Belfast Telegraph

We want to raise profile of the local farmer who became New Zealand's wartime prime minister

By Brendan McDaid

A new foundation has been set up in Limavady to lobby for better recognition of the poor local farmer who went on to become prime minister of New Zealand.

The William F Massey Foundation has now written to Limavady Borough Council suggesting a number of measures following their inaugural meeting.

The new body was set up to promote the life and career of Massey, who was the highly-influential prime minster of New Zealand from 1912 to 1925.

They now aim to strengthen links between Northern Ireland, Massey's Ulster Scots roots and his legacy in New Zealand.

Foundation secretary Aaron Callan said the group hoped to receive backing for a number of future events and initiatives.

“We want to hold a memorial lecture each year around Massey’s birthday and hope to have a reception up in Stormont,” he said.

“We are also hoping to host charity events to raise money for educational programmes and we will be lobbying the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and other bodies to promote and highlight him a lot more.”

Limavady councillors are being asked to restore the lime trees which were gifted by Massey on one of his return visits and planted in the town, but which have since disappeared.

The council will also be asked to examine creating a permanent history feature in the Roe Valley Cultural Centre to include a section on Massey, and refurbish the existing statues and plaque in the town marking his achievements.

“We also want to link up with Auckland, do a tour of the city he emigrated to and foster closer links,” Mr Callan said.

The foundation has now made contact with Massey's great grand-daughter Claire Massey, a director in the agri-food school at the university in Auckland named after her Limavady ancestor. Ms Massey has agreed to become a patron of the foundation.

Anyone interested in getting involved or to find out more about the foundation is asked to contact masseyfoundation@live.co.uk.

Background

William Ferguson Massey's rise to power is a remarkable rags to riches tale. Born into a poor rural family in Keenaght (now Irish Green Street) in Limavady on March 26, 1856, he followed his farming parents out to New Zealand aged 14 and worked as a ploughman before entering political life and founding the Reform Party.

He would return as Prime Minister of New Zealand to his native Limavady twice — in 1916 while visiting London to discuss the war with Lloyd George and again in 1923. Dubbed ‘Farmer Bill’, he died of cancer while still in office on May 10, 1925. His had seven children with his wife Christina.

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