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:

http://www.virtualvisittours.com/downpatrick-first-presbyterian-non-subscribing-church/

 

 

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A Vision Splendid

Congratulations to Wayne Facer on the publication of his new book A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017  – http://www.BlackstoneEditions.com). It’s an excellent study that looks at Unitarian origins in New Zealand through the work of William Jellie, an Ulster born Non-Subscribing Presbyterian who was one of the many pioneers from there who went out to establish congregations in what were then dominions of the United Kingdom.

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Wayne Facer 

The book has a striking cover, taken from a work by an unknown New Zealand artist, and is a very important addition to the study of the way Unitarianism spread around the globe and adapted to new situations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will be reviewed in future issues of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and Faith and Freedom.

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About the book I have written:

Wayne Facer has written an absorbing biography of a hitherto little known but nevertheless fascinating and important person. Through meticulous research in both New Zealand and the UK the author illustrates the pioneering life of this minister and educator.

Born in county Down, Ireland, in 1865 and described by his family as “Irish through and through” William followed an uncle into the Unitarian ministry. A relatively small but theologically radical denomination Unitarians placed great store on the value of an educated ministry and Jellie received an excellent education at Manchester College which moved its location from London to Oxford while he was a student there. The author draws out the influence of this education upon Jellie especially through the person of Philip Henry Wicksteed (1844-1927). Through him he developed a love of Dante and literature in general as well as a belief in politically progressive causes and the need for direct intervention in society in favour of the poor. Serving in ministries in both England and New Zealand, where a contemporary journal described him as preaching “sermons and addresses so far superior to the ordinary”, he became a key figure in the establishment of Unitarian churches and institutions in New Zealand. After retirement from the ministry he embarked upon a new career as a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association.

We owe a great debt to the author who has traced the varied course of Jellie’s long career, bringing him vividly to life in the context of his times, his ideas and principles, his family and friendships and the institutions and organisations which he supported.

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New Zealand Ministers – William Jellie, James Chapple, and Richard Hall at the Unitarian Hall, Timaru (from the back cover of the book)

A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9816402-6-6, Pages: xxv + 278)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Postcards from All Souls’

 

Edwardian postcards of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches are not unknown but they are not common. Obviously some churches feature more prominently in this format than others although generally some of the churches in towns outside of Belfast – such as Dromore and Banbridge – are the most frequently seen. In Belfast All Souls’ Church appears on four postcards that I am aware of although two of them are very curious in their own right.

The picture at the top of this page (not taken from a postcard as it happens) is a fairly obvious view which does appear as a postcard. Another postcard that does sometimes turn up is of an architect’s line drawing of the Rosemary Hall which was published before the Hall was opened.

The other two cards, of which I have copies, raise a number of questions. The first is this one:

Postcard St Marys All Souls

What the eagle-eyed will immediately notice is, that whatever the inscription says at the bottom of the picture, this is not a postcard of All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. It is quite neatly printed and isn’t badly produced. On the reverse it says it is part of ‘The “National” series’ and was printed in Britain. So it may not have been locally produced which might account for the error. But I wonder how many copies they sold? Who would have bought them?

It is in fact a picture of St Mary’s Church of Ireland on the Crumlin Road. Does this mean that there is in existence a view of St Mary’s Church that has been carelessly titled ‘All Souls’ Church’ by the printers. I have not seen one if such a thing was ever printed.

The other card definitely is of the interior of All Souls’. It is quite a well-taken view showing the organ, the chancel and part of the nave and published by Baird’s of Belfast. Unfortunately my example is a bit dog-eared and creased but I am glad to have it because these postcards are fairly rare these days.

