Ballee’s Carnegie Organ

In 2012 Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church celebrated the centenary of their two manual pipe organ with a twelve hour ‘Hymnathon’ from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, finishing the day with a special service at 7.00 pm. The organ was officially opened on Sunday, 23rd June 1912 and its centenary was marked by a very effective and widely supported cross-community celebration with clergy, choirs, musicians and visitors from all local churches taking part.

 

But back in 1912 the organ was installed as part of an extensive renovation of the church that significantly modernised what previously must have been a largely untouched early eighteenth-century meeting house and which gives the church its essential appearance to this day. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1912 reported that:

 

On Sunday, 23rd June, successful services were conducted by Rev. H. McLachlan, MA, BD, of the Unitarian Home Missionary college, and sermons appropriate to the re-opening of the renovated church were preached to large and appreciative congregations…An outstanding feature of the day was the fact that two neighbouring rectors of the Episcopal Church held no services, thus leaving their people free to attend…a gracious compliment to minister and people

rev-h-mclachlan

Rev Dr Herbert McLachlan c. 1912

The report went on that the new manse, which was nearing completion, was much admired by the numerous visitors and nearly one hundred pounds was raised on the day. In addition considerable work had been done to the church:

 

The building has been thoroughly overhauled, new high-pressure heating apparatus set up…The old graveyard has been mapped and numbered and gravelled paths laid out. The tinted glass windows set in Castlewellan granite jambs are especially noticeable for their reposeful simplicity and strength. The grand old timbered roof, which was raised at the first renovation of the church in 1773, is unique, and showed out beautifully in the favourable light of the summer day. The old rough hewn flagged floor has been replaced by a patterned maple wood block floor, which still adds to the quiet neatness aimed at by the promoters of the scheme…The work which, which gives universal satisfaction, was wholly carried out by members of families belonging to Ballee Non-Subscribing Church.

 

All this was done under the direction of the Rev J.H. Bibby, himself a considerable benefactor to the Ballee congregation. However, a centrepiece of the day was the opening of the new organ, itself the result of a charitable donation of a very different sort:

 

…a fine organ, built in solid oak by Dalladay of Hastings, has been erected…The musical part of the service was rendered  in a devotional spirit by the Choir, augmented by voluntary helpers. The beautiful instrument was ably handled by Mr R. McCullen, CE, who is honorary organist of the church.

rev-jh-bibby-01

Rev J.H. Bibby

 

The report doesn’t mention it but the new organ was paid for by a donation from the Carnegie Fund.

 

The organ came to Ballee just over 100 years after protestant dissenting churches in Ireland, mainly those of a liberal or non-subscribing outlook, first began to use organs in their worship. The first organ seems to have been opened in Cork in about 1801. In 1806 Belfast’s Second Congregation and the Presbyterian church in Dundalk both installed organs. In some places this remained an incredibly controversial topic throughout the nineteenth century. Almost certainly Ballee will have used a harmonium without any controversy for some time before but in 1912 it moved into a different league with the installation of their Dalladay organ.

 

The choice of organ builder was an interesting one. It is not known whether Dalladay built any other organs in Ireland, it certainly was a long way for the firm to travel to fulfil the contract. In Organs of Hastings and St. Leonards Julian Rhodes writes of him:

 

Samuel Frederick Dalladay (1865-1955) built or rebuilt some ten organs in the town [Hastings]. A Londoner, Dalladay was a skilled performer who gave recitals at the Royal Albert Hall and the Crystal Palace in his youth. In 1886 he moved to Folkestone and opened an Academy of Music; he became organist at St. John’s Church, Folkestone. His organ-building activities are known to date from as early as 1903, though it was not until just before World War I that he moved to Hastings and opened the Sussex Organ Works, which remained in business until about 1939. From time to time he built instruments for churches throughout England, though most of his work was in the southern counties. His two largest jobs appear to have been a 4-manual 26-stop instrument for St. Bartholomew, Reading in 1910, and a 3-manual 36-stop rebuild at Holy Trinity, Aldershot in 1925.

 

The organ underwent extensive repairs in 1954 and was rededicated at a service on 12th September 1954 by the Rt Rev John Radcliffe, the then moderator. In 1972 an electric blower was installed. Prior to this date it had to be pumped by hand and it was not unknown for the man employed to do the pumping to nod off during the sermon and need a gentle reminder to return to his labours for the final hymn! However, its genesis as an organ paid for by the Carnegie Fund gives it a unique provenance, at least in relation to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

ballees-carnegie-organ

 

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on 25th November 1835. The son of a poor domestic hand-loom weaver his early life was not easy and at the age of 12, along with his parents and younger brother, he emigrated to Pittsburg. Here begins a story that encapsulates the American Dream. His first job was as a ‘bobbin boy’ in a cotton mill at $1.25 per week but was soon ‘promoted’ to work as an operative for $2 per week, doing work that was physically hard and dangerous and which daily induced nausea in the 13 year old. But through hard work, ingenuity, resourcefulness, drive and some luck, by the age of 30 he was earning $50,000 per year. Most of his income came from investments he had made during the Civil War and by the time he came to retire at the age of 65 his personal fortune was estimated to be the largest in America. He sold his family holdings in his steel and other companies for $480 million in 1901 and turned his attention, full-time, to philanthropy.

