Bushmills is one of four congregations in the Presbytery of Route, all of which were founded in 1646, making it the joint-oldest in the Presbytery. It is a congregation with a rich and varied history: it has changed its name at least once, changed its location twice and had two of its ministers deposed for conducting improper marriages. As well as having the first native Irishman to be a Presbyterian minister in Ireland, the congregation can boast that one of its ministers became Principal of Assembly’s College.
The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The early seventeenth century in Ireland has been described by the Presbyterian historian Scott Pearson as an era of “Prescopalianism”. The established church was legally-speaking Episcopalian but some of the Bishops and Ministers observed communion and offered public worship that was essentially Presbyterian in form. In the long-established Parish of Billy, approximately two miles south of the present-day town of Bushmills, this ecclesiastical-hybrid of the day had a further personal dynamic. The Rev Jeremiah O’Quin who was ordained there in 1646 was a Presbyterian in terms of theology, ministering in a denomination that was Episcopalian, having been born into a family who were Roman Catholic! In fact, Mr O’Quin was the first Irish-born Presbyterian minister, all previous Presbyterian ministers in Ireland having been Scottish. His conversion to the Reformed Faith led him to study arts and theology at Glasgow University, before he was licensed by the Army Presbytery which had been established in Ulster in 1642. Mr O’Quin was a controversial if well-loved pastor during turbulent times. After a Presbytery trial concerning his doctrine found him innocent, this fluent Irish-speaker faced further troubles in 1649 when he refused to read the Presbytery’s condemnation of the execution of King Charles I.
The ruins of the Parish Church at Billy where Mr O’Quin ministered are in the present old graveyard, where the Latin epitaph of Mr O’Quin’s headstone still bears witness to the esteem in which he was held. The tombstone inscription may be translated thus:
‘The elegy of the Reverend Pastor, Jeremiah O’Quin. O’Quin, a gentle pastor, rests in this urn, but his soul is in heaven beholding the Divine nature. By the use of that Word he had soothed the lambs of Christ. Now he drinks water from the living stream. He died on the last day of January 1657.’
Sometime after the death of Mr O’Quin the Presbyterians left Billy Parish and moved west of the River Bush, to the location of the present-day Dunluce Presbyterian Church. There, in a meeting house with thatched roof, a series of ministers served. The political and religious turbulence of the times is reflected in the fates of many of Mr O’Quin’s successors, as a necessarily brief synopsis illustrates:
The Rev’d Gabriel Cornwall, minister from 1657 to 1691, who was educated at St Andrews and at one point was deposed for non-conformity.
The Rev’d Adam White, minister from 1692 to 1708, who was also deposed for non-conformity and who had been imprisoned in Lifford Gaol from 1664-1670.
The Rev’d Robert Leckie was minister for only four months before his death in 1711.
The Rev’d John Porter, minister from 1713-1738, whose tombstone at him as ‘the late reverend, devout and sprightly orator of his age, dissenting minister for many years in the parish of Dunluce.’ (Note that the congregation was identified at this stage with neither Billy, nor Bushmills, but Dunluce).
The Rev’d John Logue, minister from 1746 until 1756, was educated at Glasgow
University. It was during Mr Logue’s ministry that the congregation decided in 1753 to move east, across the River Bush once more to the location in the town of Bushmills where the church buildings are presently situated. The thatched meeting house was not sufficiently large for communion seasons when a tent was erected in the ground across the road from the church. A minority of the congregation, however, decided to remain at Dunluce and, following a petition to the Synod of Ulster, this grouping was erected into a full congregation. So, the modern-day Dunluce congregation came into being.
The Rev’d Samuel Moore was minister from 1760 until 1776 when he was deposed for celebrating irregular marriages.
The Rev’d Hugh Moore was minister from 1779 until 1780 before receiving a call to Dublin.
The Rev’d William Douglass, minister from 1783 until his death in 1794.
The Rev’d Daniel McKee was minister from 1796 until 1820. His ministry was particularly fraught, facing a four-year long Presbytery trial for intemperance. Having been found guilty, Mr McKee was suspended in 1819, only to be completely deposed from the office of the ministry the following year because he had celebrated irregular marriages.
All in all, those church leaders who kept the lamp of faith burning in the North Antrim area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries faced the most difficult and unsettled of times.
