(Being a resume of part of a lecture on “Presbyterianism in the Glens” given by the author to the Glens of Antrim Historical Society in Cushendall on Friday, 19th September, 1980. S. Alex. Blair )
Presbyterianism came to Ireland from Scotland, brought by the Planters of the early seventeenth century. Because of its close proximity to the Scottish coast and the enthusiastic response from Scotland to MacDonnell’s private plantation, Glenarm received some of the earliest arrivals.
Glenarm Castle & Village (The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland c. 1841 J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis)
Not all of them, however, were brought over by Sir Randal MacDonnell.
Sir Randall Mac Donnell
One of the most illustrious, the Rev. Robert Blair, arrived at Glenarm in 1622 on the invitation of Lord Claneboy to be his vicar at Bangor. Blair’s first impressions were not very favourable. He wrote:
“Landing in a place where Irishmen had been at their cups, and all things smelling of a root called ramps, I was confirmed in my prejudice against that land”.I
Ramps: Wild Garlic (roots) Ramps: Wild Garlic (leaves)
Most likely those sentiments were shared by many of the early Presbyterians who had left the homely and familiar to pioneer a strange and somewhat evil-smelling land. There was an interesting ecumenical dimension to MacDonnell’s Plantation, for he was a Roman Catholic, his planters were almost exclusively Presbyterian, and he had the Church of Ireland churches renovated to accommodate–them. In 1622 the Ulster Visitation Book gives the following entry for the Parish of Tickmacrevan or Glenarm:
“William Fenton, M.A., resident and serveth the Cure. Church decayed.” 2
In a renovated Parish Church the Presbyterians worshipped at first with Fenton as their rector. Whether Fenton was a Presbyterian or not is debatable, but certainly he appears to have become a Presbyterian after Major General Robert Munroe and his Scottish army visited Glenarm in 1642.
Glenarm Castle, Courtesy: National Library of Ireland
Munro had come to deal with the native Irish who had caused trouble for the Planters in 1641. He marched to Glenarm in search of Randal, second Earl of Antrim, but, to adapt a famous phrase, “the bird had flown”. Munroe and his men, angry at being duped, burned the town. The fear which such a savage act must have produced among the people was sufficient to frighten those not already Presbyterian to become Presbyterians very quickly. Many, including Fenton, signed the Solemn League and Covenant, and in an effort to trim their sails to the prevailing wind, Fenton and some other Church of Ireland ministers formed themselves into what they called the Presbytery of Route.
The Presbyterian Church, as constituted at that time, declared. . . that these ministers had erected a Presbytery without order, composed of several corrupt men, and . . . that it be suppressed as an unlawful pretended Presbytery.” 3
Sometime later, after personal appearances before the official Presbytery, first constituted at Carrickfergus on 10th June 1642, the ministers of this “pretended Presbytery” were accepted into the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and. . . were permitted to preach where they had a call, having before that publicly renounced the Black Oath and Conformity.” 4
In the negotiations which produced this settlement, Fenton of Glenarm took a prominent part. Times were fickle, and in 1651 Fenton found himself imprisoned at Carrickfergus by Colonel Venables, Cromwell’s general, because he was a Presbyterian. Two years later, Cromwell conceived a plan for the expulsion of the Presbyterians from Ulster altogether. Among those from Glenarm on the list for transportation to Tipperary were .. .”Mr. Donnelson, James Donnelson, Randal Buttle, Captain Lieutenant James Hume and James Fenton”.5
This scheme came to nothing and the Presbyterians remained in Glenarm worshipping in the Parish Church. On 2nd May, 1655 the Rev. Alexander Gilbert was ordained as their minister, and in June 1658 another Scotsman, the Rev. James Fleming succeeded him. When King Charles II was restored in 1660, he declared for Prelacy and appointed Dr. Bramhall as Primate and Dr. Jeremy Taylor as Bishop of Down and Connor. They had to enforce the 1661 Act of Uniformity, by which every minister officiating in a parish church had to conform to Episcopacy and the Prayer Book or be ejected. Sixty four ministers refused to conform and were driven from their churches in 1662.
