St Patrick’s Day, Downpatrick 2018

Preparations underway

Preparations getting underway in the town


Going up to the Cathedral

Going up to the Cathedral for the service


Congregation photographed

The congregation gather for a photograph inside the Cathedral



Processing up to the grave after the service


Laying wreath

Visiting Bishop Alf Cooper from Chile lays a wreath


St Patrick's grave

St Patrick’s grave outside Down Cathedral


Giant Saint 01

The giant statue of the saint


Downpatrick First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church

Downpatrick 1 Oct 2016

Downpatrick is one of the finest 18th-century T-shaped meeting-houses in Ireland. Built in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin, a pioneer Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister who became a founder member of the Presbytery of Antrim, the church is one of the most notable buildings in this part of county Down.

It is not a new thing but it is worth flagging up the 360 degree virtual tour of the interior which was put online courtesy of VirtualVisitTours. The panoramic view can be explored here:



Candlelight Carol Service

The congregations of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough held their joint Candlelight Carol Service on Wednesday, 6th December at Downpatrick at 7.30 pm. The church was attractively decorated and as well as Alfie McClelland on the organ we were delighted to have the Laganvale Ensemble accompanying the carols and playing some other pieces. The mellow sound of the band filled the eighteenth-century meeting-house magnificently.

Candlelight 02 MS

Underneath the pulpit

Candlelight 04 MS

Laganvale Ensemble

We had readers from all three congregations, including one passage read first in German by Eleanor to commemorate Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, begun 500 years ago. The readers were Amanda Ramsey, Thomas Rooney, Eleanor Baha, Tierna Kelly, Megan Neill, Elsie Nelson, Robert Neill, Doreen Chambers, Roy Kelly, and Charles Stewart.

Original of Readers


Candlelight Gallery daytime 02

The view from the Squire’s Gallery earlier in the day

Harvest Services 2017


The Services of Harvest Thanksgiving in October 2017 were all successful and enjoyable events in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches. The first took place at Downpatrick where the guest preacher was the Rev Ernie Boggs, Minister Emeritus of Downpatrick Presbyterian Church, and special music was provided by the Lindsay Chorale with their conductor John Dallas. The congregational hymns were accompanied by church organist Laura Patterson. Over the year the Sunday School and young people of the church raised £400 for the work of Daisy Lodge and during the service Laura Neill presented a cheque to Aisling Gibson, the South Down regional fundraiser for Daisy Lodge, a purpose-built therapeutic centre located in Newcastle for families affected by cancer.






Downpatrick Harvest Daisy Lodge

Presentation to Aisling Gibson of Daisy Lodge.


At Ballee the service was held on Sunday, 8th October at 3.00 pm when the guest preacher was the Rev Adrian Dorrian, minister of Ballee Parish, Church of Ireland and special music was provided by the Quoile Area WI Choir conducted by Isabel Keenan and accompanied by Kathleen Gill. Congregational hymns were accompanied by John Strain, the church organist.






Quoile Area WI Choir including also Rev Adrian Dorrian


Clough held their annual service of harvest thanksgiving on Sunday, 15th October at 3.00 pm. There was a large congregation present to hear the visiting preacher, the Rev Paul Reid, of the Old Presbyterian Church, Larne and special music provided by local choir Harmonic Progression, the Seaforde based Community Choir for Women under the direction of Carolyn Ross. It was also pleasing to see that the painting of the exterior of the church had been completed in time for the harvest.






Harmonic Progression including Rev Paul Reid (Old Presbyterian Church, Larne)

On 30th September Ballee also acted as a key staging post for Christian Aid’s Strangford Sportive, a cycle event covering up 120 km around this part of county Down which raised over £6,500 for the charity.

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St Patrick’s Centre Terrace Garden Downpatrick

Walking through the Garden at the rear of the St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick I noticed how attractive the Garden now is. The little details are worth examining, like St Patrick’s ship (not the original one I would think), the standing stone, and the fairy thorn brought there from another site but growing well set in a Celtic cross just to remind people of Patrick’s victory over superstition. The Cathedral and the Southwell School provide a marvellous backdrop.

