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The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly

By J.W. Kernohan, M.A.


Part II - From the Restoration to the "Ninety-Eight", Part 2

Causes of the Rebellion

That there were good grounds for this ill-fated revolt, no one doubts. The causes were evident, but need not be pressed at this time when the grievances have ben removed. An illuminating comment on the state of the country which we are reviewing is available from an unbiased authority - the Secretary of the Irish Society, who made a tour of the estates of the Londoners in 1802. The recent outbreak had the effect of drawing public attention to the condition of affairs in Ireland, and the candid remarks of the Secretary are worth quoting - "Inquiring into the reason of the want of accommodation and the apparent poverty of the place. the master of the inn [at Kilrea] observed that it could not be otherwise in a part of the country where they never saw the face of the owner of the soil, or even his undertenant. . . . I felt the force of the observation, which impressed me with a greater degree of indulgence for the poverty, ignorance, and laziness of the lower order of the people, who toil for a miserable subsistence, and see the fruits of their labour carried off from time to time by an agent of their landlord to be spent in a foreign country." After a comparison with the tenants and their landlords in England, he proceeds - "This want of example, assistance and consolation from the resident land owners deprives the inhabitants of all inducement to union, so that each family lives by itself in a little cabin without a chimney, with a clay floor and a bed of straw or rags. A group of nearly naked figures is often seen at the doors, consisting of the wife and children. The husband finds the means of working at his loom to pay an extravagant price for four or five acres of land, on which a cow is kept for the family and some potatoes Pg32 and flax are grown. This, with a turf fire kindled in the corner of their cabin, round which the family crouch, with some oatmeal for stirabout, constitutes all the wants, and whiskey the luxury, of the Irish peasant, while never looking beyond it has no temptation to enterprise or exertion."

Mr. Slade continues his report of what he saw at Kilrea - "The lands belonging to the Mercers' Company extend from the left bank of the Bann, near Kilrea, for the space of about six miles towards Boyd's mountain, and are lett, as I was informed, in small parcels from five to thirty acres (which is considered a large farm) at an average of about £1 3s an acre. There are no timber trees on the property, but I learnt from the conversation I had with the landlord of the inn that about fourteen years since, Mr. Stewart, the tenant, had cut down a great many trees, chiefly ash and sycamore, in the neighbourhood of the town. Mr. Orr, a linen merchant of Londonderry, has a handsome house near the high road, and is now building some cotton or linen works towards the foot of the mountain which, notwithstanding, its dreary aspect and unprofitable soil, is interspersed with cabins, in many of which whiskey is distilled, and afterwards sold at a price below what can be afforded by the fair trader. The stills used on this occasion are constructed on so small a scale that it is no uncommon thing for the proprietors of them on seeing from their cabins on the mountain side the approach of an excise-officer to remove the whole apparatus and conceal it in the bog before the approach of the exciseman."

Natural Features

Confirmation of the naked character of the soil comes from Sampson. "From Tamlaght Bog to Kilrea the same naked knolls, the same bog, the same fruitless soil. Here and there below the rocky knoll a lake is in place of a bog; but the tree that used to shelter that lake and to shadow that rock is no more. High gravels and lakes at Kilrea which want only good soil with wood to form a landscape. Pg33 This pleasing picture is of short continuance."

Sampson gives an example of the cost of living on a farm of five acres, where, after deducting rest, cess, and tithe, the sum of £9 15s 6d was left for the support of a family. He says - "Even from this is to be deducted for all misfortunes of domestic sickness, or loss of cattle, a certain something besides the clothing of old and young. It is therefore astonishing how life is supported, and yet, I assure the reader, as to the present instance, there was no filth, no famine, no repining. But this will be accounted for - the whole family were laborious, and their breasts were cheered with that most delightful sunshine, a peaceful conscience, and a tender reliance on the mercy of Providence."

