Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Great Conflagration in Lisburn. 1707.



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An antique stone taken from the old structure has been preserved and prominently placed, high up on the front of the new building, now occupied as business premises by George Duncan and Sons, Limited. It bears the following curious inscription, which records not only the date of the building, but also the date of the great fire which demolished Lisnagarvey.

                          I. H. I.
     The year above this house erected;
          The town was burned ye year before;
     People therein may be directed:--
          God hath judgments still in store;
               And that they do not Him provoke
               To give to them a second stroke.
                    The builder also doth desire
                    At the expiration of his lease,
                    The landlord living at that time
                    May think upon the builder's case

The owner of the lease, who was having the building erected, is evidently here meant by "builder," as he was looking forward to a renewal at the expiration of the lease then held.

Bradshaw, in his directory, 1819, and Pigot and Co. in 1824, mention a Jamel Ward, as bookseller and stationer, Market Square.

Bayly in his History of Lisburn, 1884, states:--

In 1707 the town was burned to the ground by an accidental fire. The Castle a noble edifice, built by the Earl of Conway shared the same fate as the other houses and was never rebuilt. Mr. Ward's house (next to the Market House) was the first built after the fire. It has the following inscription:--

     The year above this house was erected,
          The town was burnt the year before,
     People therein may be directed,
          God hath judgments still in store:
               And that they do not Him provoke
               To give to them a second stroke.

The stone which the builders rejected the same is become the head of the corner!

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Market Square Presbyterian Church was entirely consumed. Except the wooden tower that stood at the west end of the Cathedral, that sacred building escaped serious injury. The splendid set of musical bells presented by the Countess Conway, were melted into masses of metal In 1752 the Marquis of Hertford had the fused metal of Lady Conway's set of bells which had been preserved from the time of the great fire, sent to an eminent founder in Dublin, and, with a large increase of silver, the whole was re-cast, and when finished turned out one of the richest and soundest toned bells in the kingdom. In the course of the casting the words "Francis, Earl of Hertford," were inscribed on the outside.

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The following curious account of the fire is believed to have been written and first published in Australia. The original document bears no date, but the style of the printing, composition and spelling point to its being of considerable antiquity.

Particular Relation of the Burning on Lisburn -- a Town in Ireland -- in a most Dreadful and Extraordinary manner, by Fire from Heaven: Attested by good Vouchers, lately come from Ireland.

Upon the Lord's Day, the 20th April, 1707, a little before 12 o'clock, while People were at Church, a Fire broke out in Lisburn, alias Lisnagarvie, a very neat well situate small Town, in the County of Antrim in Ireland, about 6 miles above Belfast, which burnt with great fury along both Sides of the Streets, consuming an along as it went.

People running out of the Church, in great confusion, carried out what Effects they could to the Church-yard, as a place of Safety, it being very large and not near to any House except the Church; but the File having Seized upon the Church also descended likeways upon the Goods in the Church-yard, and consumed them entirely.

Within less than 3 Hours the whole Town was burned down, together with the Castle, the place of Residence of my Lord Conway, except only the Town-House, a House belonging to one Roger, and a Smith's-House: And that which, is very remarkable, is, That after the Fire had seized upon the Castle, a Coal was carried from it by the wind, over the River, to a Village at about half a miles distance, which also consumed the same entirely.

The Town, Castle and Village, being burned as aforesaid, enquiry was made in what manner the Fire broke out, but none within the Town could give any manner of Account how it began, but some People who were in the Neighbouring Fields, having reported, that they saw a Flame of Fire in the form of a great Sheet, descend from Heaven, and fall upon the Town, they were brought before Mr. Justice Hornbie, my Lord Connoway's Chamberlain, and upon Oath declared, That they Saw the Flame descend from Heaven, in manner aforesaid. And this is all the Account can be got of the Burning of the Town.

That which makes this more credited, is, The extraordinary fierceness of the Fire, which burnt with great violence, and did flee from House to House, tho at a great distance, and over-took the goods brought into the Church-yard for safety, where every body believed them to be Secure, and even upon a May-pole which stood at a great distance from any House, which was burned within two yards of the Ground.