The Rev. Patrick Adair in his “True Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland” gives a list of six ministers who conformed, and then adds a seventh, Mr. James Fleming from Glenarm, who, he says, “had stood out longer than the rest.” 6 That Fleming gave in reluctantly does not seem to have endeared him much to the Episcopal Church, which offered him no reward or appointment. Instead he was removed from Glenarm and his place taken by a Presbyterian probationer who had also conformed. He was the Rev. Andrew Nesbitt.
The Presbyterians who refused to conform — and they appear to have comprised most of the congregation — had to move out of the Parish Church. The tradition is that the Donnelson family of the Bay had a barn enlarged and renovated to accommodate them, and in this place Presbyterian worship was held, conducted in secret by outcast ministers of what had come to be a persecuted church. Among the young men who supplied Glenarm with preaching in those difficult days was “an indiscreet and turbulent licentiate” 7 from Scotland named David Houston. He caused much trouble in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and was accused of “several alleged immoralities in his conduct while supplying Glenarm” 8
In 1671 Glenarm obtained a full-time minister of their own, the Rev. John Anderson, who had been ejected from his parish of Aughtergaven in Scotland, but who hoped to return “when it should please the Lord to open a door to him to go back”.9
The number of Presbyterians in and around Glenarm remained reasonably high, for Dobbs in his “Description of County Antrim, 1683″ reported…”Inhabitants Scotch and Irish, Scotch in the town, the Irish upward, the one Presbyterians, the other Papists. Few Protestants according to the Church of England, not above eight or ten persons.” 10
It is said that towards the end of Anderson’s time in Glenarm, the Presbyterians moved from Donnelson’s Barn, having erected a primitive meetinghouse in the town of Glenarm itself, not far from the castle gates. This building is described as having had several doors and was most likely rectangular in shape with the pulpit in the centre of one of the side walls. In such buildings there was usually a door in the other side wall directly opposite the pulpit, and a door in each of the end walls.
Mr. Anderson left Glenarm in October 1685 to become minister in the town of Antrim. His successor was another Scotsman, the Rev. Hugh Crawford, installed in April 1687. Crawford returned to Scotland in February 1688 and yet another Scotsman, the Rev. John Darragh supplied Glenarm with preaching for a period. It was thought he might become the minister, and he commended himself to a small pocket of Presbyterians in Layde, for he could speak Gaelic. However, with the coming of the Williamite Wars, he returned to Scotland, and the long vacancy continued until 1693, when, for the first time, an Irishman, the Rev. John Lee, was ordained Presbyterian minister of Glenarm.
During all of these years — indeed during most of the second half of the seventeenth century — financial difficulties beset the Glenarm Presbyterians. Their financial settlement with Mr. Fleming in 1658 had been generous. He received £60 per annum with manse and glebe, but when Mr. Anderson became their minister they could only offer him half that amount. If they had paid this, it would have been satisfactory, but when Anderson left in 1685 he was owed upwards of £120.
When Glenarm made it known they wished to have the Rev. Hugh Crawford as their minister, Presbytery was determined that the financial situation should first be sorted out. Glenarm offered Mr. Crawford only £20 a year and, we are told in the Antrim Presbytery Minutes that this
” . . . little quota, as well as their utter carelessness of Mr. Anderson’s arrears, the meeting resented, and appointed Messrs. Hall of Lame and Campbell of Cairncastle to deal with them and stir them up .11
They managed only to “stir” four more pounds out of them, and when Messrs Hall & Campbell proceeded to discuss Mr. Anderson’s arrears they were sagely told that it was
“. . . not convenient now to meddle with both at once, lest both should be marred”. 11
At the same time Glenarm was “craved” for five shillings — two year’s fees to the Presbytery clerk — which also the congregation had not paid. It was hard to get money out of them, yet they could be generous to causes which they wanted to support. For example, while all this was going on, they sent twenty shillings to Enniskillen for the repair of the meetinghouse there. Presbytery had to accept the £24 offered by Glenarm as yearly stipend for Mr.Crawford, but insisted the call to him should be signed by Mr. Donnelson, whose support would obviously ensure some financial security.
