Use the Join us button to contact others, via our discussion list, who may be researching your interests.
Please consider donating to the web site: use the Donate button.

The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly

By J.W. Kernohan, M.A.


Part IV. Historical Account of Boveedy Congregation

II. The Parting of the Ways.

Rev. John Smyth.

Mr. Smyth's ministry was an eventful one in the history of the congregation and in the fortunes of his family. During his ministry Kilrea became a separate congregation, and Boveedy joined the Seceders, who were making steady progress and growing in numbers and importance. Since 1751 Mr. Alexander Stewart, of Ards, was lessee of the Mercers' Estate, and had as agent Mr. Henry, a bleacher, and probably the most influential Presbyterian in Kilrea. At Mr. Henry's solicitation Mr. Smyth and the larger part of his congregation were persuaded to remove to Kilrea, which was now becoming a town. The minutes from the sub-Synod of Derry's records will explain the situation:_

May 18th, 1779. From Kilrea(in the bounds of the Presbytery of Rout) appeared a supplication (Samuel Read, etc., Commissioners) informing us that a division is likely to take place in that congregation, that this matter was canvassed at the Presbytery, but that they could not make up the breach. They therefore refer the matter to this sub-Synod, as appears from their minutes which were read; and requesting that we may order their minister, Mr. Smyth, to preach alternately in Kilrea and Bovidy (as there is a great majority of the congregation for a coalition.)Pg60

From Bovidy appeared a supplication (Wm. Gilmer, etc., Commissioners) requesting that this Synod may order Bovidy to be declared a vacant congregation, and that supplies may be granted them, particularly Mr. James Elder. Mr. Smyth and the Commissioners from both places were heard at a considerable length.

The Synod eventually appointed a large committee, including the members of the Route Presbytery, to meet at Boveedy and endeavour to bring about a reconciliation. The committee's decision was in favour of the Kilrea petitioners, who are described in the "Synod of Ulster Records" as the "inhabitants of Killreagh, Tamlagh, and Desert." Their contention was to the effect that to constitute the 226 heads of families of Boveedy into a separate congregation would be injurious to the interests of religion, as the whole stipend not being more than 26 would not admit of division. The committee's decision to divide the time of Mr. Smyth between Kilrea and Boveedy was upheld by the General Synod. After two years Boveedy joined the Seceders, and Kilrea continued as a separate congregation under Mr. Smyth. The melancholy part of the story so far as he is concerned is that although he removed his residence from Drumagarner on the promise of generous treatment in the matter of house and land in the town of Kilrea, on his death in 1785 "his property is distrained and sold in satisfaction of a claim for rent during the whole of occupancy, and his family are beggared by it." Part of the "generous treatment" was that he was to be free of rent. His descendants resided in the Diamond, Kilrea, up to the middle of the nineteenth century.

Boveedy and the Seceders

The first minister of Boveedy under the new conditions was the Rev. Adam Boyle, who was ordained there either in 1781 or 1782 by the Burgher Presbytery of Derry that had recently been formed. The nearest Seceding congregations were Garvagh and Knockloughrim. The introduction Pg61 of this more evangelical, more rigid type of Presbyterianism had, it cannot be doubted, a beneficial effect on the religious life of the community. We may now regard some of its teachings as very narrow, yet that there was a need for the stirring up of spiritual life all over Ulster, such as came with the Seceders, is abundantly evident. And in the particular part that we have under review, the impartial observer will find it difficult, judging by the type of Presbyterians that have sprung from the labours of old Adam Boyle and his successors, to accept the plea of the majority in 1779 that a separate congregation would be "injurious to the interests of religion."

We have inherited our regard for the Sabbath from the old Seceders. Here is a sample of their teaching regarding its observance. "Others profane that holy Day by idleness, or using it as a Day of visiting their friends and neighbours; some by making it a Day of Reckoning with work men and servants; others profane it by doing unnecessary servile work in and about their houses, which might either be done on Saturday before, or delayed to Monday thereafter, such as cutting of grass, carrying of fire and water, drying of clothes, and the like. Others profane it by unnecessary journeyings or travelling about their secular business. Others profane it by carnal converse and their worldly affairs, and even in going to and returning from public worship, and in the intervals thereof. Also we cannot but testify against parading with the use of martial music and making the Sabbath a Day for learning the military exercises, without an apparent necessity (though practised by many of our worthy and respectable volunteers)." All these were regarded as transgressions of the law of God. Every form of evil the Seceders denounced unsparingly-"blasphemy, profane swearing, drunkeness, detraction, lying, malice." The Vanity Fair of Boveedy already mentioned, we can very well believe, did not resist long the onslaught of the Seceders. Pg62

Rev. Adam Boyle

Here is inserted a footnote:-
His grandson, the Rev. S. B. Clarke, M.A., of Cairncastle, possesses a MA. Volume of his sermons, the first of which is dated 1781-possibly the first preached by the old Seceder in Boveedy.