 

Carnegie draw up a set of priorities as to where he would help. They were in order:

 

  1. Universities
  2. Free libraries
  3. Hospitals
  4. Parks
  5. Halls suitable for meetings and concerts
  6. Swimming baths
  7. Churches, but only the buildings and accoutrements and not to support religious activities other than music making.

 

Churches were right at the bottom of his list. Although Carnegie was a Scots Presbyterian by birth and was a member of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York his religious views were not conventional and he had little time for church preachers. But he did like church music and thought that churches had an important cultural role in this area. As a result he offered grants for church organs, buying a total of 7,689, including, for instance, 219 in Ireland and 1,005 in Scotland, 4,092 in the United States and one each in India and British Guinea, all to a total cost of over $6,000,000.

 

Early on funds were provided for half the cost of an organ on the basis that the congregation would find the rest, although later on the Carnegie Fund appears to have supplied the full cost. However, stringent rules existed for the supply of an organ from the fund. Applications for organs alone ran as high as about 3,000 in one year. In the first 20 years there were approximately 40,000 applications, showing that the successful award of a grant was far from a foregone conclusion. All applicants had to provide a detailed financial statement and explain how a new instrument would contribute to their congregational life.

 

A report commissioned by Andrew Carnegie into the effectiveness of these grants found that the introduction of a new organ had a wholly beneficial effect in business terms as well as every other way:

 

The pastors of the churches visited were questioned closely as to the effect produced upon the contributions of the members by a gift as large as that made by the Corporation. The unanimous declaration was made that it had been a stimulus to individual giving and in many instances illustrative figures were presented to show that the benefactions of the church had been doubled since the installation of the organ. A part of such increase was usually ascribed to the larger congregations attracted by the better music.

 

So this is the background to the grant of the Carnegie organ to Ballee Church, one of the 219 in Ireland. None of the correspondence relating to the acquisition of the organ has survived but the organ has remained an integral part of regular worship ever since.

 

Andrew Carnegie’s report into the effectiveness of his organ bequests concluded three things:

 

  1. Churches are contributing instrumentalities in the social and cultural advancement of a community – the aggregate of communities make the Nation.
  2. The efficiency of the services of a church is augmented by the use of a pipe organ, hence, through the church, the organ indirectly contributes to the social and cultural advancement of the community, and
  3. Directly, the organ when used in recitals and by students of music, renders an important cultural service.

 

Although written in a slightly strange jargon no one could argue against these observations as being true in Ballee. The pipe organ has contributed much to congregational life and consequently to the life of the wider community. The congregation are glad to have it and value it as part of both their witness and their heritage from over one hundred years.

Ballee 18 June 2014.jpg

In a forgotten corner

As the congregation was preparing for the Harvest Thanksgiving service at Downpatrick on 2nd October some members turned over an old grave stone that had lain face down for as long as anybody could remember. Indeed it had fallen such a long time ago that there was no record of the inscription. Having lain flat to the ground for so long it was not a surprise to see how crisp and sharp the lettering appeared when it was turned over. However, what was surprising was to see that the stone’s inscription included a long quotation in Greek.

dpk-mary-ann-mcnea-02

 

Made by Hastings the local stonemasons who had crafted many of the gravestones in the locality it was a good example of their art. They can’t have been called upon very often to execute inscriptions in the Greek alphabet but they certainly weren’t daunted by the challenge. The Greek letters were as sharp and precise as the rest.

 

It is the grave of Mary Ann McNea (1820-1884) who was clearly a devoted and much loved servant of the Nelson family. The Nelsons were a highly scholarly ministerial family. James Nelson had been minister at Downpatrick from 1792 to l838 and kept a classical school in the town. His father, Moses Ne(i)lson, had founded the famous Rademon Academy and many of his descendants had entered the ministry. James’s son Samuel Craig Nelson joined his father as minister in Downpatick in 1835 and remained for the rest of his life until he died in 1891

 

Mary herself could have spent 50 years in the service of the family. In the nineteenth century domestic service accounted for a very large proportion of the working population. She could have been with them from a very young age and when she died they added a verse from Philemon to her memorial:

 

FAITHFUL, KIND AND TRUE,

THE NELSON FAMILY

GRATEFULLY REMEMBER HER

ουκετι ώς δουλην

αλλ’ αδελφην αγαπητην.

φιλ. 16.

(PHILEMON. 16 v.)

