Three Geology teachers, three Mr Reids

In a recent blog post, Metageologist asked people to remember their most important geology teachers. Here are three of mine, all of whom shared the same surname.

I was educated in one of only half a dozen or so schools in Northern Ireland that taught geology to A Level standard. The geology teachers at the Royal School Armagh were the Vice Principal, Mr Darby Reid (nickname: “Darby”) and his son, Mr Michael Reid (nickname: “Wee Mick”).

Michael Reid was the person who really inspired me to get into geology. He had only recently graduated himself and was therefore probably less than 10 years older than us. He shared his enthusiasm for geology by sending us out to the frozen outdoor swimming pool to practice our hammer skills on the ice, showing us the key skill of licking rocks, taking us for field trips to the Mourne Mountains (I got soaked more than once doing a river section), and sharing exciting new developments in geology (this was the mid-late 70s when plate tectonics was new).

Darby Reid was one of the more senior teachers in the school, in fact he had taught my Dad in the 1950s. He had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian (as befits a Vice Principal) and was incredibly well organised (he hand-drew all the timetables for the school), but he had an obvious passionĀ  for geology. He very obviously relaxed when teaching geology and his afternoon field trips to Carboniferous limestone quarry at Navan Fort were a highlight. He also gave us a walking tour round the geology of buildings in Armagh, highlighting in particular the local breccia that became highly polished when used as doorsteps.

The school was fortunate to have inherited the Earl of Caledon’s* geology collection which filled two display cabinets in Mr Reid’s classroom. There was even a sample of uraninite (which would really give the H&S people canaries today!). The store-room next door had been converted into a rock lab, with a rock cutting and polishing machine that A Level students were permitted to use. I can still smell the unique aroma of slicing through Silurian turbidites.

This was a fantastic learning environment, and I know that three pupils from my year (out of around 50) went on to graduate with geology degrees and become professional geologists. That is a real testimony to the Reid family enthusiasm and passion for the subject.

I did my first degree at Queen’s University Belfast in the early 1980s, and one of the lecturers there was a sedimentologist called Mr Robin Reid (no relation to the previous two Reids). Mr Reid had been an RAF pilot during the War and had studied geology afterwards as a War Degree. He was emphatically called Mr Reid because of a poor decision over his Ph.D – apparently, and unknown to him, someone had submitted a Ph.D. thesis on exactly the same topic as Mr Reid only a week or so before he submitted his, and therefore he was denied the award of his degree.

My best memory of Robin Reid was the third year field trip to the Cotswolds and Weymouth. While the students took the ferry and a train to Cheltenham, and were then on a coach for the rest of the trip, Mr Reid rode his old Triumph motorbike. And yes, he did wear a white silk scarf, all very RAF. He introduced us to the joys of the Inferior and Greater Oolite, the Jurassic Coast and, crucially, real ale. I still get excited seeing oolites in the field.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who remembers these teachers. There are many more who I could mention (Arthur Whiteman from Aberdeen being one), but that’s for another day.

* One of the Earls of Caledon was a Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS).


My grandfather John Adams and his brother James Meeke (Jimmy) Adams grew up in a small labourers cottage in Lisadian, near Whitecross in Co. Armagh. Jimmy lived there until his death in 1986.

I think this is the cottage, and I’ll verify with old family photos (when I can find them!).

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From visiting Jimmy with my Dad I remember that the cottage had one main room and two bedrooms, and there was no bathroom. The main room was full of Jimmy’s junk (ahem, antiques), and had an open fire where Jimmy boiled a kettle and cooked directly on the fire using a griddle.

More Letters from the Front

John Adams SnrRemembrance Sunday is a good day to write this post, inspired by Julia’s post earlier.

A few weeks ago, my brother recently received a package from the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum in Armagh, containing copies of a number of letters written to my great-grandmother, Mary Anne Adams during the Great War. My Dad had donated them to the museum in the 1980s.

We had not seen quite a few of these letters before, and they have helped us fill in some blanks in my grandfather’s experiences of the War, training in Ireland and England, fighting near the Somme in France and Ypres in Belgium, getting wounded (twice – 1916 and 1918) and even working on a farm near Rouen while recuperating from illness.

The letters tell nothing of the fighting, but do indicate what it was like for young men to be away from home for over four years, and illustrated how letters from home were a lifeline. The modern equivalents (email, text, e-blueys) are probably equally important to today’s front-line soldiers.

We’ve been able to update the site with the new letters, and also use other documentary sources to give an idea of where the events happened (reading beyond the “somewhere in France”). Read the whole story on the updated Letters from the Front website.

Bye Bye Bawn

After almost 84 years, the Adams family bid farewell to Hamilton’s Bawn today, with the completion of the sale of my Mum’s house.

My grandfather and grandmother first moved to the village in 1926, my father was born there and lived all his life there, and me and my brothers grew up in the village. My parents built a new bungalow on a greenfield site opposite my grandparent’s house in 1967, moving in in 1968, and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Building Site 1
The house as a building site in 1967

hamilton's bawn
The house in 2010

My grandfather and father were heavily involved in the local branches of the Orange, Black and Masonic orders, they were both founding members of the local Silver Band in 1947 and they had a really strong personal identity with the area.

However my brothers and I all moved away in our late teens and have lost our connection with the village on the death of both our parents. While I am really pleased that we’ve been able to sell the house to a young family and we hope that they’ll be very happy there, the sale breaks that 84-year link between our family and “The Bawn”.

There’s something about our identities that will always mean that we’re from that particular place. We’ve been shaped by it’s history, particularly during the troubled times of the 1970s and 1980s, but also by the history of our family in that small area. The view from the front of the house across to Garvagh Hill is imprinted on my brain and I’ll never ever forget that I’m from “The Bawn”.