Marshall, William Forbes (1888–1959), presbyterian minister and writer, was born 8 May 1888 in Drumragh, near Omagh, Co. Tyrone, second among three sons of Charles Marshall, school principal at Sixmilecross, and Mary Marshall (née Forbes); his mother died when he was 5 years old. William attended Sixmilecross national school, and was then sent to the Royal School, Dungannon. In 1908 he graduated with a BA from QCG, and in October that year he and his brother went to study theology in Assembly's College, Belfast. W. F. Marshall graduated LLB from the NUI in 1910, and was licensed as a probationer by Omagh presbytery in 1912. On 26 June 1913 he was ordained minister of Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone, and in April 1916 was installed in Sixmilecross. On 4 May 1928 he became minister in Castlerock, and remained there, a beloved and valued minister, until he retired in 1954. Marshall became deputy grand chaplain of Ireland in the Orange order, and was also a prominent member of the Masonic order and the Ulster Unionist party; he joined the UVF, raised by Edward Carson (qv). He was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, and his support in 1926 for the ‘B’ class of the Ulster Special Constabulary helped ensure that it was not at that date disbanded. Marshall served in the ‘B Specials’ (1920–25), and in the home guard during the second world war.
As well as carrying on his congregational work, Marshall was a noted scholar and writer, and became the leading expert on the speech of Ulster. He gave many talks on radio on the subject, some of which were published in 1936 as Ulster speaks. He also wrote a version of A midsummer night's dream in Ulster dialect; this, like Marshall's historical novel about the Ulster plantation, Planted by a river (1948), was later broadcast on BBC radio. In 1942 Marshall had almost completed what would have been an important dictionary of Ulster dialect when his golden retriever pup destroyed it. Several other works, including a comic play and a historical pageant, remained in manuscript, but a volume on religious subjects for children, His charger white, was published in 1939. Marshall was also a noted historian of emigration, and in 1943 published Ulster sails west on the contribution made to American life by Ulster people. In 1932 he was appointed to lecture on elocution at Magee college in Derry. In recognition of his historical and linguistic scholarship, he was elected MRIA (1942) and in 1952 the theological faculty of his church awarded him the degree of DD. However, his name is remembered in the north of Ireland chiefly for his poetry: four slim volumes and scattered verses, which are mostly about the Tyrone countryside and people of his upbringing. Several poems are still very popular as recitations, and one, ‘Me an' my da’, with its famous lines ‘I'm livin’ in Drumlister / In clabber to the knee’, is one of Ulster's best-known and perhaps best-loved poems. His verse is sometimes sentimental, but it gives ‘immortality to a place, a language and a way of life that are now nearly gone’ (O'Donnell). Marshall died 25 January 1959 in Castlerock, and was buried 27 January in his beloved homeplace, Sixmilecross. He had been one of the best-known figures of his generation. A stained-glass window in Castlerock church commemorates his life, and his name is perpetuated in an education centre in Sixmilecross, in an annual Summer School, and in a tourist trail in Tyrone. His poems were republished in 1983.
Marshall married (1916) Susan McKee from Belfast; they had two sons and a daughter. One of his brothers was killed in the first world war; his elder brother, Robert Lyons Marshall (1887–1971) was in 1914 ordained a minister in Maghera congregation, Co. Londonderry, and in 1932 became professor of history and English in Magee college. Like his brother, R. L. Marshall wrote poetry, using the penname ‘Tullyneill’, and also historical pieces on Tyrone; he was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and was awarded the degrees of DD and LLD. He married Isobel Scott, and died 23 March 1971.