When the Rev. John Lee was about to resign from Glenarm in 1703 to go to Brechy and Kells, Co. Monaghan, he said he was owed £69. To pay this, some members of the congregation offered to plough his land for him and then charge a large sum for doing so. In this way they hoped to bring about a quick reduction in their debt.
The 1704 General Synod of Ulster told Glenarm congregation that they had been “very unfair” 12 to Mr. Lee, but Synod would deal kindly with them, and it was agreed they would pay Mr. Lee £40. They refused and a Committee of General Synod made a detailed investigation of the matter. This committee reduced the amount due to £35 and arranged easy terms of payment. These were:
“Five pounds now in hand, ten pounds at Lammas, ten pounds at All Saints, five pounds at Candlemas and five pounds at May next”. 13
John Mitchell appeared before the 1705 General Synod as Representative Elder from Glenarm. He asked for the £35 to be further reduced, but the Synod told him this was impossible, and if Glenarm did not pay as outlined, they would be deemed a “disorderly” 13 congregation. They were to pay immediately £5, and “were exorted to study a conversation becoming the Gospel”. 13
The 1707 General Synod was told that “the Glenarm Affair” was “almost accommodated”. 14 They had obviously “paid up”, and could then go forward to obtain another minister. He was the Rev. James Creighton, ordained in Glenarm on 24th May, 1709. He remained in the charge until his death, as did his two successors, the Rev. Thomas Brown (ordained 19th June 1732, died 17th November 1754) and the Rev. Thomas Reid (ordained 9th March 1756, died 31st December 1812). Mr. Creighton died on 20th July 1731. Before that, in 1725 when the Presbytery of Templepatrick was created, Glenarm congregation was moved out of the old Presbytery of Antrim and put into this new presbytery.
Mr. Brown’s death was in unusual circumstances. It appears that on 17th November 1754 he had dined with the Earl of Antrim at Glenarm Castle. Returning from the castle that night, he fell over the curtain-wall of the bridge at the entrance to the demesne, and was drowned in the Glenarm River.
(Glenarm Castle with Curtain Wall and Bridge)
One writer, giving this information, felt it necessary to append the following note: “If any reader . . should be inclined to draw a conclusion unfavourable to Mr. Brown’s character for sobriety, he may be reminded that at that time . . . the wall alluded to was dangerously low, and it is quite possible to account for Mr. Brown’s having fallen over it in a dark November night, without uncharitably supposing that he had trangressed the laws of temperance, whilst enjoying the hospitality of his noble entertainer.” 15
Brown’s successor, the Rev. Thomas Reid, was minister in Glenarm for fifty six years and is remembered as
. . . a tall, venerable-looking old gentleman, who wore to the last the large wig and three-cocked hat which used to be considered indispensible parts of clerical costume.” 16
In 1792 his nephew, the Rev. Robert Acheson, became his assistant, and in 1801 the Rev. Alexander Montgomery was ordained in Glenarm as assistant and successor. He was not recognised as minister until Mr. Reid’s death on 31st December, 1812.
When French troops landed at Carrickfergus in 1760, Lord Antrim mustered his Glenarm Militia to march to Carrickfergus to aid the 62nd Regiment of Foot who were defending the town. Mr. Reid, armed and in uniform, was present at the muster at Bellair Hill and was ensign to the regiment.
(Plan of the Battle of Carrickfergus,1760, when the French pirate Captain François Thurot seized the town and castle in a bold diversionary move in advance of a rumoured French mass invasion of the British Isles)
The highest honour the Presbyterian Church could bestow on Mr. Reid was accorded to him on 25th June 1782 when he was installed as Moderator of the General Synod of Ulster at the annual meeting of Synod in Lurgan. From that Synod addresses were sent to King George III and the new Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Portland. Both were signed by the Moderator, but it would be true to say that Mr. Reid had no great love for His Majesty. In fact, during the course of the War of American Independence he called the King an “old fool”, a remark which, although of reasonable accuracy, was held to savour of sedition.
