Speaker for 20th January 2015

Photo: President Gordon Ward greets Maurice McHenry, with Club Members Cecil Leitch and Jim Gordon (R)
Talk by Mr. Maurice McHenry on ‘John Clarke and the History of the Potato’

Gordon Ward, outgoing President welcomed the speaker for today Maurice McHenry, a well known retired head teacher, sheep farmer and author from Ballintoy. Maurice told Probus members the fascinating story of John Clarke 'Potato Wizard!’.

In his introduction he told members how the potato had made its way to our shores. Moving on he related the largely forgotten story of John Clarke.

John was born in 1889 near Ballintoy and attended the local Primary School leaving at 12 years of age. Despite this, by dint of extensive reading in Ballymoney Library, and ongoing research and experimentation throughout his life, he became a recognised expert on the science of potato breeding, producing dozens of varieties some of which are still widely grown.

Remarkably Clarke, an independent breeder, with only modest resources and facilities at his disposal, was able to compete on, at least equal terms, with the specialist government sponsored plant breeding institutions that were established during his lifetime. Clarke's achievements earned him an international reputation as a successful potato breeder.


John Clarke was much respected by his contemporaries who worked in this field (no pun intended - WebEd) including the influential Dr Nathan Salaman and Dr Harold Howard, who travelled from England to exchange ideas and potato varieties. All these little things had fired up Maurice to research and present a passionate, fitting and timely tribute to John Clarke, which he has documented in a book about John. One felt that Maurice could have spent a VERY long time talking about this most modest of men!

However time was pressing and he accepted some questions from members. The President called on Cecil Leitch to propose the vote of thanks, Cecil,from his own farming background told Maurice how much he personally had enjoyed his talk. It was both entertaining and extremely informative. This was duly passed on by the President and members left with the knowledge of the 'SPUD' ringing in their ears!! 

John Dobson
Press Officer

As a special ‘extra’ and to find our far more about John Clarke and Potatoes, just ‘click’ the potato link: