Presbyterians in Ireland – So many Oaths to take.

Presbyterians were in Ireland before the Plantation period
and, moreover, were in the south. The Rev Walter Travers,
first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin was a
Presbyterian minister as was his successor, the Rev. Henry
Alvey who became the first Vice Chancellor. James
Hamilton, later Lord Claneboye, was one of the first
elected Fellows of the University along with James
Fullerton. Thus there was a group of Presbyterians in
places of power and influence from Elizabethan times. 

the Presbyterian Covenanters were essentially Scottish and
were bloodily persecuted in the later years of the 17th
century, their Presbyterian brethren who migrated to
Ireland were also subjected to persecution by those in
authority and suffered their own
” Killing Time “ With
hindsight it is quite remarkable just how many times
successive governments cynically sought to use an Oath as
a device for coercing the Presbyterians, surely knowing
that it would be rejected on grounds of conscience and
thereby give them the excuse to resort to force.

The Montgomery Manuscripts mentions that ” Sir Hugh Montgomery brought with him from
Scotland two or three chaplains ” It was the settlers who
came to Co Antrim and Co Down ca 1606 which gavebangor.jpg (28814 bytes)
cause for the ministry. These settlers were mainly from
Ayrshire and would have sought a pastor of their choosing
at an early date. The Hamilton Manuscripts record that the
Viscount Claneboy settled ministers in all six Parishes
within his estates. The first full time minister was
Edward Brice who came to Broadisland in 1613 having been
forced to flee persecution (and it is alleged, a charge of
adultery) in Scotland.

Bearing in
mind that one of the main objection of the Presbyterians
was the rule of the Bishops, their early years in Ulster
enjoyed the benign influence of Archbishop James Ussher
who produced his Articles of Religion in 1615. The
importance of Ussher`s contribution to the founding of
Presbyterianism in Ireland is sometimes understated and
undervalued. But there can be little doubt that his
influence in the early days of the Plantation was critical
because it fostered the first ministers and encouraged
them to settle in the land.

Ussher had
been brought up and educated under Presbyterian influence
and was not laden with sectarian bigotry. His 
Articles of Religion were evangelical and moderate with a
distinctly Calvinist theology and, moreover, made no
mention of the three orders of bishops, priests and
deacons. The need for Episcopal ordination was ignored 
and thus by implication accepted the validity of
ordination by presbyters. They disclaimed the observance
of Lent as a religious fast  and claimed no authority 
for decreeing the rites and ceremonies of the church. This
set of ground rules allowed the Presbyterians to conduct
their worship, receive the church tithes and to coexist
with the established Anglican form of the Church of
Ireland created in 1560 by The Act of Union. 

Soon Edward
Brice was joined by Robert Cunningham at Holywood (1615) ;
John Ridge, an English dissenter, at Antrim (1619); Josias
Welsh, the grandson of John Knox, at Templepatrick ; 

Larne Kirk
Rev John Hubbard from Southwark, London , who brought his
congregation with him to Carrickfergus (1621) ; James
Glendinning who replaced Hubbard at Carrickfergus (1623);
Robert Blair at Bangor ( 1623 ) ; George Dunbar a former
minister at Ayr and prisoner in Blackness Castle settled
in Larne (1625); James Hamilton, nephew of Lord Claneboye,
at Ballywalter (1625); Andrew Stewart at Donegore (1627)
and John Livingston at Kilinchy (1630). Some of these
ministers accepted Church of Ireland livings although
Blair, Welsh and Livingston ministered for many years in
the Presbyterian form and without an organised Presbytery.

The Six
Mile Water Revival

The Six
Mile Water revival sits alongside that of the `Stewarton
Sickness` and the `Shotts Revival` as an event in which a
great passion was raised, and a lasting religious
awakening that came to the people of Antrim. The valley of
the Six Mile water runs from Larne, the river rising about
four miles south west of Larne and passes through
Ballynure, Ballyclare, Doagh, Templepatrick and Antrim
into Lough Neagh. Once called the `Ollar` it was known as
the `Owen-na-view` or `the river of rushes` in the
sixteenth century. The Six Mile Water name is believed to
have come from the fact that an old fording point across
the river was about six miles distant from the towns of
Antrim and Carrickfergus.

The Rev
James Glendinning had come to Ulster ca 1622 and was at
the very heart of the Six Mile Water Revival in 1625. He
was the incumbent of Carnmoney and a lecturer at
Carrickfergus which was the centre of the English presence
at that time. The Rev. Robert Blair heard Glendinning
preach and concluded that he was doing so by rote, with no
real fire, to a basically English congregation. Blair
convinced Glendinning to remove himself to Oldstone (Muckamore)
where he would be among his own Scots, who appreciated an
evangelical style and a fire and brimstone approach.

At Oldstone
the Rev James underwent transformation and became a very
powerful preacher with some alarms being raised at the
ecstasies and enthusiasms“ which were generated in the
congregations. There were instances of people swooning and
of “high breathing and panting” (hyper ventilating) which
concerned Blair and his fellow ministers who saw the
danger of hysterical outbursts and emotionalism drawing
the attention of the government and episcopalian
supporters. Glendinning could not, however, apply the
Gospel to the sin laden populace and the other ministers,
especially Josias Welsh, came to his aid with very
satisfactory results. The Reverends Blair, Ridge,
Cunningham and Hamilton joined in the revival that swept
the river valley of the Six Mile Water. Glendinning left
the district in 1630, an ill man intending to visit the
seven churches of Asia.

It is appropriate to remind ourselves that these early ministers were of the `old school` in the sense that they were apostolic  in spirit and thereby greatly committed to their labours. A consequence was that they worked marvels of reclamation among the settlers who had not had benefit of a minister for many years. On the other hand, neither should we think that the ministers were free from sin themselves; we tend to think that such holy men perhaps only suffered mild chastisement by a loving God, when disaster happening to others was  sin`s punishment. They were human beings with human frailties but with a commitment and drive to effect change in peoples` lives; it was their common humanity that helped them understand  the issues and guided them in their work.

consequence of the revival was, at the suggestion by
Ridge, that there should be a Monthly Meeting of the
Presbyterian ministers at Antrim, following which the
Communion was held. The meeting was established and became
the Presbytery all but in name, although it was  also
a Bible school. The impact of the revival was on all
classes of people, including the gentry of the district
such as Sir John Clotworthy and family. It is recorded
that people travelled from thirty or forty miles to attend
the Sacrament and Josias Welsh says in a letter of 19
October 1632, that he had between fourteen and fifteen
hundred participating. The revival lasted at least until
November 1634 before increasing pressure from the Bishops
drove the ministers out. But the absence of ministers did
not curtail the growing Presbyterian movement which
resorted to clandestine prayer meetings at night and
holding conventicles in the countryside when they could.
Conventicles were being held in 1640 and after the 1641
Rebellion. The Six Mile Water towns were among the first to
request ministers of the Carrickfergus Presbytery when it
was established on 10 June 1642. The Six Mile Water has
been called “the cradle of Irish Presbyterianism.”

Peaceful coexistence shattered.