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The church does have an enlargement of this view which was held in some awe by some of the members. The reason for this can be seen if you look carefully at the organ console. This was the original organ that was moved to All Souls’ in 1896 when the congregation migrated from Rosemary Street. Originally opened in 1806 it was the first organ used by a Presbyterian congregation certainly in the north of Ireland. I have written before about the history of this interesting instrument which is still in regular use in Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church where it moved in the 1920s. But much mythology attached to the organ. One story was that it had been built for St George’s Chapel, Windsor by the famous organ builder John Snetzler. This was very widely repeated and continues to be repeated sometimes in the present day. Some years ago I discovered and published the true origin of the organ (which was constructed in Belfast as you might expect) but many people still prefer the legend! Attached to the legend was a belief that the old organ was haunted, and haunted by no less a ghost than that of George Frideric Handel. This is where the postcard comes in because it was believed by many that the picture shows his ghost sitting at the organ:

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One person told me that this picture had been subjected to a battery of tests but no one could explain the blurred image in front of the organ keys. My scan is not wonderful but there is a blurred image that is printed on the photograph. If you look carefully though you can just about make out the figure of an Edwardian lady in a large hat. I don’t think it is G.F. Handel.

Rev Dr Arthur Long – An Appreciation

I was very pleased to attend the memorial event for the Rev Dr Arthur Long organised by the Unitarian Christian Association and held at Luther King House, Manchester on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 July 2017. Among the speakers were Rev Alex Bradley, Rev Alan Kennedy and Adrian Long, one of Arthur’s sons. Unbelievably it is nearly 11 years since Arthur died but it was good to be able to share in such an occasion and to meet Arthur’s family. I am not alone in having been strongly influenced by Arthur’s learning and erudition in my time as a ministerial student. After his death I wrote an appreciation of him for the January 2007 issue of The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. The Rev Andrew Brown, then the editor of The Herald, then asked for permission to republish the appreciation and it subsequently appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of that journal. In a timely coincidence I came across a copy of this issue today and was spurred on to track down the original text on my computer. I managed to find the text but not, alas, the original black and white photograph which I took of Arthur in his office when he was principal and which appeared in both The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian and The Herald at the time. The appreciation has something of an Irish focus because of the original place of publication but I would like to re-publish it now as my own tribute to an exemplary minister, scholar and teacher.

With the death of the Rev Dr Arthur Long on Saturday, 9 December [2006] our household of faith has lost its leading theologian and educator of recent times. In a long, varied and distinguished career Arthur was most closely associated with Unitarian College, Manchester where he was Principal from 1974 to 1988, and prior to that was a tutor from 1959. His role in the training of ministers cannot be overestimated and when one considers that in the whole of the twentieth century almost exactly half of all the ministers in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland were trained at the Unitarian College (UCM) and that exactly half of the ministers listed in the current NSPCI Aide Memoire were trained there we can see that Arthur’s influence was as significant in Ireland as much as in Britain.

Arthur was a son of the manse, his father being minister at the Bell Street Mission in London for many years, and also President of the General Assembly in later years. Arthur grew up in Wembley and was steeped in the traditions of his denomination. Because of his background his knowledge of the denomination, of ministers and personalities was positively encyclopaedic.

Following education at Exeter College, Oxford Arthur stayed in Oxford to train for the ministry at Manchester College, his father’s old college. His scholarly ability was clear from an early age and in his theological studies he developed a particular interest in the Bible, he always said that he found Hebrew particularly congenial. Nevertheless he was denied the Oxford BD although it has long been recognised that this was solely on theological grounds, yet he never showed any bitterness about being on the receiving end of such odium theologicum. At the same time, however, he was successful in being awarded a prestigious Hibbert Scholarship to go and study at the University of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been taken at a University abroad but this was in 1944 and such travel was clearly out of the question. His time at New College, Edinburgh was another key stage in his own development and he was always proud of having been organist at St Mark’s Church near the Castle during his time in Edinburgh.