Tho the Fire had broke out in the ordinary manner, it must be owned to be of Divine permission, as a Judgment upon such as suffer by it, but how much more must this Flame immediately descending from Heaven be acknowledged to be a Judgment upon the Inhabitants of the Place consumed, and ought to be taken as a warning by others.

Possibly some may think the Inhabitants of this Town have been very Impious and compare the Possessors of the 2 Houses that are saved, to Lot, who escaped when all his neighbours were destroyed. But not knowing anything of the matter of Fact, either of the Impiety of the one, or Sanctity of the other, I shall say nothing of it.

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Kirkpatrick in his work "Presbyterian Loyalty," 1713 -- refers to the devastation wrought by the fire and the attempt made to raise funds to alleviate the distress. Out of the distribution of these Funds arose a controversy and certain charges were made against Presbyterians in general, and those of Lisburn in particular, in a pamphlet entitled "The Conduct of the Dissenters in"Ireland."

Kirkpatrick's book is a reply to these insinuations. Numerous charges were made, but the Sixth is the only one of local interest -- that the Presbyterians confined their charity and alms-deeds to those of their own persuasion. Two cases are cited -- Belfast and Lisburn. After some preliminary explanations the account of the controversy opens in so far as it concerns Lisburn, with a certificate by two clergymen regarding the collection in Belfast for the sufferers in Lisburn.

We do Certify that having on Monday April 21, 1707, seen the ruinous condition of Lisburn by a dreadful fire which happened on the day before, and commiserating the case of many of its inhabitants thereby, reduced to the last extremity for want of bread and houses: We the subscribers, with Mr. Henshads, deceased, did on Tuesday the 22nd of said month go through the town of Belfast, and presented the same to all our neighbours we could meet with, and in less than 12 hours collected about £54 for suppling the present straits of said distressed inhabitants of all persuasions without any distinction though of the said sum there was £51 15s given by those of the Presbyterian persuasion.

That the said sum was immediately carried to Lisburn, and by order of the Bishop of Down and Connor, and Dean Wilkins, paid to the two churchwardens and two of the elders of the Presbyterian congregation, to be distributed as aforesaid.

That some time after, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Letters Patent for a collection to Lisburn, the Presbyterians of Belfast gave near £47 to the minister and churchwardens, as by the list may appear, though their proportion was never intended to be computed, nor their charity to be published till now, that their candor and impartiality, as well as loyal are arraigned by a late pamphlet entitled "The Conduct of the Dissenters in Ireland et." Given under our hands at Belfast, September the 10th. 1708.


Kirkpatrick proceeds to refer to Arthur Maxwell, Esq., Drumbeg, and the Rev. Alexander M'Crackan, minister of First Lisburn Presbyterian Church, and quotes long letter by Mr. Maxwell, part of which only is "extracted."

I come next to show, that the instances he pretends to give of that kind in the case of the collections for Lisburn are very unlucky mistakes, though he is pleased to call them both notorious and scandalous: he calls them frequent instances, but mentions only two, relating to and fixing this supposed guilt upon Arthur Maxwell of Drumbeg, Esq.; and Mr. Alexander M'Crackan, Presbyterian minister in Lisburn. Mr. Maxwell is known to be a gentleman of that probity and worth as sets him above such calumnies, which are so much the more inexcusable, because Mr. Maxwell had the honour to be one of her Majesty's Trustees (in conjunction with several other gentlemen both Episcopal and Presbyterian) nominated in her letters patent, for the distribution of that public charity. I have seen a letter from him to his friend, fully vindicating himself from this aspersion, the true copy whereof is as follows.