The Bogs

At the beginning of last century the roads intersecting Kilrea and Tamlaght were pronounced good, that is, comparatively speaking. This sounds not quite in harmony with the rather wild natural appearance of the country around, and the prevalence of the bog. Indeed with its chains of loughs and small knolls it is even today a fruitful area of study for the geologist and naturalist. The prefix "drum" ("ridge") in so many townlands is a perpetual reminded of the character of this somewhat barren and rocky region. Some eighty years ago the bogs were more eloquent of the hand of Nature than now, when so much has been cut out. From time to time as "cutting" proceeded they gave up their buried secrets, their different strata showing tiers, sometimes three deep, of successive primeval forest growths - oak, fir, and yew. In a small black bog in Kilrea townland (now reclaimed) there was an oak stick found 72 feet in length. Another piece of bog in Kilrea was converted into arable land. Many of the Irish names of the bogs have been lost. In one that ran right up to the town of Kilrea - "Drumimeric Flow" - there was fir, oak, and hazel found, and at the north end of it was a big oak stick with a gravel Pg34 hill over it. Curious too were the islands in the bogs - not an uncommon feature of the district. "Tod Island" and "Wolf Island" have wrapt up their very names in an interesting bit of history. Edendarragh Hill was wholly surrounded by bog.

The Churches

When stock was taken of the Church property in 1622, there were two churches in our parishes - Tamlaght and Kilrea. The Pope Nicholas taxation of 1306 shows there was another church and parish - Dromogarnan - that was subsequently merged into Tamlaght. The site of the church was probably on the ridge of Drumagarner, called Church Hill, on Hutchinson's farm, where there had been a forgotten burial ground, and where a baptismal font was unearthed.

The church buildings were in a state of decay and ruin when the Londoners came. It is recorded that the Mercers' Company "repayred" the Kilrea Church, and that Tamlaght Church had a roof of timber only. And in the condition of the ecclesiastical structures was reflected the changing and turbulent history of the century. The year 1654 once more saw these two Churches in ruin, but in 1679 the Church of Kilrea was "in a good state." This was the time when the Rev. Lawrence Clutterbuck was rector, which would account for the preposterous condition of the Church. He was a man of wealth. He was probably son of Richard Clutterbuck, the Mercer, who presented the silver chalice to the parish in 1664. He was also connected by marriage with the Church family. From 1624 to 1675 Tamlaght and Kilrea were served by the same rectors; one of them, Richard Collins, fled to Coleraine in 1641, and perished in the siege of that place.

Denominational Friendship

A new building for the Episcopalians of Kilrea was necessary in 1776, although a new belfry had been built a few years before. It was reported that the gallery was in danger of falling, and was being taken down. The money had to be levied Pg35 on the whole parish, probably a difficult matter in those days. In 1779 the Vestry met and agreed on the proposed plan, but without much success in practise. For nine years (1783-1792) the Episcopalians worshipped in the recently erected Presbyterian Church, a fire having occurred about 1780 which left the bare walls only of their own building standing. A very important meeting of the Common Vestry was held in the Meeting-house, when two resolutions were adopted. The first was to the effect that the Episcopalian congregation having been obliged to meet for worship in the Presbyterian Meeting-house, and on order to show their gratitude, resolved that, as the Meeting-house was "unenclosed and exposed to the daily profanation of cockfights and other disorderly persons" it was "reasonable, equitable, and therefore incumbent on the Episcopalian congregation to afford the Dissenters of this parish a seasonable proof of the just sense they entertain of the indulgence granted to them in the use of the aforesaid place of worship," and the said place should be enclosed with a wall. The sum required was £10, which was ordered to be "levied on the taxable parishioners and paid by the church-wardens into hands of Rev. Arthur McMahon, minister of said Dissenting congregation, and John Macartney and Joseph Marshall, elders of the same." The humour of this generous action cannot fail to be observed, when it is remembered that the majority of the aid parishioners were Dissenters, and that it was like robbing Peter to pay Paul. One wonders if the taxable parishioners all believed it to be "reasonable and equitable" to make such a levy, r even the resolution that succeeded it, which was that "considering it a reflection upon the piety of a people at all times distinguished by a zealous attachment to the principles and practise of their religion it was resolved to collect £150 in three years" to rebuild the Church. But as personal subscriptions in this case amounted to about £80 the parishioners' quota would not be so great. Pg36

The Old Church Rebuilt

The Church was rebuilt, the all enclosing it was completed, and a vestry was again held in the building in 1799. It was in dimensions 60 feet X 25 feet X 12 feet, with 18 pews to hold 120 people. The glebe lands of Kilrea parish were in Killymuck and there was a gort of a few acres at the Glebe House, which was erected in 1772.

