The late Glen Barr’s worldview was informed by both the democratic Presbyterianism instilled by his parents Robert and Margaret Barr when he was growing up in working-class King Street in the 1940s, and the injustice he later felt on behalf of industrial workers in Derry during his career as a trade unionist.
That was the appraisal of Rev. Paul Linkens, of Ebrington Presbyterian Church, who told mourners who had packed into the former UDA leader-cum-peace advocate’s funeral service on Friday, that Mr. Barr was a multi-faceted man.
Born into a large family in the Bond’s Street area in 1942, the church loomed large in Mr. Barr’s life, said Rev. Linkens.
“Glen grew up going to Ebrington church. During the early 70s he was a Sunday school teacher and along with Gerry Torrens he was a leader in Boys’ Brigade, Anchor Boys Section. He identified himself as a Presbyterian with traditional views, being rooted in the people as opposed to a hierarchal structure.”
This opposition to top-down power structures only developed further later in Mr. Barr’s life. After being educated at Ebrington Primary School, Clondermot High School, and the ‘Tech’ on Strand Road, he was apprenticed at Brown’s Foundry in Foyle Street, and served as an engineer on a BP oil tanker, before becoming an engineering officer at Coolkeeragh, and he didn’t always like what he saw when it came to relations between labour and the bosses.
“He got involved in the plant’s trade union association and later was appointed as President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union of Londonderry,” said Rev. Linkens.
“Within in this position he found that he was able to make a real difference to people’s lives as he sought to help the men with challenges and difficulties they faced. It was that desire to help and represent the working class that motivated Glen into the political realm. He saw the working class Unionist voice being ignored and sought with his energy and determination to address the inequality.”
Rev. Linkens said that this vigour propelled him into an activism that in the 1970s meant he was often parted from his family for days.
“As a trusted voice he was elected to serve in the Northern Assembly in 1973 and the subsequent Northern Ireland Convention of 1976. During this time Glen travelled widely and was often away from home during the week. However he loved to have his family round him. Glen and Isa were blessed with their family. On Saturday mornings he would be there to cook breakfast for Isa, Jackie, Iain, Warren and Craig.”
Rev. Linkens said that the seeds of his latter day peace-building work were planted at this time.
“As Glen reflected on at the situation in Northern Ireland during the 70s he saw the ‘no-win’ scenario that existed. In his book ‘Beyond the Religious Divide’ he was inspired by the American Constitution that had been carefully crafted ensure majority rule but with minority rights. The phrase not used in the Constitution but often associated with establishment of the US – is: E pluribus unum – Out of many… one.”