 

I would take the Greek to mean something like “more than a servant, a beloved brother [sister]”.

dpk-mary-ann-mcnea-03

 

Clearly remembered fondly and honoured by a scholarly family, the wording of their tribute in the language of the New Testament was hidden for many decades but was brought to light again on the day after the feast day of St Jerome, Eusebius Hieronymus, the person responsible for translating the Bible into Latin, and the patron saint of translators.

dpk-graveyard-01

Second Banbridge NSP Congregation

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge has a very fine and impressive building. The congregation recently celebrated its tercentenary and this striking Victorian photograph of the exterior was republished in conjunction with the special service.

banbridge

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge

But it is probably not widely known that nearby is the building that once housed the second Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge. Standing in Church Square as you enter the town it stands opposite the memorial to the polar explorer Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier who died in 1845. This is probably the only memorial anywhere which incorporates polar bears in its design.

croziermonument

Crozier Monument

Despite its prominent location the Second Congregation is often overlooked. The Unitarian Heritage: An Architectural Survey published in 1986 is a usually a very reliable guide to church buildings in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian tradition but the section on Ireland carries no mention of Second Banbridge at all. Indeed it seems to have been very largely forgotten although the size and location of the building suggests it was quite an important congregation in its day.

second-banbridge-02

The former meeting house of the Second Congregation

Dryasdust gives an account of the congregation’s history in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (April 1995) and tells how it grew out of a dispute over the appointment of the Rev John Montgomery, a nephew of the Rev Henry Montgomery. A minority left and formed a new congregation and called the Rev David Gordon as their minister who was installed on 15th March 1848. The new building was opened sometime after that.

rev-david-gordon

Rev David Gordon

David Gordon remained until 1866, later becoming minister of Downpatrick, but he was succeeded by the Rev Richard Acland Armstrong. R.A. Armstrong ended up as a very distinguished minister of Hope Street Church in Liverpool but he arrived in Banbridge straight from College in 1866.

raarmstrong

Rev R.A. Armstrong in later life

Fortunately for posterity R.A. Armstrong’s son published a Memoir of his father in 1906 which included a number of family reminiscences of his time in Banbridge and this gives us a rare glimpse into the operation of the Second Congregation.

His father, the Rev George Armstrong, had been the Church of Ireland incumbent of Bangor Abbey before becoming a Unitarian and minister of Lewin’s Mead, Bristol. It was perhaps not surprising then that after education at London University and Manchester New College in 1866 Richard received a unanimous call to a congregation in Ireland. His stipend was £125 (including the regium donum) and he lodged with a Mrs Morrow, his kindly landlady who secretly supplemented his paltry allowance of tea. But he did not settle easily in Banbridge. Following the death of the Rev John Montgomery in 1867 he attempted to amalgamate the two congregations, even offering to resign if this would help. But a “Mr Walker”, possibly a leading member of the First Congregation, told him that “there was not the least good [in resigning], and that there was no chance of an amalgamation, as there was a difference of principle between the two congregations”.

He also became deeply embroiled in Ulster politics, being identified as “Papish Armstrong” by hard-line opponents. As sectarian tensions accelerated the windows of the manse were smashed by a mob following the publication of a letter by Armstrong in the Northern Whig in defence of the rights of Roman Catholics. A large mob also intended to attack the meeting house but this was protected by a detachment of police. He also courted theological controversy when answering lectures on the inspiration of the Bible by orthodox clergy with public lectures of his own. These were held in the Town Hall and proved rumbustious affairs. The first one was broken up by a mob with more threats being made against him. The second one took place but was a difficult night. His only supporter on the platform was the Rev John Orr of Comber and the chair was taken by a member of his congregation, Gilbert Mulligan. The opposing side was represented by nine clergy who insisted on having their own second chairman (a Mr Simms) on the platform. The meeting lasted for hours and R.A. Armstrong did not get home until 3.30 in the morning, exhausted and with a sore throat and a fever.

By this time he was also married, to Clara Wicksteed, the sister of Philip Henry Wicksteed, and their son had been born. In a letter to her mother Clara described the attack on the manse:

Baby and I were in bed when they passed our house, between ten and eleven, and they threw great stones at the bedroom window, smashing six panes. I did not feel frightened some way; my great fear was that we should catch cold with the broken window but we did not. I never thought before what a punishment it was to have one’s windows broken. First there is the danger of being hit by the stones (some people were), then of taking cold, then of being cut by the broken glass, then the expense of mending! Tuesday being a fair-day, a great riot was apprehended, so a regiment of soldiers was brought here, as well as still more police. There were attempts at fights between the Catholics and the Orangemen, but the soldiers dispersed them with bayonets.

Clara Armstrong also recorded:

Our Banbridge people were always kind and loyal. They admired your father, and were proud of him. As he says in one of his letters: “They are doing their best to spoil me there.” They did not always see why he wanted to fight and they would rather have peace, but if their parson wanted to fight, they would back him! ….He always thought of his Banbridge people with affection and gratitude, from the woman who washed for him and brought him presents of eggs, and whose brother once brought a sack of potatoes on his own back for a present, up to Mr Gilbert Mulligan, the chief supporter of the Meeting, and always a most kind friend. He was chairman of your father’s lecture on the Bible. Your father did not know what he was going in for, but Mr Mulligan did – and faced it.

Nowhere in the Memoir does it actually detail what Armstrong said or the issues at stake in Banbridge and in that context the last line quoted from Clara Armstrong’s letter above is quite telling. With this background it is perhaps not surprising that in February 1869 he accepted a Hibbert Trust reading fellowship and with his family left Banbridge. In their farewell address the congregation said:

Whilst we deeply regret the severance of the tie which for upwards of two years has bound you to our congregation and to our hearts, we cannot say that your voluntary resignation of the congregation has taken us by surprise, as you had not been long settled among us before we felt convinced that your talents, acquirements and refinement as a Christian minister would lead to your being invited to some higher and wider field of usefulness.

