McIlmoyle, Robert John (1875–1965), Reformed Presbyterian minister and member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), was born 10 April 1875, eldest son among five sons and four daughters of Robert McIlmoyle, farmer, of Stradreagh, Limavady, Co. Londonderry, and Margaret McIlmoyle (née Currie). He attended Magee College, Derry, where he graduated GAMC 1897 and entered the Reformed Theological Hall in Belfast 9 November 1897. He was the only student in his year and studied at the homes of Professor James Dick, Belfast, and Professor J. D. Houston, Coleraine. At the synod of the Reformed Presbyterian church in 1900 he was recommended to his presbytery (Western) to be licensed to preach. This was ratified 2 May 1900. He received a unanimous call to Ballyclare congregation, Co. Antrim, and was ordained 6 September 1900. While minister there he married (24 July 1901) Matilda Louise, daughter of David Hopkins, farmer, of Bolea, in Limavady Reformed Presbyterian church; they had two sons and three daughters.
On 31 August 1904 he was installed at Dervock Reformed Presbyterian church and was to remain there for sixty years. He had ten years’ worth of sermons, and each decade he brought them up to date and then reused them. During this time he received eleven calls from other congregations but always elected to stay in north Antrim. He was moderator of the centenary meeting of the Irish Reformed Presbyterian synod 1911 and preached at the synod's renovation of the covenants (3 October 1911). He attended the tercentenary of the National Covenant of Scotland 28 June–1 July 1938, held in Glasgow and Edinburgh. From 1910 to 17 June 1947 he was clerk of the northern presbytery, and on 27 June 1944 seconded the Reformed Presbyterian synod's message of support in the second world war to be sent to George VI. In 1961 he was again moderator of synod in the church's 150th anniversary year.
The manse at Dervock provided a fourteen-acre farm as part of the minister's remuneration, and McIlmoyle purchased a further twenty-two acres. In 1915 he joined the Society of Border Leicester Sheep Breeders and had won over 2,000 prizes at various Northern Ireland agricultural shows by 1963, despite his flock being one of the smallest in Britain. When the Ulster Farmers’ Union was formed in 1918 he represented Co. Antrim on its council and executive and sat on various committees during his years of active service. Before partition he took part in negotiations with the Irish Farmers’ Union (IFU) and the Irish Agricultural Organisations Society in Dublin to clarify the relationship between the UFU and IFU and to establish the Ulster Agricultural Organisations Society to service the cooperative societies in the north. In 1920 he become a part-time UFU organiser for the northern part of the province.
The completion of the schemes to buy out landlords, which had been postponed for the duration of the 1914–18 war, came to the fore again when the Northern Ireland government was established. McIlmoyle was one of the principal speakers at mass meetings of farm tenants, and in 1925 was part of a deputation to urge the prime minister, Sir James Craig (qv), to take action to complete the transfer of the remaining farms to tenants. He urged a meeting of the tenants on estates not yet purchased, to accept the terms offered in the 1925 land purchase act. He was one of the first shareholders in the Farmers Journal and sat on its board of directors from 1919 until it was reorganised in 1950. In the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 1930s he travelled widely, encouraging farmers to continue with the UFU. In one report to the executive, he stated he had attended twelve meetings in the previous month.
In 1923, when the Farmers’ Union set up the Farmers’ Produce Company to enable farmers to obtain their supplies economically and to market their produce efficiently, he canvassed members to support this cooperative venture and was secretary and night-time supervisor of the co-op store at Dervock. He also took a leading part in meetings to protest against the importation of subsidised farm products, which undermined the prices for home-produced food, and urged the use of the radio to promote the work of the union. He took part in the negotiations with the National Farmers’ Union Mutual Insurance Society to extend its operations to Northern Ireland and to use the branch secretaries of the UFU as agents. In 1925 he accompanied a delegation of farmers to meet county councils to express concern at the increase in rates to improve roads for motor cars, which most farmers at that time could not afford. He was part of the committee that agreed to use part of the grant for the relief of rates to establish the Agricultural Research Institute at Hillsborough (1927). In 1927 he persuaded the Northern Ireland parliament to pass a dogs act, one clause of which protected farmers from a claim for damages if they shot a dog when it was attacking livestock. In 1929 he supported the general secretary of the union, Humphrey Jamison, and W. S. Armour (qv), editor of the Northern Whig, in the formation of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, which were intended to interest all young people in country life; he helped administer the grants obtained to support the initiative through the education committee of the union until the Young Farmers’ Clubs took on administration of their affairs in 1937.
In 1929 the bank told the union it must reduce its overdraft. McIlmoyle was one of the guarantors. He proposed a scheme to raise 20,000 shillings (£1,000) for the union and also took part in negotiations with the government to obtain a subsidy of £1,000 for the education work of the union. An education committee was formed to administer the grant, and he became a lecturer. In 1939 he was on the executive which offered the government the services of the union in organising agriculture in the war effort, and (as a member of the union's war emergency committee) urged farmers to grow more flax in response to the government's appeal for 100,000 acres of flax to supply the needs of the armed forces in 1940.
Although he never used humour in the pulpit, after the war he became a household name in Ulster as a speaker at UFU and Young Farmers’ Club events and on occasional radio broadcasts where he told tales of country life, which he kept in a black book. However, he resented the tag of ‘storyteller’ and preferred to be described as one who used illustrations, as his anecdotes mainly had a moral theme, or encouraged participation in the UFU. In 1961 he received an MBE for his services to agriculture. He retired from the ministry 18 May 1964 and died 18 May 1965 at the Route Hospital, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. His widow died 21 November 1965.