A prominent member of the Masonic Order, he was buried in the Presbyterian Churchyard in Glenarm with full Masonic honours, the funeral sermon being preached by Masonic Knight and Brother, the Rev. Thomas Alexander of Cairncastle. During Reid’s long ministry in Glenarm, he seems to have had two main congregational problems. One was the old problem of finance, and the other was the problem of trying to get the people to attend church.
On the day of his ordination in Glenarm — 9th March 1756 — a bond was perfected by the congregation for a yearly payment to be made to him of £40. However in May 1772 it was reported that Glenarm owed Mr. Reid £59 and leading members of the congregation had to come forward and subscribe to liquidate this debt. The chief subscribers were—
In November of the same year twenty members of the congregation perfected bonds to Mr. Reid for forty shillings each, to replace the original general bond of £40. This was to ensure he would be paid more regularly.
The bondsmen were — Robert Montgomery, David Holmes, Alex. Hunter, William Clark, Neal McKillop, John Doak, John Wharry, Andrew Dunn, Hugh Watt, Alexander Hunter, James Currell, Daniel Currell, John McCollum, James Morrow, William Morrow, George A. Eaton, Joseph McKillup, James Lawry, Hugh Pennell and Alexander Stewart.
Yet, when Reid retired in 1792, the congregation owed him stipend of £204/4s/ 1 d.
At the beginning of his ministry, attendance at church was good, but by 1772 Mr. Reid reported attendance figures were going down, and in 1783 we are told that..” with heartfelt pain he was obliged to inform Presbytery that not a few of his congregation absented themselves from Public Worship, and spent the Lord’s Day in a very indecent manner.”17
When Presbytery made their periodic visitations to Glenarm, the members were horrified to find that, on at least two occasions, those who were supposed to receive them and answer their questions did not turn up. In May 1774 we read that …”to the Presbytery’s great surprise and concern, not one person appeared to represent either the Session or Congregation of Glenarm, nor did more than three or four of that people attend to hear the sermon and join with the Presbytery in public worship”. 18
This disrespectful attitude greatly shocked the members of Presbytery and we are told they were… “ deeply affected with the treatment which they met with, many of them having attended from a distance out of respect to Mr. Reid and his congregation; and yet that people should treat them in such a manner as discovers a contempt of Presbytery not known by the oldest member, and of which there is not perhaps an instance parallel to it in their entire records.” 18
The old meetinghouse of Glenarm was regarded as an eyesore by some, especially the Earl and his family, outside the gates of whose castle it stood. When Mr. Reid was six years in the charge, a new meetinghouse was erected, on which was inserted a slab bearing the inscription: “This House was built in the year of our Lord, 1762. The enclosed ground on which it stands, with 30 guineas, was the bountiful donation of the Right Honourable Alexander, Earl of Antrim, to the Dissenters of Glenarm.”
Old Presbyterian Church Glenarm (Congregation founded in 1655, present building completed in 1762)
The accuracy of the statement about “the bountiful donation” has been challenged, for the Presbyterians believed if the Earl was instrumental in having the old building pulled down, he was duty bound to pay for the erection of its replacement. One writer stated that the 30 guineas
“.. should be regarded as the price — and not the extravagant price — which His Lordship paid for his whistle.” 19
However, the new building (the present Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church) was still close to the castle and some sixty years later, the second husband of Anne Catherine, in her own right Countess of Antrim, the former Edmund Phelps, known as Mr. MacDonnell, tried to get it pulled down. He had remodelled the castle and built up the barbican and demesne walls, and felt perhaps, as G. N. Wright did in 1832, that the meetinghouse was a blotch on..” the continuous plane that should fall uninterruptedly from the castle to the sea.” 20
Mr. MacDonnell said that if the Presbyterians moved out, he would build them a better church elsewhere. The minister at that time, the Rev. Alexander Montgomery, replied:
“Mr. MacDonnell, you can build a new meetinghouse. If we like it as well as the old one, we will exchange keys with you, but in the meantime, we will occupy our old one until your new one is build. ‘ 21 Needless to say, Mr. MacDonnell pursued his scheme no further.