The Nineteenth Century
The congregation’s eleventh minister was the Rev Hugh Hamill, M.A. Born in Mosside in 1797 and licensed by the Route Presbytery in 1819, Mr Hamill was ordained in Bushmills in 1820. Following the uncertainties of the first hundred and fifty years of its existence, there followed a calmer period for the congregation, with settled ministries and sustained progress during the nineteenth century. Much of what is familiar in the Bushmills congregation of today can be traced back to this period. Mr Hamill began the careful record of births and marriages which continue to be consulted by relatives and visitors, many from overseas. In 1827 Mr Hamill recorded in the minute book of the Church Committee that there were 262 families in the congregation who were seatholders and another 77 who were not seatholders but expected ministerial responsibilities. He also noted that:
‘The Meeting House being in that time in such a state that it must be rebuilt, or that a very large sum must be expended to repair and make it comfortable as a place of worship.’
It was unanimously decided to rebuild the church building and on 27th June 1829, at a cost of £560, a new meeting house was officially opened. Three months later the congregation had cleared their debts. It would, with some modification, continue as the congregation’s meeting house until the extensive renovations of 2005.
Not long after arriving in Bushmills, Mr Hamill purchased a piece of land in the townland of Eagry (on what is today the Straid Road) of some nine acres upon which he built a dwelling house. Prior to this there is no substantiated record of a Manse for the minister of Bushmills. During his long ministry, Mr Hamill served the wider community, as clerk of the Presbytery of Route between 1834 and 1864 and as a trustee of the Bushmills National School. When he died in 1864 an anonymous writer to The Coleraine Chronicle, who signed himself as “An Old Friend” wrote eloquently of Mr Hamill’s attributes. Part of that tribute reads:
‘Viewed as a man and a member of society, he was distinguished for his sterling integrity of principle and exemplary conduct, which secured the respect and esteem of all classes un the community….
In expounding Scripture, explaining doctrines and inculcating duties, in a plain and unadorned style, he had few superiors. His well-known sincerity and habitual consistency gave weight to his instructions.
As a member of the courts of our Church … he was contented to rank among the “mutes”; but he could think as correctly, discriminate as judiciously, and vote as independently, as the most prominent and eloquent of our debaters.’
Mr Hamill died intestate and it was left to his widow to enact his long-held wish that the house and land at Eagry be made available for future ministers of Bushmills in perpetuity. In agreement with the family, Mrs Hamill bought the house from her late husband’s estate for £150 and gave it to the congregation in February 1865. Shortly thereafter, the house was extended from a storey and a half to two storeys and a large addition was made to the south end with four commodious rooms comprising two reception rooms downstairs and two more bedrooms upstairs. The house became Bushmills Manse and has continued as the residence of successive ministers of the congregation until the present day.
With the Victorian era in full-swing, Bushmills town was enjoying considerable growth. Ordinance Survey Memoirs record that the population increased from 65 in 1821 to1,072 some 70 years later and that the number of houses grew accordingly from 15 to 251. The congregation also grew during this period, as Presbytery visitations suggest, to a peak of some 300 families in 1844.
Mr Hamill’s successor was the Rev’d James Boyle. Born in 1836 and educated at the Queen’s and Presbyterian Colleges in Belfast, Mr Boyle was ordained in Bushmills on 19th November, 1864. By all accounts a retiring and shy man, it was nonetheless during Mr Boyle’s ministry that the present church hall was constructed. The hall, which is of impressive construction to the extent that it is often mistaken by visitors as being the church, was opened on 22nd August 1897, at a cost of £1,000. The piece of ground on the north side of the church on which the hall stands was purchased from Mr David McNeill at a cost of £155. Each stipend payer was asked, on average, to donate the equivalent of one year’s stipend. The congregation decided to name the hall “The Hamill Hall” in memory of Mr Boyle’s predecessor, the Rev’d Hugh Hamill. Portraits of both reverend gentlemen were hung in the new hall, of which only that of Mr Hamill now remains. The Hamill Hall was an ambitious project in its day and was to become the focus not only for church activities, but as the largest venue in the town, as a community resource for many years to come. Generations of children and adults have benefited from the hall’s facilities which continued to be updated throughout the twentieth century.