Arthur was a rare figure in the world of theological education and ministerial training in that he not only was supremely well equipped for the job in terms of his scholarly background and accomplishments but he had also held long and successful pastoral ministries prior to becoming a college principal. It is not always the case that those who are charged with training ministers have any real experience of doing the job themselves but Arthur had this in abundance. He began his ministry in London, in 1945, at Stamford Street Chapel where he remained until 1952 when he moved to Deane Road in Bolton, adding the congregation of Horwich to his responsibilities in the 1960s. Here he exercised a traditional, urban parish ministry with large congregations of a type that has now almost disappeared within British Unitarianism and he carried out his work with devotion and great success. One dominant feature of his ministry was his enthusiasm for ecumenical work. The town of Bolton had the longest established local Council of Churches in England (founded in 1918) and for thirteen years Arthur worked as secretary to the Bolton Council of Churches. Fully immersed in the practical work of the ministry it is typical of Arthur’s modesty that he never expected to end up as a college principal and yet was supremely fitted for the job.

In 1959 he was appointed to the staff of the College and in 1963 published Faith and Understanding: Critical Essays in Christian Doctrine. This consisted of a series of essays which appeared originally in the Inquirer and which attempted to explain for the general reader a number of traditional Christian doctrines. The book was later instrumental in his appointment as an honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester where he became a member of the Faculty of Theology and lectured for over twenty years on the Christian Doctrine of God.

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Following the death of the Rev Fred Kenworthy in 1974 Arthur was appointed Principal of the College where he remained until his retirement in 1988. As Principal he oversaw the removal of the College from its home since 1905 at Summerville to Luther King House as part of what was then called the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. There can be little doubt that only Arthur could have handled this transition so smoothly in the face of opposition from conservative evangelicals in other denominations and narrow spirits within his own church. His ecumenical experience in Bolton undoubtedly helped as well as his longstanding co-operation with academics from the other colleges and the University of Manchester. But the result was the unprecedented creation of a new federated college which brought together the United Reformed Church, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Unitarians in one site, a co-operative institution that continues to develop to this day and which secured the future of the Unitarian College.

Arthur’s knowledge of contemporary theology was extensive and was put to particularly good use in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture Fifty Years of Theology 1928-1978 The Vindication of Liberalism. He was an able and ardent exponent of the liberal tradition and was able to tie Unitarian theology into the concerns of the mainstream. He always maintained a keen interest in the Bible, few people know the Bible as thoroughly as he did, and he could provide an apposite text for any occasion. He was often amused to be asked by University lecturers in the field of Biblical Studies (who were also ministers) for the suggestion of a text for a particular sermon. Just last year I had to preach a sermon for a congregation with sporting interests and asked Arthur for advice. He suggested a passage in the Book of Acts where we read of the occasion when “Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled by Grace!” Arthur had a tremendous sense of humour, an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and had an especial liking for the works of Richmal Crompton. It is not widely known too that he was an expert in the history of the pantomime and when the federated college was set up at Luther King House, a large and lively institution, he particularly came into his own at the staff and students’ Christmas concerts when his knowledge and appreciation of music hall and pantomime were always put to good use by him in some item on the stage.

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Arthur maintained close relations with the Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary and while he was Principal Hungarian-speaking students began to return to the college again. These numbers increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a great many of the Hungarian-speaking students who have studied at UCM have also visited Northern Ireland. The high opinion in which Arthur was always held in Romania was made clear when the Protestant Theological Faculty at Koloszvar awarded him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Theology in 1995 which he was able to go to receive in person.

In 1983-4 Arthur was made President of the General Assembly and visited Belfast during that year. Arthur maintained a close relationship with the churches in Ireland throughout his career. Partly this was through his former students but was also based on his appreciation of the principle of non-subscription, something which he felt was being replicated in the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. In his historical lectures he always included a course on the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which was regularly updated following input from the students at UCM who came from Northern Ireland. His connection with Ireland might even have been closer.  In the early 1960s, when the Dublin congregation was vacant, Arthur applied for the vacancy but bad weather kept the Dublin boat from sailing and he was never able to make the journey. In 1996 Arthur visited Ireland at the invitation of the Ulster Unitarian Christian Association. He preached at All Souls’ Church, visited a number of churches and ministers, and delivered a lecture entitled Current Trends in British Unitarianism at both Holywood and Dublin. This was very well received and was subsequently published in 1997. The booklet sold out and just at the time of his death consideration was being given for the publication of a second edition.