"Sir -- The author of "The Conduct of the Dissenters in Ireland, etc.," suggests against me, that I applied the collections raised for the poor inhabitants of Lisburn who suffered by the fire, wholly to the use of the Presbyterians, whereas the collection, pursuant to the Queen's Letters Patents was to be general, and disposed of by the Commissioners to the inhabitants according to the proportion of their losses without respect to persons. To which I answer, that the very reading of the Letters Patents will discover this to be an imposing upon his reader, for the Queen's Letters Patents require the minister and churchwardens to raise the collections within their several and respective parishes: How then could Mr. Maxwell apply the money raised by them to the use of the Presbyterians or of any else unless the said minister and churchwardens had given the same to him, contrary to their duty and the direction and appointment of the said Letters Patents; which I believe, for their sakes, he will not affirm. All the colour the author can have for this calumny, is that there were some private charitable collections raised from the dissenters only, for rebuilding the meeting house of Lisburn that had been burnt, and accordingly applied to the said use, as other voluntary subscriptions at the same time from the Churchmen were to the rebuilding of the Church, without any relations to the Letters Patents and before they had any existence. His censure should have been bestowed on both promiscuously. Etc., etc., etc.


As to Mr. M'Crackan, and what the author says against him as if he had been guilty of unfair practices about the public collections for Lisburn; I have seen a full narrative not only of that matter, but of the other facts laid to his charge by this author, under his own hand; of which I shall give a short abstract as they come to be considered in their proper places. The Presbyterians in Ulster were so far from being partial in their collections for Lisburn, that the author could hardly have fixed upon an instance that could have done them more service, for demonstrating that they did not confine their charity to those of their own persuasion. For immediately after the burning of Lisburn, the Church people and Presbyterians there entered into a concert that both church and meeting house should be re-built out of the public collections, and the remaining part of the said collections should be distributed amongst the distressed inhabitants, without any distinction of persuasions; and in consideration hereof, that each party should use their best interest with those of their own persuasion both in England and Ireland for exciting them to make liberal and generous contributions for theses ends, which agreement was entered in their books. And in pursuance of it, the dissenters of Lisburn applied in June following to the Presbyterian ministers of the North of Ireland then met in their general annual meeting, who approved of the christian and amicable agreement between the Protestant inhabitants of Lisburn of all persuasions, and accordingly used their best interest with their own people at home and with their friends in England, for encouraging the collections; which is a demonstrative proof that they did not confine, their charity to those of their own persuasion. Upon this encouragement, the dissenters of Lisburn fell presently to work, re-built their meeting house, and borrowed money for defraying the expense hoping to be enabled by the public collections to repay it, but they soon found themselves miserably disappointed, for when the collections came in, the trustees finding that they were far short of what was expected, did not think it expedient that either church or meeting house should be re-built out of that fund, and allowed them only the proportion that would have fallen to them as private houses in cumulo with the rest. In this case the dissenters of Lisburn, being disabled by the fire to defray the expenses of their meeting house, were obliged to apply again to their friends for assistance; but most of them having given so liberally before to the Protestants of Lisburn at large, were incapable of giving more for that end; though some people of better circumstances contributed towards it.

In the meantime, while the dissenters in Lisburn were receiving and procuring from their friends what assistance they could, some were pleased to take umbrage from this practice as if they had in a clandestine manner got into their hands some of the money that was collected upon the foot of the public brief, and appropriated it to the re-building of their meeting-house. But after several conferences between them and their neighbours, for removing all ground of suspicion, the principal managers and overseers about the meeting house gave their voluntary oath, the true copy whereof I shall here insert, taken from the original all written with the Bishop's own hand, and subscribed by those who took it; which is likewise subscribed by four gentlemen of the church to show that they were not guilty of any unfair practices in that matter,  at the end of each of their four names I have added the letter (C). And the order of the trustees upon the said voluntary oath is likewise copied from the original, subscribed by seven of them, whereof the first four are of the Established Church, viz. -- the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dean Wilkins, Dr. Lesly, and Mr. Haltridge.