The Twentieth Century
It seemed almost as if the long reign of Queen Victoria that came to an end in 1901 correlated historically with the ending of two long ministries in Bushmills. Between them, the Reverends Hamill and Boyle had served Bushmills for eighty two years. The marble memorial plaques on either side of the windows in the present church continue to bear witness to a longevity of service that is unlikely ever to be repeated. In 1902 Mr Boyle died. He was to be succeeded by men of no less calibre perhaps, but whose tenure would be considerably less.
The calibre of the next minister was exceptional. The Rev’d Francis James Paul was educated at Queen’s University, Belfast, New College Edinburgh, Leipzig, Madrid and Geneva and the Presbyterian College, Belfast. Queen’s in Belfast and the University of Glasgow later conferred upon him honorary doctorates of Divinity. Mr Paul was minister of Bushmills from 1902 to 1911. Writing in 1996, H.B. Wallace described him as ‘probably the most erudite minister in the long history of the Congregation. He had a splendid academic career, was widely read, spoke German and French fluently, and had a working knowledge of Italian and Spanish. He was much sought after as a writer and lecturer and was known far beyond the bounds of his native Ireland.’ Assuming that Mr Paul, who had studied at some of the most prestigious theological halls in Europe, would also have been proficient in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (not to mention English!), it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that he was conversant with no fewer than eight languages!
Mr Paul was also highly regarded by the members of the Route Presbytery. In 1911, as a testimonial in favour of Mr Paul’s candidature for the vacant Chair at Magee College, the Presbytery stated that: ‘The earnestness of his preaching of the gospel has been combined with instructiveness and practical emphasis; and the influence of his high character, his straightforward unselfish aims, and his sympathetic disposition as a pastor, have been felt and appreciated throughout the district.’ Seldom in its long history would the Route Presbytery have cause to declare such unequivocal praise. Mr Paul resigned from Bushmills in 1911 upon receiving the call to the Chair of Church History at Magee. In 1922 Professor Paul went to Assembly’s College, Belfast where he became Principal in 1923. Principal Paul died suddenly on July 3rd 1941 and is buried in the church graveyard at Bushmills Church, the only congregation in which he served as pastor.
The next minister was educated at Queen’s College and the Presbyterian College, Belfast. The Rev’d Joseph Fisher Anderson was ordained and installed in 1912 and served until 1918 as the congregation’s fourteenth minister. Mr Anderson served as a Chaplain with the Y.M.C.A. in the Great War. In 1919 he accepted a call from the Glasgow Presbytery of the United Free Church of Scotland.
On 23rd April 1919 the Presbytery of Route ordained the Rev’d Samuel McCully, B.A. as minister of Bushmills. Mr McCully, who was only twenty six years of age, was educated at Queen’s College Belfast and at Assembly’s College. He had been licensed by the Carrickfergus Presbytery in 1918. One of the first decisions made during Mr McCully’s ministry was to erect a suitable memorial to commemorate those who had served and died in The Great War. It is difficult for subsequent generations to grasp fully the enormous sacrifice which many made during that conflict, not least the disproportionate contribution made by those from the small town of Bushmills, whose most famous son, Robert Quigg was awarded the V.C. for his valour at the Somme. (The Hamill Hall played host to a special civic reception for Sergeant Quigg in 1917). Mr McCully’s ministry at Bushmills lasted some nine years before he received a call to Warrenpoint in 1928. He retired in 1962 and died on 20th August 1967.
The sixteenth minister of Bushmills was the Rev’d David Maybin, B.A., formerly minister of Second Cookstown. Born in 1881 and educated at the Queen’s College Belfast and the Royal University of Ireland, Mr Maybin was installed at Bushmills on 28th June, 1928. Many of the features of the present meeting house were added during Mr Maybin’s ministry, including the four beautiful stained glass windows. Electricity was installed in 1932. Mr Maybin’s family were extremely generous to the congregation, providing the pulpit and choir stalls in 1937, whilst in 1947 a new organ from the firm of Evans and Barr was installed at the sum of £1,000, the cost of which was borne by a legacy from the estate of the minister’s late sister, Miss Maria Maybin. In the short history of the congregation penned by H.B. Wallace in 1996, Mr Maybin, is remembered as a man who ‘held strong convictions and expressed them with vigour’. Mr Maybin retired on 1st November 1949 and died on 1st December 1952.