St Patrick's Centre 054

Looking towards the Southwell School

St Patrick's Centre 06

The Fairy Thorn

St Patrick's Centre 03

Standing Stone

St Patrick's Centre 01

St Patrick’s Ship and the Cathedral

St Patrick's Centre 04

Harvest Thanksgiving


The services of Harvest Thanksgiving at the congregations of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches were all joyous and uplifting occasions.

At Downpatrick we welcomed the Rev Dr John Nelson as guest preacher and the Harlandic Male Voice Choir conducted by Elaine Hawthorne to lead our worship. Laura Patterson played the organ and the church was very thoughtfully decorated to represent the changing seasons of the year as well as the sacrifice of those who served in the First World War.

At Ballee the walls were decorated by the Sunday School with the first verse of W.G. Tarrant’s hymn “Go work in my vineyard, my garden and field, and bring me the fruits and the flowers they yield. The voice of the Master the labourers heard, and into his harvest they went at his word” and each window was superbly decorated with a different line from this. Our visiting preacher was the Very Rev William McMillan and we welcomed back the Bailliesmills Accordion Band who played at the service. The organ was played by John Strain.

At Clough I was the preacher and we welcomed the Clare Chorale under the direction of Sheelagh Greer to lead our worship. A large and accomplished choir their singing filled the church which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Alfie McClelland played the organ.










Ballee Vinyard.jpg













Treasure Hunt and Afternoon Tea, Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan

In July Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches held an excellent, hugely successful afternoon tea at the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan. Blessed with wonderful weather everyone there, young and old, had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.


Tea in the marquee


Preparing the cakes


Afternoon tea


The servers enjoy their tea


Towards the end of the month Downpatrick also had another excellent Treasure Hunt based at the Lakeside Inn. There was great support for the event with around 140 people taking part and following the fiendish clues around the countryside and coming back to the Lakeside for a hog roast with entertainment as well as games for the children. The weather was great but the marquee provided a comfortable spot for people to relax in. It was another great night and also raised over £1,000 for church funds.


Setting off


Queuing for the hog roast


Enjoying the hog roast


Inside the marquee


Announcing the winners


The first day of the battle of the Somme

The centenary of the battle of the Somme gives us an opportunity to reflect on its impact in the context of our churches and our denomination.

The battle of the Somme began at 7.30 am on 1st July 1916. The German lines were subjected to a sustained bombardment for days in advance.

Lieut. Col. G. Bull the Commanding officer of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles described it like this:

The bombardment, which had lasted seven days without ceasing reached its climax at 6-25 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July, and from 6-25 a.m. until 7-30 a.m. the German trenches were treated to a perfect hurricane of shells.

But although this was intended to destroy the enemy and break up their lines it did not have that effect and meant that thousands of troops, when they went over the top, stood little chance.

Private William Roberts of the 18th Durham Light Infantry kept his own diary, and of the day the battle of the Somme began recorded:

Opened a violent bombardment on the German lines. 7am a village blown up by our mine and 7.30am advance started. We were the 4th Battalion to go over, which we did about an hour later.

The short but terrible rush through the fierce curtain fire with men falling on all sides I shall never forget. High explosive shells fell all round us. The sights I saw are too terrible to write about and men almost blown to pieces were lying side by side.

Unable to proceed further, the order to retire was given and I thanked God that I came through the terrible ordeal unhurt.

I went to work in our front line at night but had to come away as it was almost blown to pieces.

There again I saw dead and wounded lying side by side. Some were moaning and others had so far lost their reason that they were laughing and singing.

Of the members of our three churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough at least seven were killed in the First World War from amongst the many who joined up. Three of them were killed in 1916 two of them at the battle of the Somme – including a member of Downpatrick, Rifleman John Hayes of the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, who was killed on 31st October 1916, and Rifleman Robert Kirkpatrick, a member of Clough, and of the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was killed on 1st July, 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. Both young men are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the memorial to the 72,195 British and South African soldiers who were killed at the battle of the Somme and have no known grave.


