Robert Sibbett (1868 - 1941):
Robert Mackie Sibbett had a distinguished career as a journalist on some leading newspapers in Ulster, and was also a local historian, notably as official historian of the Orange Order.
He was born in Killycoogan, a townland near Portglenone, north County Antrim. He was the only child of James Mackie, who left his wife shortly after Robert’s birth; she reverted to her maiden name of Sibbett, and Robert followed suit. He was educated at local national schools and travelled in America before returning to Ulster where he worked as a features writer on the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph. In 1897 he took up a post at the Belfast News Letter, where he remained until 1920. He also wrote for the Ulster Farmers Journal (he had a keen interest in things agricultural) and the Belfast Weekly Telegraph, for which he wrote articles on the Orange Order, of which he was a dedicated member. These were the basis for a later book, “Orangeism in Ireland and throughout the Empire”, which opens with a description (apparently quite serious) of the Orange Order as dating back in its theological groundings to the Garden of Eden. Rather poignantly, a brief introductory note is dated 1 July 1914, the eve of the war in which so many Orangemen – let alone other Ulstermen and Irishmen - would die in the service of the armed forces, some going to battle wearing their Orange collarettes.
He joined the Belfast Telegraph in 1920 and was still employed there at his death; was chairman of the Institute of Journalists (1917); official historian of the Imperial Grand Orange Council of the World (1926); and published several books of local history such as “On the Shining Bann” (1928), a thoroughly researched history of people and places around Portglenone, reprinted as recently as 1991. He described this area as “a district so full of beauty and charm, legend and witchery”. In 1909 he marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Revival (of Presbyterianism) by publishing a biography of one of its prominent actors, William Montgomery Speers. Sibbett was described as of “unfailing gentleness of manner” and “kindly and friendly disposition”, though his opinions on religion were rather acerbically of the Reformed tradition. In 1927 he was a stenographer at the trial for heresy of Rev Professor JE Davey, the last significant trial on this charge (he was acquitted). Along with being a committed Orangeman, he was a keen Presbyterian, elder, clerk of session (head of the congregation) and Sunday School superintendant of his local church.
He married Minnie Gamble in April 1909. They had three children. She outlived him by 35 years.
|Born:||4 September 1868|
|Died:||23 October 1941|
Dictionary of Irish Biography; obituary, Belfast Telegraph 23.10.1941; John Dunlop, “A Precarious Belonging” (Belfast, 1995); Sibbett: “On the Shining Bann: Records of an Ulster Manor”; Sibbett: “The revival in Ulster: or, The Life story of a worker” (1909)
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