Alistair explained: “My initial interest in Blackhill National School in the townland of Moneyguiggy, Draperstown (whose 200th Anniversary coincidentally occurred in 2020) came about due to completing some genealogical research on behalf of two American ladies whose grandfather came from the adjoining townland of Duntybryan.
“I thought since the school was not far from his farm I would check the available school records. Not only did I find his school record in the registers but that also of my Great Uncles Samuel, Robert, Alexander and Hugh John Bodkin from the townland of Mormeal, Draperstown.
“I have no doubt that all those attending Blackhill School, including my ancestors, had a great sense of community and pride in where they lived and went to school.
“My own memory of attending the primary schools at Killure, Coleraine, and at Portstewart, has greatly dimmed with the passing of time.
“However, my mother told me that I was dragged screaming and shouting to my first day at Killure Primary School which was just opposite the garage and shop that my father owned.
“In theory, I should have become a farmer’s son but my grandfather James Bodkin (1878-1950) died when my father was still a teenager. With family guidance it was decided to sell the home-farm at Tullyroan, Draperstown, with my father going into the motor-car trade; and in January 1978 I joined the Royal Air Force.
“However, why I am relating this story is that I have very deep Scots-Irish ‘country’ roots on both sides of my family tree (Bodkin and McLean) and I am always aware of that organic link back to my ancestors, especially whenever I am in the vicinity of the majestic Sperrin Mountains.
“Poet Seamus Heaney (his HomePlace at Bellaghy is only about 14 miles from Blackhill) expressed this same sense of place very well through many of his poems and lectures. Another writer, this time singer-songwriter Van Morrison, sings about his ‘Sense of Wonder’ and being ‘in another world...in another time’; these words are how I always feel when visiting the Draperstown area in the Parish of Ballinascreen.
“From the ‘Townlands of the Parish of Ballinascreen’ Professor Patrick Loughrey states very succinctly that, ‘If you don’t know where you came from you will have no idea where you are going!’ This axiom has served me very well so far during my life.”
Meanwhile Graham Mawhinney, a founder member of the Ballinascreen Historical Society and the society’s current treasurer, reflected on the importance of the book.
He said: “Founded in 1980, Ballinascreen Historical Society has had a long pedigree of local history publishing combined with a full programme of meetings and outings for our members. And so it is with great pride that, for our 46th publication, we have linked up with an author whose paternal and maternal roots lie firmly in South Derry.
“Alistair Bodkin is not only skilled at writing and research but he is also talented in photography and computer design.
“This handsome volume marks the bi-centenary of Blackhill School (closed 1967) near Draperstown, but it also includes a mine of information on the other national schools in the Draperstown/Moneymore area.
“Alistair took care of every aspect of the book’s preparation and our hope would be that it would inspire others to research their own local, maybe forgotten, school.
“With over 280 footnotes there is certainly plenty of guidance for new research projects.”
Graham also noted: “With all the restrictions during this pandemic year the Society committee have seen definite signs of increasing interest in local history and genealogy.
“This book will be a treasure chest for many and its personal names index and general index will be so very, very useful. The society has now set up an online bookstore which means that the availability and cost of the publications can be viewed – and purchases made – by exiles around the world. Enquiries are already starting to flow in from Australia and USA.”
Is there a historical place in Northern Ireland that you think I should explore? Email: [email protected].