R.A. Armstrong was succeeded by the Rev John Miskimmin who arrived directly from the Unitarian Home Missionary Board and stayed until 1876 when he moved to Greyabbey.

rev-john-miskimmon

 

Rev John Miskimmon

He proved to be the last minister of Second Banbridge, the congregation subsequently closing and selling the meeting house to the Masons in 1893. The building has continued to be used as a Masonic Hall ever since and presumably it was the new owners who put a lion on top of the edifice. So the church closed quite a long time ago but when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast there was one member whose family had originally come from Banbridge in about 1920, and she certainly regarded her family as identifying themselves with the Second Congregation. But the actual closure of this church took place a very long time ago, although the building is still there to be seen, with a recumbent lion looking down on four polar bears.

second-banbridge-lion

Rooftop lion

croziermonumentpolarbear

Monument polar bear

Telling Tales by Sheila McMillan

Sheila McMillan’s new book Telling Tales was officially launched at a reception in Waterstone’s, Lisburn on 30th June. It is good to see a large retailer like that supporting local authors and it was encouraging to see such a lot of people there for the occasion.

Sheilabooklaunch

As the wife, daughter, granddaughter and great niece of ministers Sheila is well placed to write about life inside the manse. But this is no pious collection of platitudes and improving tales as one suspects that many ministerial or ministerial family memoirs must be. Sheila writes well and entertainingly. As one of the speakers said at the launch she can handle humour which is a rare skill and the book is full of good stories told with great humour. What makes them funnier is that they are all true (although in some cases the names have been changed to protect the guilty) and they have an honesty and directness which appeals.

 

Sheilaread

 

Some of the people Sheila has known are truly remarkable. Her pen portrait of Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews (who considered her names unsuitable and preferred to be known as Elba), the orphaned daughter of Thomas Andrews who designed the Titanic, and who bustled into Sheila’s life with some force is one that stays in the mind.

Some of the tales told will make you laugh out loud but Sheila also has some very moving stories. If you want to know what it felt like to be a mother anxious about a son who had disappeared for 24 hours in Belfast at the height of the Troubles then her story ‘A Nightmare in the Northern Ireland Eighties’ does that.

The benefits of coming from a clerical household are enormous. Having to ascertain from an elderly patient with a neurological complaint whether he was unable or unwilling to speak the answer comes when he remembers her clergyman grandfather who shut down the only pub in his village. In ‘A “Religious Experience”’ Sheila recounts a trip to Japan to take part in an IARF inter-faith conference and to experience the Shinto religion first hand. This is insightful and witty and tells you more about such encounters in a few pages than most earnest official reports of such gatherings ever do.

But it is a good read and one that can be recommended. All proceeds go to the Northern Ireland Branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

 

SheilaMcMillanpublication

Edgar Innes Fripp and William Shakespeare

The current celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare prompt me to think about the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp. His is not a name widely remembered today but I was very aware of him when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast as a very distinguished predecessor in that pulpit, indeed the minister under whose leadership that church was built in 1896.

 

E.I. Fripp didn’t really get the attention he deserved in the congregation, although I wrote and spoke about him on a number of occasions. If the congregation looked to anyone as an historical exemplar it was A.L. Agnew whose own particular heroic story in the course of a 54 year ministry was partly based on an undoing of the achievements of his predecessor Fripp. He did away with the ‘Fripperies’ that remained from early in the century even to the extent – or so I was told – of having a bonfire of old service books along with assorted hassocks, communion table cloths and pulpit hangings. Fripp had introduced an edited version of the prayer book to the church, a robed choir and a much more devotional style of worship than had been the case before. More than that he had built the church, a little medieval English parish church in suburban Belfast. It was his vision in achieving this that had enabled the church to survive. Without this move it would have been unlikely to have lasted in Rosemary Street, and although there may have been a falling off in attendances between the wars it suited the narrative of the later arrival of Dr Agnew and the York Street congregation following the blitz of 1941, to write off everything that had gone before. In fact the destruction of the York Street building made an eventual union of the two congregations inevitable but without the intervention of the German Luftwaffe even that probably would not have taken place.

 

AllSoulsexterior

All Souls’ in 1900

 

By the time I was minister at All Souls’ a large majority of the congregation had belonged to York Street or were descendants of that congregation. The Second Congregation families, the original All Souls’ people, were a minority yet there were a few who remembered Edgar Innes Fripp. This wasn’t because they were extraordinarily old, because although he had built the church in 1896 and left in 1900 he had returned at the start of the 1920s for a few years. In the 1990s there were some people who had childhood memories of Fripp and what they remembered in particular was his interest in Shakespeare. He was much given to quoting him and increasingly found inspiration in his writings for his sermons.

 

ShakespearesStratford

The title page of Shakespeare’s Stratford

 

In Belfast he had been innovative, imaginative and creative. He was a genuine scholar, he had been a Hibbert Scholar in Germany before entering the ministry, and was a caring and effective pastor. All this can be seen in his Kalendar, the first monthly magazine to be distributed within a church of the Non-Subscribing tradition in Ireland. Before he had arrived the Second Congregation had left the presbyterian structures to pursue their own course although they were rooted in the Free Christian theological traditions exemplified by James Martineau.

