Roamer: A teacher and a preacher

Ballinamallard Methodist Primary School, late 1920s. George and Olive Coalter each side of back row
Ballinamallard Methodist Primary School, late 1920s. George and Olive Coalter each side of back row

Last week’s memories of a Ballinamallard primary school headmaster, shared here by Bangor reader Arthur Darragh, brought a fascinating response.

Last week’s memories of a Ballinamallard primary school headmaster, shared here by Bangor reader Arthur Darragh, brought a fascinating response.

Arthur suggested that George Coalter, who taught him when he was a child in Ballinamallard, probably signed the WWII New Testament that Ballymena reader W.J. Graham told us about last March.

Mr Graham’s Bible, dated September 15, 1939 and printed at the behest of King George VI, was one of many thousands circulated amongst servicemen during WWII.

Mr Graham’s copy was inscribed with a handwritten message “from Grandfather, Beulah Hill.”

Arthur Darragh proposed that this was his former headmaster George Coalter whose address was Beulah Hill, Enniskillen.

Mr Coalter was also a local preacher well known for distributing Bibles around military camps.

Arthur’s recollections on this page last Wednesday included the mention of a little country mission hall that was built and funded by one of Mr Coalter’s Christian colleagues.

A number of notes to Roamer conveyed the warmest of memories of the Fermanagh preacher and headmaster.

One, from Mr Coalter’s great grandson Johnston Irwin who farms near Eglish, Co Tyrone, acknowledged a remarkable coincidence!

“A most interesting little piece of information,” Johnston’s letter began, “is that George Coalter’s great-great-granddaughter, who is my daughter Rebecca, is on page 25 of today’s paper!”

Roamer checked back on last Wednesday’s News Letter and discovered her beneath the headline ‘Hard Work and Dedication is Paying off for Rebecca’.

“She is in the section ‘Women in Sport’ where she won a European fitness award,” her father’s letter continued.

As a dancer, top table tennis player, sports studies graduate, businesswoman and fashion show winner, Rebecca Irwin evidently shares her great-great grandfather’s characteristic determination!

Her father’s letter continued: “My grandmother was Beryl, George’s daughter, and my father Derek and his brother Leslie and sister Prudence, are all still alive.”

Perhaps they will be able to confirm that W.J Graham’s New Testament, “from Grandfather, Beulah Hill”, was signed by George Coalter!

A News Letter reader from the North West wrote “What a wonderful tribute to Master Coalter….people said they could hear him praying for the souls of the lost, very early each morning, in the Ballinamallard school house.”

Belfast reader Robert Williams remembers “church folk all over Fermanagh talked very affectionately about Mr Coalter when I was a lad.”

The Ballinamallard headmaster had died before Robert was born “but his daughter Olive used to organise a kiddies’ after-school Bible meeting in a tin hall in Enniskillen which I attended, I think it was held on Friday afternoons.

“She was known only as Miss Coalter to us all. She always wore a hat and played a pedal-pump organ and we all sang choruses and she told us Bible stories. I still remember the way Miss Coalter stressed the word ‘have’ when she taught us a verse from her King James bible - “whosever believeth on Him shalt ‘have’ everlasting life.”

Another remarkable note arrived in Roamer’s in-tray from Belfast reader Lily Foster, who has shared her memories on this page in the past.

Lily, in Towell House Residential Home, wrote: “I couldn’t believe it when I read the story about Mr Coalter. I am sending this picture taken at Manoo Hall, the hall mentioned in the story which was built by the Speers brothers.”

Arthur Darragh shared an account of “two rich brothers” who let Mr Coalter use their barn for evangelical meetings. The barn was too cold, so one of the brothers built him new premises!

“This is the Mission Hall where I went to Sunday school!” Lily Foster’s letter confirmed.

Referring to a faded old photo she added “I am in between the two girls with the white hats in the second row from the back.”

“There were several of us there who went to Letterkeen school at Kesh,” wrote Lily, reminding Roamer that the school was also attended “by evacuees from the blitz in Belfast in 1941 as has been told by Renee McAllister in her

stories in the News Letter some time ago. Also in the picture are about six of those evacuees who came to Mr Coalter’s Sunday school.”

Lily remembers him very well. “He was a lovely, homely man, a lay preacher who we all loved when he came to preach in Manoo Hall. As far as I remember he cycled from his home near Enniskillen.

‘‘I talked to my friend Priscilla Irvine who lives in Bangor to tell her about this story. She is beside me in the photograph. I discovered that she knows Arthur Darragh who sent Roamer the old newspaper articles about the Coalter family.”

Lily has a book written by Mr Coalter in 1950, and recalled that he’d published several more in 1951 and 1952 “selling one thousand copies each time!”

“After reading your article last night I got my book out,” Lily added.

“It has been well read over many years by all my family who lived in Kesh. I started to read it again when I got to bed but am willing to let someone who’s interested in it to have it once I’ve finished reading it.”

If any folk would like to borrow her book, Roamer will put them in contact with Lily - a small but profound step back to a big and profound personality that evidently left a mark wherever he taught and preached.