Lisburn, 26th September, 1710,

I do swear, that I will pay to the treasurer for the time being any sum or sums of money whatsoever, that came to my hands for the use of sufferers in general by the late dreadful fire at Lisburn. That I will discover to the Commissioners for the benefit, of Lisburn or any person authorized by them any money that I know or shall hereafter know to be collected for the said sufferers, in whose hands it is, how much there is, or was of it, and to what use it was, or is to be applied, if it has not already been paid, or shall not be hereafter paid to the said treasurer. That whatever money has been collected for the said sufferers, and has been or shall be applied to any other use whatsoever, I will faithfully and honestly make a discovery thereof immediately. That no money raised for the said sufferers has to my knowledge been applied to the meeting house, or any building about it, or any use relating to it; and if it shall be hereafter be applied, to my knowledge, I will make an immediate discovery of it to the said Treasurer. That if any money has come to those of my persuasion in general, or to me in particular, I will declare it to the Treasurer. That in order to have the money given to the said sufferers fairly applied according to the intention of the donors, I will use my best endeavours to know the design of such donors, and to see the money given by them applied accordingly. And all this I swear voluntarily and freely upon the faith of a Christian, without any evasion, equivocation or mental reservation, so help me God

Ralph Smyth (C)
Val. Jones (C)
E. Wogan (C)
Ed. Obrey (C)
Edward M'Comfey.
William Rothell.
Alex Taylor.
Will. Livingstone.
Daniel Kenley.
John Charters.
Richard Grainger.
Jo. Martin.

At a meeting of the trustees for Lisburn brief this 26th day of September, 1710: concluded for the ending of some suspicions and disputes about private collections, that the Oath in the annexed leaf taken voluntarily by every person concerned shall entitle him so taking it to his proportionable share and part of all such money that is already come in, and shall hereafter come in for the use of the sufferers in general, and that such as refuse to take the said oath shall be excluded from such share and part till further order.

Arth. Maxwell.
Edward Brice.
John Chalmers.
Edw. Down & Connor.
Jos. Wilkins.
Hen. Lesly.
John Haltridge.

It must be owned, that there can not be a more solemn vindication of the innocence of the dissenters of Lisburn, with respect to this matter, than what is contained in this Oath, which gave full satisfaction to the Bishop and the rest of the trustees; and no man ought to tax them with any unfair practices about the public collections, unless he allow himself the uncharitable liberty of calling them perjured. And seeing no money could be laid out for the meeting house, but what must come through the hands of these men, and be narrowly enquired into by them, their Oath amounts not only to a personal vindication of themselves, but also of Mr. M'Crackan and of all the dissenters in Lisburn. I would fain believe, for our author's credit, that when he wrote his book he was ignorant of the history I have given of this oath and the order of the trustees upon it; otherwise he could not have been so hardy, as to have published a mistake in a point wherein a public record doth so plainly refute him.

Oath of Allegiance.

There is a curious reference in Kirkpatrick's book to certain Lisburn men who were said to have refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to Queen Anne.

Upon the call of the roll of such persons, who were judged best qualified to serve, one Richard Grainger, merchant at Lisburn, at the head of several ruling elders, and other Presbyterians, upon the said Mr. Spencer's tendering the Oath of Allegiance, absolutely refused to take the said oath to Her Majesty; in which they all concurred to a man, saying that there was something in that oath relating to the Prince of Wales, and that God forbid, they should swear, that he was not King James's son upon which they desired time to consider it, and went immediately out of the court and in a short time returned again, and said they had considered of it, and finding nothing in it relating to the Prince of Wales, were willing to take it, and accordingly did.

To this Mr. Grainger hath replied in a letter to his friend as follows:--

Lisburn, September 8th, 1713.

Sir -- According to your desire, I here send you what I can remember, at such a distance of time, with respect to what concerns me in the "Conduct of Dissenters" (p. 35, 36) especially considering that I never dreamed the passage should be printed. Upon the calling the roll in the Market House of Lisburn, I do perfectly remember, James Whittell who lives in this town and I were called, and we desired time to consider the Oath before we took it, which was easily granted by Mr. Spencer and Mr. John Peers: if there were any elders while I was in court, I do not remember that I saw them: but this I can say as if I were upon oath, that my neighbour, James Whittell, and I only sought time to consider the said Oath, and about half an hour after; we came and pleasantly look the Oath, and I declare I am as free to take the Oath against the pretended Prince of Wales, as any:

     I am,
          Sir, Yours, etc.,
               RICHARD GRAINGER.