 

Early in his ministry he had produced an account of the composition of the book of Genesis, by the end of his ministry he was completely absorbed in Shakespearean studies. He published a number of works on Shakespeare, and his life and times, and became a trustee of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Indeed it is interesting to see that today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a short video examining E.I. Fripp’s analysis of Iago:

http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-villains-iago

 

At the end of his life Fripp’s funeral took place in Shakespeare’s church and he was buried in Stratford on Avon. But he produced a large amount of work on Shakespeare and I have often been tempted to seek out a contemporary Shakespearean scholar to give an assessment of how these works are regarded today for Faith and Freedom. There is and has long been a vast industry around Shakespeare and each age finds a different set of interpretations that reflect its own circumstances. It would be nice to know from the point of view of an English literature specialist what endures from Fripp’s writings. But if nothing else he had an enduring impact on the topography of South Belfast, something that continues to this day.

 

AllSouls02

The view of All Souls’ today from the Belfast City Hospital

Blue Plaque for the Rev Henry Montgomery

A good number of people braved winter weather, heavy traffic and seasonal busy-ness to attend the unveiling of the Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque commemorating the Rev Henry Montgomery (1788-1865) on the walls of his old meeting house in Dunmurry on 18th December 2015. Appropriately enough the unveiling was done by the Very Rev William McMillan, Henry Montgomery’s successor for 45 years and undoubtedly the person most knowledgeable about his life and career.

 

People gather outside the meeting house in anticipation of the unveiling of the blue plaque
People gather outside the meeting house in anticipation of the unveiling of the blue plaque

 

The premises and grounds of Dunmurry have always been immaculately kept and the meeting house provided a very suitable space for the speeches immediately after the unveiling. This has been a year of commemoration marking the 150th anniversary of Henry Montgomery’s death and, as Ian Crozier observed in his speech, the Ulster Scots Agency had assisted in the republication of Bill McMillan’s booklet on Montgomery, A Profile in Courage, first published fifty years ago and still the most useful introduction to his life and work.

 

As was also pointed out in the speeches this is not the first blue plaque to a Rev Henry Montgomery (the other one being the founder of the Shankill Road Mission), and it is certainly not the first blue plaque for a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian, but I think it is the first blue plaque for a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister (although at least two sons of the manse have already made it onto a blue plaque).

 

Rev Mac unveils the plaque
Rev Mac unveils the plaque

 

In his speech the Rev Bill McMillan quoted comments made by the Banner of Ulster, a newspaper not sympathetic to Montgomery’s religious position. At the time of his death it said:

 

Never did his powers of eloquence shine out more conspicuously than when he was denouncing tyranny, in other lands or his own; or pleading for the rights of humanity. He contended that a man’s religion should never subject him to penalty or inconvenience and he claimed liberty alike for Protestant and Catholic, for Christian, Jew and Deist.

 

Very much a pioneer and champion of what today would be called human rights it seems fitting that he should be remembered. Henry Cooke, his old opponent, after all has a prominent statue, Henry Montgomery certainly deserves his plaque.

 

Rev Henry Montgomery (1788-1865) . Minister, teacher, reformer
Rev Henry Montgomery (1788-1865) . Minister, teacher, reformer

A nineteenth-century ministerial dynasty

In two recent articles [in the April 2015 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and the June 2015 issue of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine] I have written about the Rev John Orr (1829-1896) a scholarly and successful minister in nineteenth-century Ireland whose career took a strange and unexpected turn when he emigrated to the United States in 1879. Whatever the intention of his move to New England his career didn’t flourish on the other side of the Atlantic and by the time of his death he was little remembered in his homeland. This is a pity because he was an important figure in his own day whose two major published works won plaudits and whose ministry at Comber, co. Down helped to establish and grow a fairly new congregation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he had been almost forgotten since leaving Comber for Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 1879, although the first step towards raising his profile probably came with the publication of the Thoemmes Dictionary of Irish Philosophers in 2004 in which I co-wrote the entry on him with Professor M.A. Stewart.

 

But following my article on John Orr in the 2015 Transactions the second article in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian is as much about his family background – as both the son and the brother of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian ministers he was part of a notable dynasty – and this also deserves to be noticed.

 

His father, Alexander, was born in about the year 1798 and grew up in the Moneyreagh congregation. Alexander’s friend the Rev S.C. Nelson of Downpatrick reported of his background that:

 

there he was brought up under the guidance and auspices of that foremost champion of Unitarian Christianity, that true and consistent representative of the earnest loving spirit of the pure and living faith of the Gospel – the buoyant, persevering, and self-sacrificing Fletcher Blakely.

 

This input, together, no doubt, with his education at Moses Neilson’s Rademon Academy, (supplemented by time at Glasgow University and the Belfast Academical Institution) led him to incline towards the non-subscribers by the time of the second subscription controversy. Alexander Orr was already minister of Second Anaghlone by this time but although his sympathies were with Henry Montgomery and his followers he and his congregation did not join the Remonstrant Synod in 1829 and he waited until 1838 before joining them when he became minister of Ballyhemlin. Here he kept a classical school and remained as minister until his death in 1869.

