Mr William Craig
20th August 1827-10th February 1897
William Craig was, in his day a great man in Cullybackey. Brought up in the congregation of Boveva, near Limavady, he was appointed when a very young lad as teacher of Burnfoot National School in October 1845 where he taught until the 17th May 1853, when he came to Cullybackey. The influence he wielded in the village school was considerable as after many years had passed the few survivors of that generation asserted quite confidently that, “there was nothing like him in that school either since or before.”
In those days there was no such thing in this country as compulsory education. Young people could go to school or not just as their parents pleased, for as a rule they were put to the loom or the farm at an early age, so that, unless their desire for knowledge was strong enough to overcome many and serious obstacles, they had to be content with the acquisition of the very elements of learning, a little reading, writing and ciphering, only. For those who were too big or too busy to attend the day school an institution popularly known in the village as the “writing” school was established by William Craig, from six until nine o’clock on Monday and Thursday evenings. The principal subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic, and as extras “anything you liked” and for this each scholar paid a fee of one shilling per quarter.
Though nine o’clock was the finishing time, Mr Craig was never in a hurry to get away. Diligent, but indulgent fathers allowed their sons and daughters to stop work early so that they could attend, though it was not uncommon for mistakes to be made on the way home, and somehow brothers could be found escorting sisters who were not their own.
Mr Craig not only taught the boys’ school and the writing school, but was a very important person in local church activities. Precentor, Sabbath school superintendent, Bible class leader, and outside of this, secretary of the School Teacher’s Union. He was also partly responsible for the planning of the new schoolroom which was built in 1865 and stood for a long time on the “Shillin Hill.” Mr Craig was also an active worker during the 1859 Revival and was capable of taking the Sunday services if the minister was indisposed. So it is no wonder that this tall spare figure with dark aquiline features had a niche all to themselves in the memory of his pupils.
The acquisition of knowledge under Mr Craig, was no “dry as dust” affair. He seems to have been more like a companion than a master to his pupils. He often advised his senior classes, “do not marry for money, but go where money is.”
During his time in Cullybackey Mr Young of Fenaghy was so pleased with the manner in which the school was conducted that in 1867 he, with the assistance of some friends had an additional class-room built to enable Mr Craig to carry out his method of instruction more efficiently. The Rev Hugh Hamilton, Rev George Raphael Buick and Rev R. W. Rowan all testified to his ability as a man, a friend and as a teacher and during his time in Cullybackey no less than fifty-seven young people passed directly from under Mr Craig’s training to become teachers.
After 17 years in Cullybackey he left in early 1870 to take up the headmastership of the Ballymoney Model School. On the 4th July the following year his only son was killed in a collision on the County Down Railway, near Belfast. He only stayed in Ballymoney for a short time before going on to Newtownards Model School.
On his retirement in 1895 he went to live in Bangor, where he lived until his death on 10th February 1897 and was laid to rest in the Old Abbey Churchyard.