Andrew, Ian and daughter Jayne, their families and an extended family circle.

Due to current restrictions his funeral was private and donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to NI Chest, Heart and Stroke c/o S & J Irvine, 48 Rashee Road, Ballyclare BT39 9HJ. The funeral was conducted by Rev. Peter Bovill and interment took place at Islandmagee New Cemetery.

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