 

The entrance to the Ballyhemlin church
The entrance to the Ballyhemlin church

 

This provides the background for the ministry of his son, the Rev John Orr who was both minister at Comber and, from 1866, Professor of Church History, Pastoral Theology and Moral Philosophy for his denomination. If you want to read about him, his publications, his ideas, his importance, and his mysterious emigration to the USA at the age of 50 then the full story can be found in my article ‘Rev John Orr of Comber, county Down and Cambridge, Massachusetts’ in the April 2015 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, but I will attempt now to place him in the context of his family.

 

Alexander married Nancy Porter and all three of their children (at least those that we know about) were born while he was minister at Anaghlone. Unfortunately no baptismal register survives for that congregation so we can’t check for additional siblings and we don’t have accurate dates of birth for two of the three brothers. The eldest son, however, was named Porter Orr and must have been born in about 1826 and he was the first to follow his father into the ministry.

 

Like his father, and his brother John, Porter Orr trained for the ministry at the Belfast Academical Institution. College records at the time are not complete, however, and although we know that his time as a student overlapped with John Orr we don’t know so much about his time there. At the end of his time as a Remonstrant student he became part of the export of ministers produced by the non-subscribers. Training ministers to a high standard there was a surplus of potential ministers over vacancies and a number of students took up pulpits at churches in England. After being licensed by the Presbytery of Bangor Porter Orr accepted a call to the Unitarian church at Ringwood in Hampshire in 1845. With its origins in the seventeenth century the meeting house, then known as St Thomas’ Chapel, was built in 1728. Porter Orr stayed here for five years before accepting a call to Strabane and returned to Ireland in 1850.

 

As a new congregation Strabane was part of the fruit of the quite committed and successful missionary effort of the Remonstrant Synod and one of the few congregations to be founded west of the Bann. Porter Orr was the third minister of the congregation and had succeeded his brother John who had been minister there from March 1848 to May 1850.

 

Recently a portrait has come to light of a minister painted in about 1850. Generously donated to the Comber Church by a direct descendant of John Orr this shows a youngish man in the clerical attire of the mid-nineteenth century. It is undated and has been reframed in modern times, when someone has written on the back the name Thomas Porter Orr. I think we can fairly confidently assume that this is a portrait of the Rev Porter Orr. It is only small in size, the books in the portrait cannot be identified, but its provenance in the Orr family and the fact that it is certainly a clergyman would suggest – to me at least – that Thomas Porter Orr and the Rev Porter Orr were one and the same person. The portrait could have been made in Ringwood or Strabane, we can’t know for sure, but it is a charming and touching memento of a life that was cut short. Porter Orr resigned his charge on 30th January 1855, he died less than two weeks later on 12th February.

 

Portrait believed to be the Rev Porter Orr (Comber NSP Church)
Portrait believed to be the Rev Porter Orr (Comber NSP Church)

 

The congregation of Strabane did not last much longer, Porter Orr was the last minister and the congregation effectively ceased in 1857. But it was important to the Orrs and the denomination. John Orr was there long enough to meet his wife – Sarah Jane Porter – the daughter of James Porter, one of the founders of the Strabane congregation, and they married in October 1851. Sarah Jane’s sister, Catherine, married the Rev David Maginnis, another prominent minister in the last half of the century, in 1845.

 

Of his brother John Orr we can say that he was one of the outstanding intellects of his generation of ministers within the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, but despite his highly successful ministerial and academic careers, along with David Maginnis, his brother in law, he often found himself at the centre of the increasingly strident infighting that bedevilled the non-subscribers at the time, although he was held in high regard by his colleagues, especially those who shared his radical theological views.

 

What impelled Orr to leave for America? Was it a sense of bereavement following the death of his first wife at the age of 42 in 1865? Or was it some sense of unfulfilled ambition? Or a sense of dissatisfaction with his denomination? Or had some issue arisen in Comber that meant he should depart? Again we will never know exactly. But we know quite a lot about what he did in America, the introductions he had and the aims he carried with him across the Atlantic. We know also that he died on 19th August 1896 and was buried in Mount Auburn cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. His second son Alexander, who was a journalist, joined him in the Boston area but predeceased him in 1891 aged 35 and was buried in the same cemetery. His youngest daughter lived in Boston until 1960 when she died and was buried in the same plot as her father. What became of his second wife Agnes is not known. Most of the rest of the family are commemorated on the imposing memorial in the graveyard in Comber.

 

The Orr family memorial, Comber
The Orr family memorial, Comber

 

 

 

 

 

A First World War Roll of Honour

Another resource that will be added to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project in the near future is the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – or at least as much of this that was printed in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine at the time.