We know all too little of Adam Boyle. He seems to have received his University training at Glasgow. He was 28 years of age when he began his ministry, and when he had long passed the allotted span of life, he was preaching every Sunday and visiting regularly an extended congregation without assistance. His old-fashioned, salutary training developed in him honesty, industry, and, as his ministerial career proved, a singular capacity for work, only giving up the reins to an assistant at the age of 87. His residence was at Brookfield, and is still standing. Three years after his ordination, he, with the other Seceding ministers, was allowed a grant of Regium Donum. When he was eighty, his stipend amounted to 24, supplemented by an allowance of 50 from Regium Donum.

The last record in the Session book at Boveedy made by him reads as follows:--"Married by the Rev. Adam Boyle in the 2nd Presbyterian Meeting-house, Kilrea, July 20th, 1845, James Cooke to Eleanor Gilmore."

The inscription on the tombstone in Boveedy graveyard reads - "Rev. Adam Boyle, minister of Boveedy, who died 1st November, 1848, aged 94 years."

Mention should be made of the religious and social organisations that came into being in the bounds of his congregation about 1830. In Trinaltinagh School a Reading and Debating Society was conducted much on the same lines as a branch of the Young People's Guild of today. It was also a Temperance Society, and met once a month. The class of books read were Hervey's "Meditations," Josephus' "History of the Jews," Doddridges's "Exposition," and Flavel's "Mind and Soul." There was a similar Pg63 Society at Crossland. As a result of such meetings there was a great improvement in the religious and moral education of the people.

Brief Ministries

The Rev. William Denham was Mr. Boyle's assistant and successor. He was ordained on 30th November, 1841, but resigned in 1844 on his appointment to Duneane.

The next minister was the Rev. D. T. Boyd, who also remained but a few years. It was during his ministry that the new church was built. It was alleged that he collected money outside the bounds of the congregation for which he gave no account. For this and another charge, which was preferred against him, he either resigned or was deposed..

About this time very serious trouble arose in the congregation. The district was one where handloom weaving prevailed, and the population was very dense. There was one place known as the "Cluster," which an old inhabitant remembers as having at a time thirty-six "smoking chimneys". At present there are only about four families. There were two or three looms in each house, and the "drapers" came round once a week, gave out the yarns and took back the webs. Sometimes the weaver would have three or four hanks of weft left after the web was finished. On returning this to the "draper" he was fined. Then he began to keep it, and through accumulation of these leavings he had in time as much as would do for the weft of a whole web. The non-weavers in the congregation held this to be a dishonest practice, but the weavers affirmed that there was no harm in it seeing that they turned out as good linen without it, and ran the risk of a fine for their being honest in returning it. The matter got into the Session, and two parties were formed when the vacancy occurred. The Rev. Matthew Macaulay, J.P., who only recently died at McKelvey's Grove, was one of the candidates, and a Mr. John Gilmore the other. At a vote the two parties were equal, Pg64 and one voter having recalled his vote for Gilmore, Macaulay was elected by a majority of one. The other party left, erected another building about a hundred yards further up the road, and became connected with the U.P. Church of Scotland. They and their descendants worshipped here for about fifty years, but the congregation gradually dwindled away, and now the building is used by a neighbouring farmer as a barn. Mr. Macauley resigned McKelvey's Grove, and ministered at Boveedy for about six months. He was never installed. The whole powers of rent office were strongly in favour of the dissatisfied portion of the congregation, and these powers were so mighty in those days that many of the farmers had either to obey the dictates of an arbitrary land agent, and join the dissentient portion of the congregation, or be evicted from their holdings. It was probably the system of landlordism which Macaulay experienced so early in his history at Boveedy that caused him in later years so strongly to espouse the cause of the farmer. He was recalled to McKelvey's Grove, where he spent the remainder of a long and useful career.