Unlike his uncle Mr. Reid, who was orthodox in theology, signed the Westminster Confession of Faith, and fulfilled all the regulations of the church to the extent of even, during his trial sermons in Glenarm, showing his ability to pray before and after the sermon in Latin, Mr Acheson was a “New-Light” minister. He was. liberal in theology, would not subscribe the Westminster Confession, and publicly denied the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination.
A rebel not only in theology but also in politics, he joined the United Irishmen and on the Sunday before the Rebellion at the beginning of June 1798, preached from Glenarm pulpit a stirring sermon on the text: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body” Luke 12 v. 4.
It was interpreted as a call-to-arms, and when the United men rallied on Bellair Hill, visitors to the Hill reported: “We saw Mr. Acheson, then in full regimentals, green jacket faced with yellow, white breeches, black hose and silver buckled shoes. He was in great spirits and was wildly cheered by his little army of more than two thousands. 22
When the rebellion was over, Acheson was tried by court martial in Belfast, and, although a number of his men were hanged or transported, he was released. It was said his release was due to the influence of his uncle and the Masons, as well as the kindness of the President of the Court Martial, Colonel Leslie of Glasslough. Mr. Acheson had studied medicine and taught school before he entered the ministry, and his successor in Glenarm, the Rev. Alexander Montgomery, was also a schoolmaster. A good picture of congregational life during Montgomery’s time is given in the report of a Visitation of Presbytery to Glenarm on 9th May, 1826. It stated:
“. . . Commissioners from Session, on being questioned, expressed their satisfaction with Mr. Montgomery as a Minister of the Gospel of Christ, and as a member of society. He visits the congregation frequently from house to house, holds examinations in the several families when he visits them, visits the sick when called, and attends to the education of the young in the congregation. The usual services in the meetinghouse are, two sermons in Summer and one in Winter. The Congregation pay respect to the rules and discipline of the Session, which consists of six members. The Congregation generally attend well. Attendance depends somewhat on the goodness or badness of the weather. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated twice in the year: there are three tables in Summer and two in Winter. Arrear of stipend, November 1st, 1825, £30/14s/2d. The Committee know the people on whom to call for this money, and think they will lose very little of it. Have no doubt they will get £25 of it”: 23
In 1825 the meetinghouse was repaired and a session house built. Subscribers contributed £30 for this project, and amongst those mentioned are Sir Francis Macnaghten and his son Sir Edmund who jointly gave £15. The Parish Priest of Glenarm, the Rev. Patrick O’Neill, gave £1.
Like Acheson, Montgomery too was “New Light”, and refused to subscribe the Westminster Confession. When the Subscription Controversy reached its climax in the Presbyterian Church, Montgomery supported Dr. Henry Montgomery at the General Synod meeting of 1829 when “the great debate” took place between Dr. Henry Montgomery and the champion of Subscription, Dr. Henry Cooke. As a result the church split, and the Non-Subscribers, including Montgomery of Glenarm, withdrew and formed on 25th May 1830 the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster, later called the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Glenarm congregation also split, and Montgomery, with the support of the majority — 101 seatholders, paying an annual stipend of £18/5s/7d. — remained in the meetinghouse. The story is told that on a certain Sunday after the split, Montgomery “got wind” that the evicted minority proposed to take possession of the meetinghouse after that morning’s service. To prevent this, Montgomery took with him into the pulpit his entire stock of sermons. He said he would preach them all over and over again as often as was necessary, but he would never give up his pulpit or his meetinghouse to the Subscribers. That was enough. They knew they were beaten, and gave up before he had even started to go through the sermons for the first time. So the Non-Subscribers stayed in the old meetinghouse and continue there today. The succession of ministers from Mr. Montgomery is as follows:
|Robert Maxwell King
|Thomas Wilson Scott
|Joseph Alexander Miskimmin
|Percival Maxwell Lee
|William John Wharton
|David Thomas Evans
|Edric Harold Shaw
|and the present minister
|Hugh Robert McCormick
The Subscribers, consisting in 1829 of 50 seatholders paying annual stipend of £7/6s/4d, had to meet in the open air at first. They asked for the Courthouse as temporary accommodation but the magistrate, Mr. Thomas Davison, refused. However they were soon recognised by the Synod of Ulster as the Presbyterian congregation of Glenarm and set about building a new meetinghouse, which in January — February 1835, when James Boyle was writing the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish, was “just being finished”.24 He described the building as:
. . . “a plain substantially-built edifice and will accommodate from 500 to 600 persons. It stands on the S.E. side of the town. It is 46 ft. long by 27 ft. wide. Its estimated cost is £650.” 24
Situated in Altmore Street, it continues today to serve the Presbyterians of the town and district. Previous to its construction, the Rev. Hugh Waddell was ordained as Synod of Ulster minister of Glenarm on 24th September, 1833.
