Bobbie Forrest: The 'singing brickie' who built Belgium's round tower
BOBBIE Forrest always said his greatest achievement during 55 years working as a bricklayer was the Irish round tower at the peace park in Messines, Belgium.
His father, also Bobby, had fought in the Great War, resulting in a life-long interest in the period.
In 1997 he had started a new job with the company Gilbert Ash in Coleraine. Soon afterwards, he was asked if he would be interested in working on a project to build an round tower at the Island of Ireland Peace Park to commemorate Irish soldiers who had fought in the First World War.
Bobbie’s response was an immediate and excited ‘Yes!’
So, in his 58th year, he started to build the tower with the aim of completing it for the official opening on November 11 1998.
He worked overtime and, with blood, sweat and tears, the 110-foot tower was finished on time.
The peace park was officially opened by President Mary McAleese in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, King Albert II of Belgium and Bobbie Forrest of Limavady, the ‘man who built the tower’.
Over the years he would make many friends in Belgium, especially Luc and Trees, whom he considered his closest friends.
Bobbie was born in a small house on the Roe Mill Road in Limavady in 1940.
He married Ann Mullan in 1963 and they had seven children: Bobby jnr, Teresa, Sean, Paula, Gareth, Nicky and Michael.
Bobbie’s interests in life were varied.
He was an excellent fisherman, learning as a boy to fish the night-fly for sea-trout and salmon in the nearby River Roe.
He was also a talented sportsman, proficient at running, boxing, snooker and pool.
Bobbie started working on his 14th birthday and served a five-year apprenticeship with a local firm. He soon became proficient in the trade of bricklaying and gained a reputation for hard work and was an excellent stonemason.
He worked primarily in the north of Ireland but when times were lean went to Germany for one year and on another occasion moved to Scotland for a two-year spell.
He did not enjoy living away from home because his heart was always in the valley of the Roe but he worked very hard to provide for his family.
Bobbie was known as the ‘singing brickie’ for his love of singing at work.
And it was only when he retired, aged 69, that he was able to follow the passions of his life – singing, poetry and history.
He had a tremendous memory and knew more than 100 poems off-by heart. He was particularly fond of the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge and would often visit his museum in Slane and recite Ledwidge poetry at events.
He was also fascinated by the Irish tenor John McCormack and read vociferously about his life.
Bobbie always enjoyed singing but it was only in later life that he gained the confidence to perform publicly.
He joined two choirs at the local Catholic parish in Limavady and was a committed member.
His two favourite songs were Danny Boy and Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer and he had the privilege of singing in Slane Castle on several occasions.
One of his proudest moments was when he was asked to sing Danny Boy at a Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate.
He regularly sang and recited poetry at local places, especially at the Keady Clachan Cottage and Eddie Butcher Festival.
He also volunteered to entertain the elderly residents of Cornfield Care Centre near Limavady.
Bobbie was acknowledged as a fine local historian and had a fantastic memory of all the people who lived in the town when he was a boy.
Many people who were looking to trace local families would be put in touch with him.
Predeceased by his loving wife, his passing at the age of 82 on April 30 this year was mourned deeply by his family and by many residents in the town of his birth, Limavady, the home of Danny Boy.
Bobby Forrest jnr