On 1st March 1950, the Rev’d J.G. Leitch reported to Presbytery that the congregation of Bushmills had made a unanimous call to the Rev’d Samuel Eton, M.A., H.C.F., promising an annual stipend of £300. Mr Eaton was born at Raphoe in 1912, where he attended the Royal School, before further studies at Magee College Derry and Trinity College Dublin. In addition to chaplaincy duties with the R.A.F. during World War II, Mr Eaton was minister of Killyleagh Church, where he had been ordained in 1939. He was installed as minister of Bushmills on 30 March 1950.
Mr Eaton lived from 1950 to 1953 at Ballyness House, while Mr Maybin was still in residence in the Manse. Following Mr Maybin’s death the Manse was refurbished at a cost of £2,600. On 10th March 1959 Mr Eaton was installed as minister of McQuiston Memorial congregation in Belfast. In his retirement Mr Eaton resided in Portballintrae until the mid-1980s, when he moved to Bangor. Mr Eton died in February 2002.
The Rev’d John William Patrick Lowry, B.A., B.D. was installed on 10th September 1959, following a unanimous call, as the eighteenth minister of Bushmills. Born at Magherafelt on 17th March 1926, Pat Lowry was educated at Methodist College Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast. His theological training took place at Assembly’s College, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey and London University from whence he obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Mr Lowry was ordained at Glenan and Middletown in County Monaghan. During Mr Lowry’s tenure the congregation of Bushmills embarked on an ambitious Christian Stewardship programme, where the congregation were exhorted to greater depths of commitment to the church and her King. The result was an increase in giving and a steady improvement of the church’s activities, resources and property.
Mr Lowry is still remembered fondly in Bushmills where his zest for life and interest in people won him many friends. He was especially interested in work with young people and had a gift in winning their love, friendship and respect, rather than demanding it. He was a popular speaker, his gifts being called upon by the BBC for religious broadcasts, such as “Thought for the Day”.
In 1959 Mr Lowry accepted a call to St. John’s Newtownbreda in Belfast, where he ministered faithfully in a large congregation at the height of what became known as “The Troubles”. He died in 1982, aged 56. A short edition of his sermons, prayers and radio talks, entitled The Light Shines On, containing much material from his ministry in Bushmills, was published posthumously. He is buried in the church graveyard at Bushmills. Mrs Lowry continues to reside in Bangor.
The Rev’d Hugh Barkley Wallace, M.A., following a unanimous call, was installed at Bushmills on 19th February, 1970. He was born in 1933 and brought up at Drumbo, Co. Down, where his father, the Rev. J.B. Wallace was minister. Mr Wallace was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Magee University College, Derry and Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated Master of Arts. Licensed by the Dromore Presbytery in 1958, Mr Wallace was ordained at Drumhillery and Middleton on 20th April 1960, (where he had also succeeded the Rev’d Pat Lowry).
Mr Wallace continued the high quality of pulpit ministry with which the congregation had become accustomed. A deep sense of the beauty of the English language ensured that Mr Wallace’s sermons were admired by many members and visitors. Always striving to express the appropriate word for the occasion, it was unsurprising that Mr Wallace was called upon to serve the wider Church as Convener of the General Assembly’s Public Worship Committee from 1982 to 1989. He was also Convener of the General Assembly’s Memorial Record from 1991 to 1997. Since 1986 Mr Wallace has served as the Clerk of the Route Presbytery, a position of considerable responsibility, where his succinct statements and wise judgements continue to be highly regarded by fellow presbyters.
Numerous enhancements were made to the church property during Mr Wallace’s ministry. In 1977 considerable renovations took place involving the Hamill Hall, including the provision of a platform. In 1979 the Manse was extensively refurbished. In 1988 a new church kitchen was installed, provided by the ladies of the P.W.A. and in 1993 the Minor Hall was constructed, incorporating some of the buildings from the old stables adjoining the church.
During Mr Wallace’s ministry a number of special services were initiated which celebrated the Christian Year, all of which have continued to flourish. In 1971 a Good Friday service took place for the first time, which subsequently became a service incorporating the Lord’s Supper. In 1979 an early morning service was held for the first time at the Giant’s Causeway on Easter Sunday, followed by breakfast in the Hamill Hall. In 1991 the first Christmas Eve service took place. Evening communions, held in February and September, have been celebrated since 1977 and are appreciated by many who benefit from the quiet reverence of such occasions.