The glebe of Tamlaght Church was the townland of Killygullib, and in 1814 the rector attempted to get a new church built there. But an unseemly row was created at the vestry meeting of parishioners, and the project fell through. The story, if told, would only recall the denominational differences of the time and the arrogance of the aristocrat so inimical to true religion. The next rector, Knox, succeeded in having the present Church built the following year. It is to know that the Glebe House at Hervey Hill was one of the many architectural conceptions of the eccentric Bishop of the diocese, the Earl of Bristol, and was erected by him about 1774. It was raised a storey higher in 1811. In Tamlaght parish the Presbyterians numbered 3,650 in 1834, and the Episcopalians 1,538.

1st Kilrea Presbyterian Church

As we have seen, the Presbyterians of Kilrea being in the enjoyment of a new meeting-house were in a position to oblige their Episcopalian neighbours. In the account of Boveedy Congregation it is stated that the minister of the united congregations - rather, there was but one congregation previously - the Rev. John Smyth, with a portion of his people, decided to form a separate congregation in Kilrea town. The new building was erected in 1783 or 1784. Smyth's ministry ended in 1785. For the earlier history of Kilrea congregation when it was a part of the body worshipping at Boveedy the reader is referred to page 52 et seq.

Rev. Arthur McMahon

The next minister of Kilrea was a Pg37 licentiate, who was a native of Downpatrick neighbourhood. He had been a tutor in the Londonderry family. It was in this way he was introduced to Kilrea through the influence of the landlord, Alexander Stewart; in the words of the local record - "Compulsorily forced upon the congregation by the influence of Alexander Stewart, the landlord, and his agents. This very unpresbyterial act was so highly and justly resented by many members of the congregation that all the respectable Presbyterian families in and around Geddestownm etc., until then worshippers at Kilrea, withdrew to Garvagh. Arthur McMahon, after residing at Kilrea for some years and establishing a character there as a most daring and pugnacious man, impatient of all defiance and opposition, was called to Holywood as minister of the [non-subscribing] congregation there. He was settled in Holywood in October, 1794, but his ministry there was brief." Like many other generous-minded and patriotic men he became implicated in the movement which culminated in the Rebellion of 1798, and found it prudent to retire to the Continent in 1979." He was afterwards recognized having charge of British prisoners by a soldier from Kilrea, who had been taken prisoner by the French after an engagement. The soldier's name was McCamphill, of Lislea, who wrote home that being among a party of troops captured by the French, he recognized McMahon after his capture as a French officer, and was in turn recognized. McMahon promised to return next day, but the same night the British troops released the prisoners, and the soldiers never returned home.

McMahon married Sophia Ashbourne, an English lady, supposed to have been a governess in the Londonderry family. He and she resided at Lisnagrot, being possessed of a manse house and farm of sixty Irish acres prime land.He had some children. he as a very fine "personed" man, of high courage and very red hair. His gifts as a preacher were considered inferior. So far our authority is the congregational book, and its interesting Pg38 memoirs by the Rev. H. W. Rodgers.

The subsequent career of this man is a matter of some controversy, which can be seen in the "Ulster Journal of Archaeology" vol xv. At any rate, he saw service in Napoleon's Irish Legion, and rose to the rank of captain. At the capitulation of Flushing in 1809 he was made a prisoner and sent to England; and on the fall of Napoleon he returned to France. McMahon's family believed that he fell at Ligny or Waterloo.

Rev. John Smith

If McMahon was a sympathizer with the reform movement of the time, his successor, who remained at his post in 1798, suffered for his opinions. He was a native of Moneymore district, and cannot be better described than in the remarkable account buy his own successor in Kilrea congregation, which s here condensed. Besides giving the character of the man himself, it throws a light on the circumstances of the time. He was a man of talent and celebrity during his studies at Glasgow; of independent mind, great imprudence, great misfortunes, and somewhat secular in his pursuits. Being suspected as an implicated character in the melancholy Rebellion of 1798, he was dragged to prison, placed under confinement in Derry, Belfast, and next at Fort George in Scotland, for two years altogether, and then was liberated unconditionally. Meanwhile, his large farm and respectable house in Lisnagrot - a valuable property - with all his stock and crop thereon (he having no wife and family at that time) were taken from him and he was left homeless and beggared, when again permitted to return to his people, who still clung to him. He afterwards married a Miss Galt of Moyagney, and purchased the farm and residence of his father-in-law.