Memorial, Clough NSP Church

Without doubt the battle of the Somme was one of the most bloody in the history of the British army. There were 57,470 casualties on the first day alone and 19,240 soldiers were killed on that day.

One of those killed on the first day was a member of Clough but a glance at the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1916 shows four obituaries all relating to members of the denomination who were serving in France and who were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

These were:

Captain W. Haughton Smyth of the 13th Royal Irish Rifles, a member of Banbridge, who was killed on 1st July.

Captain J.S. Davidson, a director of the Sirocco Works in Belfast, one of the largest engineering works in Ireland and a business set up in 1881 by his father to produce machinery for the tea industry. A member of a prominent Non-Subscribing family connected with Holywood who was killed at the start of the battle.

Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, from Holywood, who had been commissioned into the 13th Royal Irish Rifles and subsequently transferred to the Machine Gun Corps who was killed on 1st July.

Private Joseph Harper, from Templepatrick, a member of the 11th Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles [according to the published obituary and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although the Templepatrick church memorial has 18th Battalion] who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.

Captain WH Smyth 1916

Captain W. Haughton Smyth

And these are only the ones who have published obituaries in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine, there will have been many more. This just shows the enormous impact of the battle of the Somme on the whole country, on big towns and cities, and rural hamlets and villages, on industries and agriculture and communities and streets and families.

In the whole of the War there are only 16 obituaries in the magazine. Of these 16 obituaries 14 are of officers and most include a photograph of the deceased. Of this total of 16 obituaries four of them appear in the August 1916 issue, being of soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Generally the only people to have written obituaries in the magazine were officers so Private Harper was an exception. But if you look at the memorial in Templepatrick church you see on the list of those who were killed in the war right next to Joseph Harper the name of Private James Harper of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles [the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives 15th Battalion – another difference with the memorial], presumably Joseph’s brother, who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.


War Memorial Old Presbyterian Church, Templepatrick

In the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine there are also three additional brief notices, one of them is for one of the sons of the Rev Alexander Gordon, one is a mention of a death in a Rademon ‘News of the Churches’ report. But the third of these three brief notices is one of another soldier killed on 1st July 1916 listed as Private John White, Royal Irish Rifles (Holywood Volunteers) a member of Holywood. Another member of the 13th Battalion he was 24 years old and is buried in the Suzanne Military Cemetery nearby.

Private John White NSP

So out of a total of only 19 obituary notices in the magazine five of them – more than a quarter – relate to soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme alone, and these will by no means be the full list of those killed at that battle.

A record of the all engagements were kept by the battalion commanders throughout the war. The first day of the battle of the Somme is recorded as a day of confusion and slaughter. The death of Captain W. Haughton Smyth is noted in the report of the day by Colonel William Savage as:

No 9 Platoon came on under the command of Capt W.H. SMYTH, who was killed almost immediately. They were the carrying platoon and some of them reached the first line with material, which after dumping there or carrying to second line was not required, as all the time was spent consolidating, holding the line & helping the fighting platoons.

Captain J.S. Davidson’s participation in the battle of the Somme is similarly recounted in the war diary of 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. William Savage, the Colonel commanding the battalion records that:

Very little, almost no information, was sent in, this was due in the first place to most of the officers becoming casualties, and the difficulty of getting men across the fire swept zone of NO MANS LAND.

Signalling wires had previously been laid out by the Signalling Officer of the 17th but all attempts by the signallers to take a line forward were useless. I had 10 signallers killed and wounded. I append a list of the officer casualties by Companies 2/Lieut Fullerton of D Coy is the only officer who went over who has come back unwounded & has very little information to give about his Company.

He goes on to say that Captain Davidson and his company were sent out at 8.06 am. Eventually news came back that they had got so far but could not possibly advance any further and asked for reinforcements and additional ammunition. But it was impossible to get men or supplies out to them. Later at 12.40 pm they heard back from Captain Davidson:

A message from Capt Davidson 108th M.G.C. arrived “I am holding the end of a communication trench in A line with a few bombers & a Lewis Gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being pressed on all sides and ammunition almost finished.”

