Thursday 16 May 2013

The Parish Church of Magheragall


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 Edited by JAMES CARSON. 
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By Rev. W. H. DUNDAS, B.D.

The Parish of Magheragall appears in a document of the year 1306, and also in one which purports to have been drawn up in 1210 under the name of Drumchale, which is like that of the townland of Drumsill or Drumcill, though it is not known at present whether there is any connection between them. It is spoken of as a "part of the endowments bestowed on the Bishop by an ancient chief named "Engusa MacMailraba" (O'Laverty's Down and Connor). This arrangement continued until 1848, the Bishop receiving the rectorial tithes, the incumbent being his vicar. On the death of Bishop Mant in that year the parish became a separate and distinct rectory, and the rent of the rectorial lease renewed in 1847 to Thomas Johnston, Esq., of Ballymacash, became payable to the rector, who at the termination of the lease was to receive the entire rent charge, rectorial and vicarial. The Church Act of 1870, of course, took away all this endowment.

The Earliest Church

of which there is any trace was in the townland of Ballyclough, at Mr. Davidson's, on a mount beside the road leading to the Horsepark. The remains of it consist of a portion of the north wall, about fifteen feet and three feet eight inches thick, which has long formed a side wall of an outhouse. To the north of it is a field in which bones were found, evidently the graveyard. The following information about this church and the vicinity is taken from O'Laverty's Down and Connor:-- "A cineary urn was found in the site of the graveyard, which proves that the church occupied a site which had been sacred in the times of paganism. There formerly stood in the graveyard a round tower of considerable height (as also Trummery); it was taken down in the year 1790 by Mr. Redmond (? Redman), who used the stones in the erection of Springfield (old) house. In Brookmount (? Brookhill) demesne there is a great funereal mound such as is to be found near many of our ancient churches. The ancient Holy Well, which is now called the Boiling Well, is between the site of the church and the mound. It was called in the memory of old people. Sunday Well, which is the ordinary popular translation of Tubber Doney (Dromhnach—Sunday). On the opposite side of the road from the funereal mound there are several large stones, which are said to indicate a giant's grave. On ploughing the ground near these in 1837 several urns were found, which contained human bones." If the above is true about the destruction of the Round Tower it is another example of that wanton carelessness which has swept away so many interesting monuments of ancient times.

The Boiling Well has long ceased to deserve its name, as its feeders have been tapped by a pipe,, and the water is now brought to the side of the road. This church is described as a ruin in the Visitation of 1622; it had been allowed to decay or had been wilfully damaged in the troubled times of Elizabeth and James I. In this it was no exception, for the same document, out of 126 churches in Down and Connor, describes about 110 as in a state of decay or ruin. Probably it was repaired when the parish was planted with English and Welsh settlers. Soon came the Rebellion of 1641, followed by the Commonwealth and Cromwell. Under his rule the worship of the Church of Ireland was prohibited, and the use of the Book of Common Prayer was punished by severe penalties. If the Restoration of Charles II. had not changed the aspect of affairs the parish of Magheragall would have completely disappeared, according to a scheme set on foot for re-arranging parishes by uniting and dividing them, the purpose being that the ministers introduced might have a salary of £100 or £80 (the income of Magheragall was then £10 a year), yet that no part should be above three miles from the church. Cromwell's ministers were to be well provided for, since, according to Reid's History of Presbyterianism, these sums must be multiplied by ten to get their present value. An inquisition was held at Antrim in 1657 to arrange how this might be carried out, and among the recommendations of the Commissioners was the following -- that part of Magheragall Parish be added to Lisnagarvey (Lisburn), viz.: "two towns on the east side of the little brook that descends from the Lymekill, and the town of Magheragall by the mill there, the boundary to run between Edendrumsilla and Mullicarton to Lurganure, Broaghmore, and the brook at the bruan hedge, an so to the Lagan river." The remainder was to form part of a new parish called Lackey, for which a new church was to be built at that place to serve for Aghalee, Aghagallon, the Choppellry of Maremeske, also the towns of Brookhill, Mullaghcarton, Magheresmiske, Morruske, and Bonalargy. Brookhill is not a townland, but the lease of it in 1649 included the townlands in the upper part of the parish. The Lackey is marked on the map as on the road from Megaberry corner to Ballinderry. Happily this proposal was not carried out, as the Church of Ireland resumed her rightful position at the Restoration in 1660.