Not surprisingly that magazine carries a great deal of information about the impact of the war on the denomination. The war brings about much comment and theological reflection from ministers and lay people but the extent of the impact only gradually comes to be realised as more and more members take up arms. The magazine decided to compile a Roll of Honour and in December 1914, four or so months after the outbreak, this was printed for the first time. Already it contained 141 names, all of them obviously volunteers, and representing 24 congregations. The list includes two who have been wounded and already the first loss – a member of the Dromore congregation – David Prentice who was lost in action on HMS Monmouth in a naval engagement off the coast of Chile. HMS Monmouth was an armoured cruiser that was built in 1901 and used mostly around Chinese waters. At the start of the First World War it was sent to the West Indies fleet and was part of the battle of Coronel, here it was sunk by the Germans with the loss of all hands.

In the next year the Roll of Honour was reprinted in March 1915, when it had been expanded to include 27 congregations. In January 1916 the list is updated when 360 names (including some women involved in nursing and other war work in some congregations) were listed in 29 congregations (out of a notional total of about 35). To this denominational list an additional three names were added in February. For the denomination as a whole of these 363 names eleven were listed as killed, missing or lost.

Rev Alfred Turner, minister of Templepatrick, at the front in the uniform of the YMCA
Rev Alfred Turner, minister of Templepatrick, at the front in the uniform of the YMCA

Having kept this Roll of Honour up until February 1916, strangely, it is not updated in the pages of the magazine again. At one point mention is made of an intention to publish on card the full Roll of Honour for the congregations but it is not clear if this was ever done. Why the Roll was never updated is hard to tell. The editor, the Rev Alfred Turner, was now working in France with the YMCA but the responsibility for providing this information lay with the individual congregations. Having begun keeping the record it seems strange that it stops.

A result of the Roll never being completed is that we do not know the exact numbers of those who served in the First World War. But both the total number on the Roll of Honour and the number of those killed in the war are likely to be far greater than the numbers published between 1914 and 1916. There are, for instance, 16 obituaries of men killed in action (in two cases died of war wounds) in the magazine. Of these only three died before the publication of the January 1916 list and they do appear on the Roll of Honour but of the other thirteen only seven are listed and six are not, possibly because they had not joined up until after that date. The number of fatal casualties is likely to be much higher and a perusal of each church’s war memorial would give the true figure. If we look at the example of the Dublin congregation, for instance, on the January 1916 list there are eleven names included as having joined the armed forces. Yet the war memorial in the Church lists only those who were killed (all of them in 1917 and 1918) and of the five names preserved there three do not appear on the January 1916 list. To take another example in the case of Clough there are seven names on the published Roll of Honour, and no fatalities. However, on the Roll of Honour in the Church there are ten names, three of whom were killed in the war.

Detail of the Dublin names in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 1916
Detail of the Dublin names in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 1916
Memorial to 2nd Lieut. Frederick E.B. Falkiner MC in Dublin Unitarian Church. Killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps near Ypres August 1917 aged 22. (With thanks to P. Spain for photo)
Memorial to 2nd Lieut. Frederick E.B. Falkiner MC in Dublin Unitarian Church. Killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps near Ypres August 1917 aged 22. (With thanks to P. Spain for photo)

But taking the denomination as a whole the Roll of Honour plus the additional obituaries makes a total of 24 killed in the First World War noted in the magazine in this way although clearly this cannot be the final total.

Of the 16 obituaries in the magazine 14 are of officers and most include a photograph of the deceased. Four obituaries appear in the August 1916 issue, all of them of soldiers apparently killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Whether an obituary appeared or not seemed to be entirely due to chance but was very unlikely for those who weren’t commissioned. There are in addition three brief notices, one of them of one of the sons of the Rev Alexander Gordon, and one mention of a death in a Rademon ‘News of the Churches’ report. This would make a total of 28 names of men killed in the war mentioned in the magazine, again certainly not the final total.

But a careful comparison of all the church memorials plus the obituaries found in the magazine plus the names on the Roll of Honour would at least give us a working total for those from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches in Ireland who served and lost their lives in the First World War.

Although so many of those who died did not receive an obituary in the magazine some of the obituaries in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian are quite informative. Most of the casualties were people who joined up at the start of the war but some had been career soldiers. One such was Captain Craig Nelson of Downpatrick who was killed in action on 26th September 1915. He was an officer in the 3rd Brahman regiment, part of the Indian army and a grandson of Rev S.C. Nelson, minister of Downpatrick. His father was Dr Edwin Field Nelson, the fifth son of Samuel Craig Nelson, a senior surgeon in the locality who had himself attained the rank of Surgeon-Major in the local Militia and continued as medical officer for soldiers in the Downpatrick district during the war up to his death in May 1916. But his son, Craig Nelson, was killed the year before, his other two sons both serving officers in the navy or the army. Craig Nelson was a career officer who had been commissioned into the Royal Irish Rifles and served throughout the South African war. He subsequently transferred to the Indian Army and served first in Egypt and then on the Western Front.

The Downpatrick minister, Rev M.S. Dunbar, said of him:

We cannot help our feelings being moved when we think of the thousands of our countrymen who have fallen in this titanic struggle, but our feelings are still more acute when we suddenly learn of the fate of one who we knew, with whom we conversed not so long ago, and who, when we bade him good-bye, was in perfect health and the best of spirits. The War, with all its dread consequences, comes home to us as it never did before. Captain Nelson was brought up amongst us, and when on furlough from India, was always pleased to join in our service here, and to recall his associations with the church and the people connected with it.