His troubles were not ended. Owing to an imprudent action in a matter affecting the parish he was prosecuted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, of the justice of which many good and intelligent men had their doubts. He was also involved Pg39 in a dispute with a licentiate of his own Presbytery, who was apparently acting on the instigation of another party, whose aim was to injure the minister of Kilrea.

I have various extracts from Church records and prints of the time relating to the affair, which are too lengthy for insertion here.

These varous misfortunes may have originated in imprudence. The party, however, who doubtless abetted the apparent enemies who were put forward to assail him, were the same; their spirit was intolerance and persecution. They were impatient of a man who studied on all occasions to show his utter indifference to the arrogant and supercilious great men of another religion that then recklessly domineered around him. His imprisonment for suspected disloyalty first, his imprisonment for riot secondly, and his punishment for defamation were all unjust - the vexatious, vindictive, Hamam-like schemes of unprincipled and cowardly local tyranny, putting forward tools to achieve the vengeance they dared not openly avow. These persecutions led him to adopt a course scarcely consistent with his high profession. He plied the world that he might lift his head high as his persecutors in the idea of his earthly independence, with much success, and strict moral honesty. But the interests of religion and his congregation declined. His wife died at the early age of 29, and six weeks later he also sickened and died after a few days' illness.

Rev. Hugh Walker Rodgers

The congregation was vacant for a few years until Mr. H. W. Rodgers was ordained, 12th April, 1825. Mr Rodgers was born at Edergole, near Omagh, in 1797, but came to reside at Groggan, near Randalstown, and was a licentiate of the Ballymena Presbytery. The Rev. Wm. Wauhope, of Ballymena, moderated in the call, and the Rev. Robert Magill, of Antrim, preached the ordination sermon. The progress made by the congregation after the settlement of the new monister was Pg40 considerable; and religious and moral advance in the whole community was apparent during the whole of Mr. Rodgers' ministry. He ably seconded the efforts of the Mercers' Company at improvement when they resumed the management of the estate. He interested himself largely in social reform, and his influence as exerted in reducing the number of early marriages by requiring the consent of the parents in every instance. To keep pace with the growing disposition for reading and education generally, Reading Societies were formed in connection with the congregation. They met at stated times, and some of them subscribed for the purchase of books. There were eight of these societies in the two parishes. Mr. Rodgers was also librarian of the Library founded in Kilrea by the Company at his suggestion.

Rev. James Maxwell Rodgers

Rev. H. W. Rodgers died on 12th July 1851 and his son, James Maxwell, who was finishing his divinity course at College when his father's death occurred, was ordained in Kilrea on 22nd June 1853. Both father and son delivered lectures, which were published. The income of the minister about 1830 was drawn from the Regium Donum (£50), and the stipend (£75).

The '59 Revival movement touched the congregation deeply, and a great improvement was reported in many ways - in attendance on the weekly union prayer meeting, in the number of communicants, and in general morals. There were no "prostrations" as in other places. The converts evinced a sincere desire to learn, and the young believers were greatly in advance of the old in faith and love, in tenderness of conscience and humility.

On the removal of the Gt. James' St. Congregation, Derry, the Rev James Heron, whose ministerial jubilee was celebrated by the presentation od a portrait to the Assembly's College on 11th April, 1912, was installed as successor on 7th May, 1869, having been called from Muckamore. Pg41 On Mr. (now Dr.) Heron being called to Knock Congregation, Belfast, the Rev James Stewart, B.A., was installed in First Kilrea on 27th February, 1874. He had been ordained in Drumlee, Co. Down, in 1870. I am indebted to Mr. Stewart for information for these sketches.