The Church of 1676.

Soon after that date a new church was built on the present site, the exact time is not known, but its bell, still in use, bears the date 1676, and in the graveyard are three stones recording deaths in 1684, 1687, and 1688. It stood until 1830, and is thus described by Rev. John Mussen (vicar 1825-1864):-- "It was a rude building with a small belfry tower immediately over the doorway in the western end. There is at present a board over the communion table of the old church of Ballinderry exhibiting the King's arms, with C. on one side and R. on the other, and the resemblance which the late church of Magheragall bore to that one they may be supposed to have been erected about the same time. The roof was covered at first with shingles (i.e., thin pieces of wood used instead of slates and of about the same size). Inscriptions on the three ancient headstones referred to:--

Skull and Crossbones, Coffin, Hourglass.

LIFE . THE . 8 . DAY . OF
IN . 1684 . OF . EGE
61 . YEARS.

Skull and Crossbones.

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OF . JULY . 1687.

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ED . THE . 4th OF JULY

Soon after Rev. Francis Patten became vicar a subscription list was opened in 1780 for slating and repairing the church, which amounted to about £40; the vestry book contains the names of all the subscribers. But the building was evidently in a bad state, and was a source of continual expense, as the annual Easter accounts show. In the beginning of the nineteenth century the parish shared in the increase of population which was general throughout Ireland, and a necessity arose for supplying more accommodation for the parishioners, who, in 1834, numbered 2,184 members of the Church of Ireland out of a total population of 3,191. Accordingly, in 1826, the vestry enacted that "forums" be provided at a cost of £1 10s, and in 1828 the sum of £50 was assessed for improvements of the church. At first the proposal was to build a new aisle, and for this another £50 was assessed in 1829, but in 1830 the larger scheme of a new church was taken up. The Board of First-fruits granted a loan of £1,000 for the purpose, and at a vestry held on the 11th of January of that year "the majority of the parishioners agreed to assess themselves at the rate of £40 per annum for a period of twenty-five years in order to repay the loan, which was evidently given free of interest." Towards this Lord Hertford consented to give £20 the first year, and said that he would probably continue to do the same, but would not bind himself, still less his successors. No mention is made of these instalments after 1833. It may be presumed that the same arrangement was continued until the loan was paid off.

On the same day a committee was appointed for conducting the building, consisting of -- James Watson, Esq.; Captain Houghton, Messrs. Patterson, Dickey, Garrett, Jas. Greer, Alfred Gill, William Gill, Val Gill, Higgins, C. Greer, Fisher, James Meharg, Cinnamond, Thomas Hall, and Rev. John Mussen.

The Present Church, 1831.

Rev. J. Mussen inserted some very interesting memoranda in the vestry book:--

"The following is a copy of a writing on parchment deposited in the south-eastern groin of the church, at present in building, beneath the base course." (The writing is in Latin, which I here translate.)

Q. B. F. Q. S.

James Watson, Esq., of Brookhill, laid the first stone of this sacred building on June 25th 1830, whose grandfather's many gifts conferred upon the Church can still be seen or heard of in conversation.

At that time George IV. was in the eleventh year of his reign, and was suffering from a severe and fatal disease. The Very Rev. Richard Mant, D.D., was most worthily occupying the Episcopal See, and was remarkably adorning it by his character, piety, watchfulness, and learning. He was a vigorous defender of this Anglican Church, and constantly preserved its ancient prescribed laws, both by his authority and example. But he has left a perpetual memorial of himself in his books, which will be always carefully preserved in the shrine of the Christian temple among the most renowned of the sons of the Reformed Church. He also perpetuated the memory of his care for the diffusion of true religion throughout his diocese in the very many churches which were erected and consecrated by his help.

Ye who may afterwards dig up the foundations now laid, see that the cause of piety be not injured by negligence or profane hand and that these walls be not removed for any other cause than they be rebuilt wider, at least not more narrow.