But the situation continued to be confused, reinforcements could not be got out to him and the Germans were counter-attacking. At 3.20 pm a rifleman found his way back:

and reported that Capt Davidson had been wounded in the knee & while he & another man were carrying him out, he was shot dead between them.

The obituary of J.S Davidson in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian recorded that

with the outbreak of war he felt that his country had need of him, and gave up peaceful pursuits for military practice. As in business, so likewise in his military duties, he gave of his best. Taking nothing for granted, but making himself familiar with every detail of his duty, his work was characterised by extreme conscientiousness and thoroughness.

Captain JS Davidson 1916

Captain J.S. Davidson

But all the obituaries of those killed on the first day of the Somme express their patriotic motives and the sense of the rightness of the call that led the men to join up. Of Captain William Haughton Smyth the Rev J. Glynn Davies of Banbridge said he

had lost his life in a sacred cause, but he has lost it only to find it nobler and brighter than ever before. His body lies in the cold earth, but that which is greater than all matter, that which cannot be crushed or shattered by German explosive shell or pierced by German steel remains – the soul has gone to its God who gave it.

But sentiments like this must have been expressed all across the country as they coped with the terrible slaughter of so many young men. Of Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, who is commemorated by a memorial along with his brother on the wall of our Holywood church, as well as on the memorial at Queen’s University, the unsigned obituary says:

Lieutenant Neill was one of those brave Ulstermen who, not on any rash impulse, but after cool deliberation of all the sacrifices and dangers involved, freely and cheerfully offered his services to his country.

He goes on to quote the minister:

Lieutenant Neill’s response to the call of duty – a call which, from the world’s point of view, had little promise to offer – but, on the other hand, much of danger, of privation, of hardship, and to face suffering and death. But he nobly gave his services to his King and country, and for that noble ideal that is sending Britons to war upon war, that in the peace which shall follow their glorious self-sacrifice, the nations of the earth, both great and small, may be free to follow the pursuit of industry and peace.

Lieut J D Neill 1916

Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill

The obituary of Private Joseph Harper is very poignant and is written by someone who knew that his brother was serving somewhere near him yet who did not know that his brother had been killed on the same day:

Joseph was nineteen years of age, and enlisted into the Army eight months ago. Comrades have written home to say that they saw him fall: that he fell in a great charge, when the 11th battalion earned for itself undying fame, and when many another brave boy gave all that he had to give for his King and Country. He fell as a brave boy would fall, with his face to the foe. An uneventful life had been his. He came out of a small cottage on the roadside in our parish, and had been mainly concerned with the duties that belong to the work on a farm. But he had a great heart in him, and when he left his home to go France, he left with a happy smile on his face, and with a spirit of hope and cheer and fearlessness in his heart. He has answered the roll-call in a better world than this. He was a member of our church, and occupied his place on our Roll of Honour. We express our deep sympathy with his widowed mother, his brothers (one of whom is fighting not far from where Joseph fell) and his sisters in their great loss.

But both Joseph and James were serving with the Royal Irish Rifles in different battalions and in fact both were killed on 1st July 1916 and the names of both are preserved on the Thiepval memorial.

But just this small sample from within our own household of faith is a reminder of the terrible impact of the battle of the Somme on so many people. So many families were left bereaved with fathers, sons, and brothers killed in the battle.

Everyone will perhaps have their own loved ones who they might remember as having served in the First World War, perhaps at the Somme. My own grandfather served throughout the First World War and was there present at the Somme. But we all have our own memories and ways of remembering.

In what I have said here I have looked briefly at a few men from our household of faith. There is much more that could have been said. I could talk about the impact at home on families, of the economic results of the war and of the effect on society that resonated across the last hundred years. But at the heart of any act of marking this terrible event of one hundred years ago should be remembrance, and today we make our small act of remembrance.