The succession of ministers since Mr. Waddell is as follows:
|Charles Martin Cowden
|William Henry Peden
Brian Stanley McDowell, installed in March 1979, the present minister.
The Baptismal Registry of this congregation goes back to 13th September 1850, and the Marriage Registry dates from 1845.
Glenarm has been the focal point of Presbyterianism in the Glens since the early years of the seventeenth century. With its two churches of today, born out of the strivings of past generations to discover truth as they saw it, Glenarm still maintains a worthy place in Presbyterian witness in County Antrim.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
I: “The Life of Mr. Robert Blair, containing his Autobiography” Wodrow Society Edition,1848 p. 53.
2:”History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland” James Seaton Reid Belfast 1867 Vol. 1
Appendix III p. 522 (Hereafter Seaton Reid).
3: “A True Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1623-
1670” Rev. Patrick Adair. Belfast London and Edinburgh 1866 p. 121 (Hereafter Adair’s Narrative).
4: Ibid p. 122
5: Quoted in “Congregational Memoirs: Glenarm” “The Christian Unitarian” Vol. 5 p. 12
(Hereafter C.U., Vol. 5).
6: Adair’s Narrative p. 262
7: Seaton Reid Vol. 2 p. 328
8: Seaton Reid Vol. 2 p. 331
9: Minutes of Presbytery of Antrim, 1671. Also quoted C.U. Vol. 5 p. 79
10: Richard Dobbs’s Manuscript Notes for his Description of Co. Antrim, 1683, edited by
Jimmy Irvine and published in the “The Glynns’ Vol. 7 p. 46.
11: Minutes of Presbytery of Antrim, 1686. Also C.U. Vol. 5 p. 84
12: “Records of the General Synod of Ulster” Belfast 1890 Vol. 1 p. 88 (Hereafter RGSU)
13: RGSU Vol. 1 p. 96
14: RGSU Vol. 1 p. 138
15: CU Vol. 5 p. 156
16: CU Vol. 5 p. 229
17: Minutes of Presbytery of Templepatrick, 5th May, 1783. Also CU Vol. 5 p. 228
18: Minutes of Presbytery of Templepatrick, 3rd May 1774. Also CU Vol. 5 p. 225
19: CU Vol. 5 p. 192
20: “Ireland Illustrated” G. N. Wright 1832 p. 72
21: CU Vol. 5 p. 192
22: “Memorandum by Edward Jones Agnew of Kilwaughter”. See Appendix XIV. “Revolt
in the North” Charles Dickson Dublin and London 1960 p. 224.
23: Minutes of Presbytery of Templepatrick 9th May 1826. Also CU Vol. 5 p. 370-371.
24: Ordance Survey Memoir for Parish of Tickmacrevan Box 16/Antrim. Royal Irish Academy XVI/VI/5 and PRO NI MIC6/8 Also published in “The Glynns” Vol. 4 1976 p. 59