The most noble Marquis of Hertford promised that he would probably contribute half the expense, which is estimated at a total of £1,000 British.

Some memoranda were also written on the back of the parchment, viz.:-- The south wall of the new church stands in the aisle of the old. The aisle of the old church was found to be full of coffins of black oak. A coin of Queen Elizabeth, perhaps a groat, dated 1572, was found nearly under the place where the communion table formerly stood. The architect of the Board of First-fruits, who superintended the building of the new church, was William Farrill, Esq. The contractor who built it was Mr. Paul M'Henry of Lisburn. The new church will be eight feet wider than the old one, and nearly as long.

The inscription over the doorway of the new Church bears the cypher adopted by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, for the shields of his soldiers after his conversion to the Christian religion, 312 A.D. This cypher (XP) together with the letters on each side of it (Alpha and Omega) was used by his son Constantius as an impression for his coins. As they express the fundamental principle of Christianity they were judged not improper for the purpose to which they are now applied (XP are the first two letters of the Greek word Christ).

The motto from St. John's Epistle, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith," was chosen in preference to that warfare under Christ's banner to which we are enlisted in our baptism -- and the ultimate triumph of His soldiers under the shield of Faith -- "Who is he that overcometh the world but he that beliveth that Jesus is the Son of God?" The new church was consecrated by Dr. Richard Mant, Bishop of Down and Connor, on Thursday, the second day of June, 1831.

We should be very grateful to Mr. Mussen for having made such a careful record. We have as links with the old church the bell, the communion plate, the font (which is probably that referred to in the minutes of 1771, when 10s was assessed for a new pillar and a new bason for the font), and perhaps the old copper "Shovels." The communion plate is of Irish marked silver, and consists of a chalice (inscribed Magheragall 1705), a flagon and two patens, each of which bears the inscription, "Given by Mr. Watson of Brookhill, to Magheragall Parish, Anno Dom. 1796. A second chalice is now being presented, which is an exact copy of the one in use for 206 years.

It is interesting to compare the list of seatholders in 1831 with that of the present day, and to note what changes had taken place in the last eighty years. There were then thirty-two pews in the body of the church, the first on each side being square, and eleven (with, I suppose, one for the choir) in the gallery. There are now thirty-six below and twelve on the gallery, these latter being unappropriated. James Watson, of Brookhill, occupied the first seat on the right aisle, and Captain Houghton, of Springfield, the second; the third was assigned to Miss Sarah Patten (daughter of Rev. Francis Patten, who was vicar 1778-1825). Captain Crawford, of Red Hill (or Lissue), was given a seat in the gallery "as a matter of grace," he not being resident in the parish, on condition of giving it up if the accommodation of the inhabitants required it. The list of 1831 was altered from time to time in the years immediately following; taking it as it stands corrected, it contains the following names, which still appear in our list of subscribers (though not always representing the same families):-- Watson, Mackey, Balmer, Campbell, Quinn, Murphy, M'Court, Hill, Lackey, Greer, Higginson, Garrett, Branagh, Hall, Euert, Clarke, Rollins, Law, Anderson, Fletcher, Gill, M'Knight, Johnston, Martin, Thompson, Thomson (of Horsepark), Culbert, Kelly, M'Cluskey, Gordon, Blythe, Abbott, Lorimer, Brown, Stewart, Harrison, Stuart, Spence, Connor, M'Bride, Patterson, Buntin, Weir, Burns, Tolerton, and Taylor.

An organ was provided in 1875, and smaller repairs and improvements were effected from time to time. In 1887 portions of the townlands of Ballyclough and Ballinadolly and the whole of Aughacanan were given to form part of the new Parish of Stoneyford. The new chancel and graveyard were consecrated in 1898, and in March, 1906, the church was reopened after the complete renovation of the interior at a cost of about £500; in the same year the church clock was erected by Mrs. Richardson and family in memory of the late Mr. Joseph Richardson, of Springfield. The portion of the cost of the renovation, which led as a debt, was paid off in 1911, nan nothing is now wanting in the furnishing of the church for the seemly worship of God.

(To be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 16 May 1919 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week for several years. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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