The Meeting House

When the foundation stone of the present Presbyterian Church was laid on 23rd June, 1837, it was noted by Mr. Rodgers, that it was the fourth house of worship they should enjoy. The first, which was erected in 1643 at Moynock, "was destroyed in a season of national convulsion;" the second was at Boveedy; the third was the first on the site occupied by the present fine erection, and was built in the year 1784, or the year after the construction of the Portna bride. It was on 23rd June, 1839, that the present Church was opened for public worship by the Rev. J. Seaton Reid, D.D., the learned historian of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The parish does not seem to have assisted the previous erection by a levy till the enclosing wall was built, and some years after £5 was "laid on" the parish for the repair of the meeting-house. It was built by subscription, and was described as being in 1836 in bad repair, and without a ceiling. It was one of the old-fashioned type, whitewashed on the outside, and with a plain slate roof. On the outside it was 70 feet long by 28 feet broad, and had 60 single pews, which was quite too small for the very large congregation that worshipped in it.

Ruling Elders

I append the names of ruling elders of Boveedy and Kilrea from an early period to 1820, as recorded in the "Synod of Ulster Records":-



Although education went hand in hand with religion, we have no evidence of the particular schools attached to the Presbyterian Churches until a late date. Mr. Rodgers gave much help in establishing schools in outlying districts, and so late as 1845, before all education was brought under the National Board, the schools on the estate were salaried by the London Hibernian Society, the Board of Erasmus Smith, and by the Mercers' Company. There was, however, a school maintained by the parish. In 1735 a levy was made for the encouragement of a schoolmaster in the town of Kilrea, and Ezekial Richardson was the name of the one appointed. There was a resolution of the Common Vestry in 1745 that Robert Orr was to "build and scraw a schoolhouse." Daniel Livingston was schoolmaster in 1771. Twenty guineas were levied in 1813 to purchase the good will of Hugh Hamill's field for a new schoolhouse, the remains of which are remembered by many at the ends of the Old Row. The Mercers' Company, as was to be expected by the conditions of Plantation, spent considerable sums in assisting education after 1831, but the period before that is a blank as far as they are concerned, a fact which must ever remain to their discredit. No estate has now finer school buildings than are to be found on the Kilrea estate. The Mercers claim to have spent £20,000 on schools alone. There is a curious entry in the Vestry Book about expenditure in 1814 on an "alphabetic wheel, a telegraph, and other necessaries" at a cost of £15, which surely indicates a great advance for that early date.

"Second Kilrea"

Little is known about the origin of Second Kilrea Presbyterian Congregation. It met for Divine service in a linen cloth sealing-room in Bridge Street. In 1832 it was received under the care of the Secession Synod, and its first minister, the Rev. James McCammon, was ordained in Kilrea on 18th June of the following year, Pg43 1833. The new building was not ready for Divine worship till 1838. There is a tradition that Mr. McCammon, whose death occurred in 1839, strained himself while giving personal assistance at the erection of the Church. His income amounted to £70, of which £50 was drawn from Regium Donum. On his Congregational Committee were:-

while Robert McCahon acted as treasurer.

Mr. McCammon's successor, the Rev. Joseph Dickey, was ordained 31st March, 1840. He belonged to a family which has given several ministers to the Presyterian Church. If Mr. McCammon was reputed a pious man, Mr. Dickey's name will be ever held in sacred remembrance as a godly pastor wearing the white flower of a blameless life. His wife was a daughter of Mr. Robert McCahon, of the Diamond, Kilrea.

Mr. Dickey died in 1883, and was succeeded in the pastoral charge by the Rev. F. O. M. Watters, son of the minister of Newtownards, being ordained 17th January, 1884. Mr. Watters resigned in 1888 on receiving a call to Sligo, and was succeeded by the Rev. John Colhoun, a licentiate of Letterkenny Presbytery, whose ordination took place in October pf the same year. He died 13th February, 1892. On 21st June of this year, the Rev. Alexander Gallagher, a licentiate of Derry Presbytery, was ordained in the charge of Second Kilrea, and laboured with much acceptance till he was called to the Congregation of Fountainville, Belfast, in 1902. The present highly-esteemed pastor, the Rev. W. J. Farley, B.A., a native of Armagh, was ordained in Kilrea, 6th March, 1902.

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First published: 21st Nov, 2001.
© 2001-2024 Richard Torrens.
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