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

(from ‘Aftermath’, Siegfried Sassoon)

From an address given at a joint service of Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough churches at

Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 3rd July 2016


Children’s Day Services: Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough

The Children’s Day services held in June each ear are always important occasions for all three of our churches. They bring to the front the tremendous work done by the children and young people and the Sunday School teachers in the churches throughout the whole year. All the work prepared for the denominational Sunday School Exhibition held at the start of June is displayed in our churches and the prizes won by the children at the exhibition are distributed along with prizes for attendance. Between the three congregations the Sunday Schools won an astonishing 34 prizes, a considerable achievement. On top of that the children lead the worship with songs, readings, prayers and often dramatic pieces which have been carefully written and prepared. Each of the Sunday Schools also work at fundraising for an appropriate charity over the year which is an expression of their awareness of the needs and concerns of wider society.


Below I will post some pictures of the occasions held on 19th and 26th June.



High points this year included Ballee winning the Millennium Cup for the Most Original Entry (for the sculpture featuring the fish) and the presentation to Joy McBride of a cheque for all the money they have raised for Mainstay DRP.








There was some great work on display in Downpatrick and as well as music and readings the service included a presentation to Mary Stewart, the church secretary, by Laura Neill on behalf of the Sunday School. Mary has recently been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the Downpatrick community and it was good to be able to congratulate her as a congregation.







The Sunday School excelled itself in both the denominational Sunday School Exhibition (winning an astonishing total of 18 prizes) and the first class service they led at Clough. Kayla Ramsey presented a cheque for £280 raised for charity by the children.








Raising the Cross in Down

On Tuesday, 15th September the new Downpatrick High Cross Extension was opened at Down County Museum. I was pleased to be amongst the large crowd who were present to see the new premises.

The High Cross
The High Cross



The main attraction of the extension is, of course, the High Cross itself which holds centre stage in the main room. It’s quite dominant in the room and is exceptionally well lit so you can appreciate the detail in a way that just wasn’t possible when it was in its original position outside the Cathedral. Out of doors you had to take on trust the various illustrations that were said to be carved on its surface, now you can make them out and have some idea of the stories it intended to convey. In addition these are well explained in the exhibition.


The Cross in its new location
The Cross in its new location


Raising the Cross in Down “tells the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and its place in the early Christian tradition of County Down” using artefacts, reconstructions and interpretative panels. It’s a good exhibition which takes the visitor through Christian history in the locality right up to a nicely inclusive panel covering the various traditions in Downpatrick today.


Downpatrick's Christian Heritage
Downpatrick’s Christian Heritage


Elsewhere in the extension the new café will be run by the local charity Mainstay DRP. The tearoom has tremendous views across the rolling countryside. Downstairs Harvests from Land and Sea is an exhibition telling the story of farming and fishing in County Down which contains machines, tools and artefacts which will be familiar to many local people.


Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh
Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh

Another room includes the At Present Confined: Life in the Old Gaol exhibition which tells the story of many of those who were imprisoned in the gaol between 1796 and 1830. On show in here is a display of hand-made bonnets made by many schools and local groups as part of the ‘Roses from the Heart’ project, run by Tasmanian artist Christina Henri in 2013. A number of local groups took part in this project which was international in its scope and which commemorated the thousands of women and children who were transported to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Display of bonnets
Display of bonnets

While some of the people who were transported to Australia were hardened criminals many of them, and many of the woman, had done things which we would regard as quite trivial today. So in 1820 Jane Armstrong at the age of 16 was transported for seven years for stealing two spoons. In 1832 Mary Burns, who was born in Downpatrick, was transported for seven years on a charge of vagrancy, which today we would probably call homelessness. Quite a few women were sent away simply for vagrancy. Altogether something like 25,266 women were transported from Britain and Ireland to Australia and the artist Christina Henri has been trying to commemorate them both here and in Australia by getting people to make bonnets. Children in local schools were encouraged to make bonnets with the name of each woman on as well as the name of the ship she was transported on. Along with Canon Rogan I was very pleased to be asked to take part in a ‘blessing of the bonnets’ in the Museum at the time.

Down Museum has long been an excellent Museum but the new extension is a very impressive addition to its display that fits in well with the Museum’s care and appreciation of local history and its engagement with schools and the wider community.


Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick's hand by Claire Sampson
Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick’s hand by Claire Sampson