Captain Craig Nelson
Captain Craig Nelson

The Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be seen here:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

Downpatrick Treasure Hunt

On Saturday, 25th July around 125 people took part in the Treasure Hunt organised by the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. It was a fantastic night helped by good weather and the great venue that is the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan, where church member and recent NI Bar Person of the Year Margaret Ferguson is the licensee. Those taking part went on a fifteen mile journey around the local countryside, answering clues along the way and coming back to a magnificent Hog Roast. As well as being a great night it also raised a very good sum for church funds.

Setting off for the journey from the car park
Setting off for the journey from the car park
In the marque early in the evening
In the marque early in the evening
Ticket to the Treasure Hunt
Ticket to the Treasure Hunt
Preparing the Hog Roast
Preparing the Hog Roast
Part of the queue for the hog roast
Part of the queue for the hog roast
The queue looking towards the road
The queue looking towards the road
Marquee with lights
Marquee with lights

History of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church Downpatrick

The meeting house of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church in Downpatrick was opened in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin. Recognised as one of the most significant architectural examples of the T-shaped meeting-house in Ireland the building celebrated 300 years of continuous worship and witness in 2011.

Central high pulpit originally built for Thomas Nevin (Down Museum photograph)
Central high pulpit originally built for Thomas Nevin (Down Museum photograph)

To mark the tercentenary of the church building the congregation published the History of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church Downpatrick. Written and compiled by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, the book is a remarkable record of three centuries of church life in the historic building. The book details the history of the congregation in the context of Downpatrick and Irish Presbyterianism, the conflict between subscribers and non-subscribers in the 18th century, the history of the building, the congregation’s engagement with education and much more. The book includes biographies of all the ministers of the congregation going back to the 17th century, extracts from the records of the Synod of Ulster, accounts of services, special events and financial matters, and contains details of committee and session members over the centuries, lists of members going back to the 1860s, and a complete record of all the graveyard inscriptions. It will be valued by all those with an interest in Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church history, local history, and genealogy.

Celebrating the tercentenary
Celebrating the tercentenary

In the first of the two Forewords the Very Rev William McMillan says:

Miss Stewart is to be congratulated on a truly comprehensive publication. She not only presents us with a history of the Downpatrick congregation but has collated a remarkable number of newspaper accounts, together with other printed material which will be of considerable help to future historians.

 Her commitment to the congregation is evident from the immense research that she has done and I am delighted to recommend this valuable contribution to the Denomination’s Historical Record in which Downpatrick congregation has played such an important role.

and in the second Foreword the Rev Dr JohnNelson says:

The congregation of Downpatrick has a long and notable history, reflected in the lives of the ministers and lay people who have been part of that church. A congregation which has held a significant place both within Non-Subscribing Presbyterian circles and the wider Presbyterian community.

 Perhaps the most outstanding theme of that history is the fact that for the last 300 years the congregation have worshiped in the wonderful building that is Stream Street Meeting House. While that building has always been well maintained, the interior has never been substantially altered, leaving it to-day essentially as built and evoking a sense of history, of presence, and of worship in all who enter there. It is highly appropriate that this book is published as part of the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of that meeting house.

Mary Stewart is to be congratulated in producing such a thorough and detailed history of the congregation. Not only does she give the story of the church, but her painstaking researches have produced a wealth of source material which will be a delight to historians, church members, and everyone interested in the heritage of Downpatrick town and community.

This book both opens a door on the past and links it with the living present.

At the tercentenary service
At the tercentenary service

The book contains 408 pages and over 150 illustrations. It is bound in a full colour hard-back cover the book and is excellent value at only £15.

The cover of the book
The cover of the book

A sense of what it contains can be seen from the list of contents:

Chapter 1        Background History of Downpatrick

Chapter 2        Arrival and Settlement of Presbyterians

Chapter 3        Subscribers and Non-Subscribers, the Faith of the Non-Subscribers

Chapter 4        Presbytery Records from 1691 including Thomas Nevin’s Trial and Consequences

Chapter 5        List of Ministers of Downpatrick, Details of Ministers

Chapter 6        The Church Building

Chapter 7        Church Site and Schools

Chapter 8        Life and Times of Samuel Craig Nelson   

Chapter 9        Special Services

Chapter 10      Special Events and Reports

Chapter 11      Church Excursions from 1881

Chapter 12      Social Evenings and Gatherings

Chapter 13      Harvest Services from 1908

Chapter 14      Financial Matters (Inc. Committee Record from 1886)

Appendix I       Rules and Regulations of the Downpatrick Congregation

Appendix II    Church Elders, Committee and Sunday School Teachers (From 1861-2007)

Appendix III   The Church Graveyard and Inscriptions

Appendix IV   Sermon by Alexander Colvill A.M. M.D. on the Death of Thomas Nevin 24th March 1744

Congregation at the tercentenary service
Congregation at the tercentenary service

The cost of the book is just £15. Postage within the UK is £5. If you are interested in having a copy posted abroad please enquire for postal rates. Details of how to purchase the book can be found on the Church’s website: http://www.downpatricknsp.org.uk/History.html