Mr. M'Crackan about 1710, preached at sermon in Anahilt Church which gave great offence to the Established Church party and which is fully dealt with in the book under review.

(Lisburn News-room, 1886: and Maze Races, 1839, Next Week.)


(To the Editor of the "Lisburn Standard")

Sir -- History ought to be historical, that is, it ought to be an impartial record of facts. Measured by this standard the reference in the "Records of Old Lisburn," in your issue of last week, to the revival of 1859 comes short. The account there given would show it to have been a movement worthy only of ridicule and contempt. But this account no more represents the facts about the revival of 1859 than would an account of the spots on the sun represent the facts about the superb orb of day. The serious thing about it is, that it is calculated to give the present generation an utterly misleading and untrue impression of a movement of the spirit of God, all over this land, which produced the most beneficent and far-reaching effects. no doubt, many were opposed to it, as many have ever been and many still are opposed to the manifestations of the Divine Spirit. In Paul's day "they were foolishness unto them."

It is true that the Rev, Isaac Nelson wrote about it as "the Year of Delusion," but it needs to be remembered that Isaac Nelson was in the ecclesiastical world of the day very much like John Rea in the legal. They were both men of extraordinary abilities arid extraordinary idiosyncrasies. They were each possessed of an erratic genius, and scarcely the men to be consulted where serious and dispassionate judgment were required. But the outstanding fact is that the foremost Christian men of the day threw themselves with ardour into the work of the Revival. To name but a few in the Presbyterian Church -- The Revs. Drs. Morgan, Edgar, Johnston, Meneely, Hanna, and many others in Belfast; the Revs. Drs. John Hall, Kilpatrick, and Hamilton Magee in Dublin; Dr. Wilson of Limerick; Dr. Magill, of Cork; Dr. Denham and Dr. Richard Smyth of Derry, Dr. Wilson, of Cookstown; Mr. Berkeley of Lurgan, and hosts of other clergymen. Among laymen the Hon. Thos. Sinclair, William Laird Finlay, Dr. M'Cosh of Queen's College, and hosts of others of the sturdiest sons of Ulster were enthusiastic workers in connection with the movement.

If one possessed of the historic sense would take the trouble to enquire, how many of the ministers and elders of the Presbyterian Church alone were in their respective offices, during the last 40 years of the last century, through the Revival of 1859, he would find the number, especially of elders, exceedingly large.

All over the land, men and women of the finest type were to be met who could speak of the blessings they and others had I received in '59.

No doubt there were in some places -- in some more than others -- both physical and mental manifestations that were abnormal and anomalous -- many of them most extravagant and reprehensible. History manifestations of the Divine presence and power amongst men, there have frequently been simultaneous manifestations of the power of the Evil One. For example, during the plagues of Egypt, the whole time of our Lord's earthly ministry, on the day of Pentecost and afterwards, and in connection with almost all the great revivals.

The Revival of 1859 was a time of very extraordinary spiritual blessing, the Divine Spirit convincing of sin and turning to the sinner's Saviour great multitudes, all over this land, whose transformed lives were the abundant proof and evidence of the reality of the movement. At the same time the Devil, too, was in many parts, busy, and there were extravagances and delusions that ware plainly his off-spring. But it is too late in the day to try to discredit the great Revival of 1859, to do so brings one perilously near being one with those who, on the day of Pentecost, characterised that wonderful revival as being due to drunkenness -- "others mocking said, they are filled with new wine."

One feels that those responsible for the account of the Revival in your issue of last week would not willingly offend numbers of your renders, or give an erronious impression in regard to one of the happiest periods in the history of Ulster.

     Yours, in the interests of truth,


(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 25 May 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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