Rev. James Gilmour

Rev. James Gilmore was a native of Garvagh, and was ordained in October, 1848. He found everything in confusion, and a heavy debt on the congregation. The slates and timber used in the construction of the new building were unpaid. The merchants who supplied these were pressing for their money. The potato blight happened about the time, and people had no money. The house was closed until these accounts would be settled. Mr. Gilmore, with the assistance of members of the church, broke open the door, and afterwards raised as much money as satisfied the creditor. During his ministry an attempt was made by the land agent to take from the congregation the portion of ground on which the manse now stands, and also the old schoolhouse. He was a brave man, for he fought the Pg65 rent office single-handed and came out victorious, and had a trust deed made out which prevents the property from ever being alienated from the Presbyterian Church. During his ministry the present manse was built. At a congregational meeting in 1853 it was resolved and passed unanimously-"That we are anxious that a house be built as a manse for our minister, and that we request Mr. Gilmore to build it to please himself, and that he advance any funds that may be required." He lived in stirring times, and was subjected to much harassing, but he never lost the good-will of the majority of his people, who to this day remember him as a good minister and a kindly man. He died on the 8th July, 1887, aged 70 years.

Rev. W. J. Hill, B.A.

Was ordained 22nd December, 1887, and since then continues to be the minister of Boveedy. During this time the manse has been remodelled and almost rebuilt, new offices and church stables erected, the church renovated, and a congregational hall formed out of a part of the church building, which was too large for the present members. New entrances have been made and trees and shrubs planted, and the whole property is now in thoroughly good order. The financial affairs of the congregation are at present in a more flourishing condition than ever before in its history.

Educational and other Gleanings

From the earliest days of the Presbyterian Church education has gone hand in hand with religion. But details are wanting of the schools in the vicinity of Boveedy. In Kilrea, a schoolmaster named Richardson, who was also clerk in the Parish Church, conducted a school in 1738. There was a similar school at Moyletra Church early in the late century, which was attended by Presbyterians. The present Boveedy schoolhouse was erected in 1834 by public subscription. Andrew Orr, Esq., the proprietor of the soil, gave 35; the Rector, 4; Pg66 Rev. Adam Boyle, 1; and the surrounding farmers, 8.
Here is inserted a footnote:-

The greater purchasing power of money at this time must be remembered in all references to subscriptions.

Since this sketch was written - (1910) a new schoolhouse has been erected on the most modern plan.

Trinaltinagh School was in existence in 1828, for Mr. Michael Wallace planted fir and alder trees around it then.

In 1836 the people were in a state of "slow but progressive improvement," being chiefly occupied hitherto in farming on a small scale, and weaving. This latter industry was steadily declining. The chief hindrance to improvement in farming was the smallness of the farms. Gortmacrane, described as a "barren tract of churchland," sent five times as many harvesters to England as all the rest of the district.

The dates of the building of the neighbouring churches may be of interest - Churchtown, 1836; Moneydig, 1836; Drumbolg, 1812; Drumagarner Chapel, 1778.

In the whole parish of Tamlaght there were in 1834, 2,787 Presbyterians, 865 Seceders, 1,538 Episcopalians, and 4,735 Roman Catholics.


In these days of consistent loyalty we are not always disposed to give due credit to the motives which prompted the United Irishmen in the movements that led up to the Rebellion of 1798. The disabilities then suffered by Presbyterians and their desire for reform led them to the verge of actual revolt against the Constitution. Maghera formed the centre of a strong movement towards insurrection. The men assembled 5,000 strong on 7th June, 1798, but hearing of the defeat at Antrim and that military forces were marching towards them, their courage failed. One of the leaders, Walter Graham, was betrayed and executed. There was no "rising" at Kilrea, Pg67 and only a partial attempt took place at Garvagh. Captain Heyland with the Bovagh cavalry proceeded through Kilrea, and dispersed some insurgents at Dunglady Fort. The minister of Kilrea was in sympathy with the United Irishmen, and might have been seen helping with many others to gather potatoes with the aid of his new castor hat on a farm whose owner was in prison on a charge of disaffection.

The rest of this page is a drawing of the Belfry of Kilrea Old Church Pg68

Top of page

Page Information

First published: 28th Nov, 2001.
© 2001-2023 Richard Torrens.
Page's Author: Richard Torrens
Document URI:
Last modified: 2019