Bill Barbour (1920-2009), Anne Barbour (1926-2009)
Alliance members will have been saddened to learn of the deaths of Anne and Bill Barbour in such tragic circumstances late last year. For many years, Bill Barbour was the heart and soul of the Alliance Party in Fermanagh, having joined the party at the beginning, acting as Association Chair for many years as well as being an election agent and council candidate in his own right.
Bill Barbour was raised in Bangor to parents who he often said had one common interest — spending money. Although the family had been reasonably wealthy on both sides, his mother’s profligacy was such that the family lived in occasional bouts of splendour interspersed with long periods of penury.
Bill’s ferocious intelligence earned him a scholarship to study Classics at Trinity College Dublin. After graduating with First Class Honours, he was recruited into code-breaking at Bletchley Park, but by 1944 felt that the code-breaking was largely over, and volunteered for regular military service, serving in Military Intelligence in Egypt. Bill met Anne when they were both working in code-breaking — in making his first approach to her, apparently Bill bounded down flight after flight of stairs to intercept Anne at the door when she left work one day.
After a short spell teaching in England, Bill took up a post teaching Classics at Portora in 1951, and he and Anne were to spend the rest of their lives in Enniskillen.
Neither of them was short of physical courage; Bill spent three different periods of his life as a volunteer soldier, under two different governments: while a student in Dublin in 1940 as part of the Irish home guard when a German invasion threatened, again in Egypt in the latter years of the Second World War, and finally wangling his way as an overaged Private into the UDR in the early years of the troubles. One story of a Liberal Party campaign in Fermanagh in the 1960s recounts Anne remaining in the car while Bill canvassed, in order to prevent it being physically overturned by a gang of Loyalists.
Bill and Anne joined the Alliance Party almost immediately on its formation, and were stalwarts of the party in Fermanagh for almost 40 years, most recently when they allowed their house to be the office for the Enniskillen by-election in 2009. Bill regularly took a respectable vote in council elections in Enniskillen, but never quite enough to take a seat in Fermanagh’s deeply polarised political environment. Bill also regularly acted as election agent for Alliance candidates in Westminster elections in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, most notable (that physical courage again) for Seamus Close in the by-election after Bobby Sands’ death in 1981.
Bill and Anne were deeply involved in community life in Fermanagh. Anne spent many years as a marriage guidance counsellor and a prison visitor. Bill was involved in the Royal British Legion and the integrated education movement. Both gave long years of service to the Citizens Advice Bureau.
The presence at their memorial service of both Fermanagh’s Sinn Fein MP and DUP Investment Minister showed the degree to which the Barbours were held in high regard across the community. Many lives were touched by Anne and Bill Barbour, and many will miss their human qualities — Anne’s honesty and kindness, Bill’s wonderfully laid back sense of humour and sense of proportion.