Arthur was also a key member of the group which produced Hymns of Faith and Freedom the new hymnbook which had its own official Non-Subscribing Presbyterian imprint in 1991 and which is in use in many of our churches. Arthur had a great love of hymns and church music and compiled the very useful Index of Authors including biographical notes which appears in the hymnbook.

His knowledge and learning were also recognised by the Unitarian Historical Society of which body he was President from 1993 to 1996 and vice-President up to the time of his death. His learning is clear also in the many important articles he contributed to the Society’s Transactions in the years following his retirement from UCM. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Unitarian Christian Association of which group he became the mainstay for a number of years not least as the first editor of the Unitarian Christian Herald, which journal he established as an interesting and useful publication. Arthur was able to address all sections of opinion within contemporary British Unitarianism and was rightly held in high regard by all, but there was never any doubt as to his own place in the theological spectrum and the Unitarian Christian Association was a strong expression of this identity.

Arthur was always in demand as a preacher, congregations were always pleased to have him come to them as a visitor. In Luther King House he broke new ground when the Federation was established and he was asked to officiate at one of the weekly eucharists there. He also preached a sermon in the Chapel soon after the Federation was established, at a time when there was still a lot if uncertainty and some tension between the colleges. His address on that occasion to a congregation of theological lecturers and students for the ministry was characterised by warmth, wit, erudition, scholarship and thoughtful reflection, and was typical of him. It was the sort of contribution that helped to cement relationships within the Federation. In later years he added another string to his bow when, through the good offices of the Rev Paul Travis, Arthur was able to participate in network television broadcasts with ITV from Liverpool Cathedral.

Arthur had great affection for the church but he was aware too of the wider needs of society and gave his time to the Samaritans for many years. He will be greatly missed. In his lectures on pastoralia and homiletics he always gave a sensitive and precise description of what the role of a minister was for every type of service. In funerals his advice, based on his years of ministry in London and Bolton, was especially detailed and helpful and he used to recommend that ministers complete the service of committal with the following words:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

Unto thy servant grant eternal peace, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him.

[David Steers – The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 2007, The Herald Spring 2007]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rooftop lion

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Monument polar bear

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.

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Tea in the marquee

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Preparing the cakes

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Afternoon tea

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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.

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Setting off

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Queuing for the hog roast

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Enjoying the hog roast

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Inside the marquee

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Announcing the winners

 

Captain William Haughton Smyth

A meeting at Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church gave me the chance to see the memorial to Captain William Haughton Smyth who was one of the soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme and mentioned in the previous post, and also see the work being done at Banbridge by the congregation and the Rev Norman Hutton to preserve his memory and that of others who served.

The memorial to him was erected by members of the congregation. Manager of the Dunbar Memorial School and director of the family firm of Wm Smyth & Co, Captain Smyth was an established member of his local community when he was killed on 1st July 1916 at the age of 37. He was also treasurer of his congregation which is surely one of the reasons they wanted to put up a memorial to him.

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Memorial to Captain W. Haughton Smyth

 

But Captain Smyth was one of two members of the Banbridge congregation killed in the Great War, the other being Private A. Dougan who was killed earlier in the year on 14th March 1916. In total 17 members of the congregation served in the war although it was only a couple of years ago that the church dedicated a memorial to them all in the church which is situated just below the memorial to William Haughton Smyth.

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Banbridge Congregational Memorial

 

This year the congregation has produced an informative leaflet about Captain Smyth which details his service and the part he played in the Great War. The full leaflet will soon be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project as will all the other material posted here along with a great deal of new material which has also been sent in.

The previous post can be read here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/the-first-day-of-the-battle-of-the-somme/

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

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

Part of the Banbridge leaflet 

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.

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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.

Templepatrickwarmemorial

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

 

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.

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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.

 

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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