The First Bushmills Boys’ Brigade Company, affiliated with Bushmills and Dunluce congregations, closed down in 1997, following the similar disbanding in the 1980s of the Girls’ Auxiliary. In 1998, however, a Youth Fellowship was established. Originally meeting monthly, in later years the Youth Fellowship would flourish and develop into a weekly ministry for young people.
In 1996 the congregation celebrated its Three Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, with special services to mark the occasion. Mr Wallace wrote a short history of the congregation, entitled Bushmills Presbyterian Church 1646-1996. It is a fine piece of work, to which the writer of this present concise history is greatly indebted. On 30th June 2000, the Rev’d Barkley Wallace retired as minister of Bushmills after thirty years of dedicated service. He and Mrs Wallace reside in Stranocum.
The Twenty-First Century
Following the long established ministry of Mr Wallace, the congregation embraced the twenty-first century under the dynamic ministry of the Reverend Ronald David McDowell, B.Sc., B.D. Born in 1971, Mr McDowell attended Newry Grammar School, studied mathematics at Edinburgh University, and trained for the ordained ministry at the University of Aberdeen. In both his university degrees Mr McDowell was awarded First Class Honours. He was licensed by the Iveagh Presbytery at Rathfriland in June 1998, was assistant minister in Harmony Hill congregation, Lisburn and was ordained and installed into Bushmills on 11 May 2001. Ron McDowell was, among many other distinctions, a gifted musician. During his short ministry, music of a more contemporary nature was introduced to public worship and groups were established for young adults and for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith. The Sunday School met during the church service for the first time and Bushmills also had its own web-site, allowing members and visitors from all over the world to be informed and to be in touch. It was a time of rapid change.
During the vacancy and prior to Mr McDowell’s arrival, the congregation undertook an extensive renovation of the Manse. The building was put in good order, completely rewired and equipped with a new central heating system. The outbuildings were renovated, a new kitchen and bathrooms provided and double-glazed windows installed. The total cost of the works amounted to almost £100,000. Not long after Ron McDowell arrived it became clear that considerable work was immediately necessary on the church building itself, which had originally been opened in 1829 and was now in a somewhat precarious condition. Numerous options were considered, including knocking down and building a new church on the site. In the end, it was agreed to retain the façade of the building facing Main Street, to re-order completely the church interior and to extend the rear wall facing east by some 17 feet, allowing a much more open space for the choir and music group. The original windows were retained, as was the pulpit which was also extended. New pews, an impressive ceiling with exposed wooden beams, under floor heating and modern lighting were installed. A replacement Minister’s Room and toilet facilities were also provided. State-of-the-art audio visual equipment was purchased, including a data projector to enable the use of PowerPoint during services. A closed-circuit-television camera provided those in the new glass-fronted gallery with good visibility. All these enhancements, creating a bright and modern space whilst retaining the best features of the historic meeting house, have been favourably commented upon by visitors and members alike. The beautiful building, which cost over £650,000, was officially re-opened and dedicated to the Glory of God by the Very Rev Dr Ken Newell in January 2006.
Raising funds for the newly refurbished church was not the only challenge facing the congregation after July 2005, when Mr McDowell announced his decision to resign from Bushmills. His four years in the congregation, which had achieved so much in such a short time, had been dogged by ill-health and he felt that a relinquishing of the burdens of the ordained ministry would be beneficial for him.
Following a vacancy of some fourteen months, the congregation called Philip Bolton Wilson, B.A., B.D., Th.M., Ph.D. to be their next minister. Born in Coleraine in 1973, Philip Wilson grew up in Terrace Row congregation. He attended Coleraine Academical Institution and studied at the University of Reading in England, before training for the ordained ministry at the University of Aberdeen and at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey. He returned to Aberdeen, was awarded his Ph.D. in Practical Theology in 2003 and was licensed by Coleraine Presbytery on June 20th 2004. His doctorate was published in 2005 in both the UK and the USA. After three years as Assistant Minister in Malone congregation in Belfast, Dr Wilson was ordained and installed to the charge of Bushmills on 15th September, 2006. Having married Miss Hannah Simpson only a month before, the Manse at Eagry on Straid Road became Philip and Hannah’s first home together. On the evening of his ordination, at the reception in the Hamill Hall, the congregation’s twenty first minister said:
“I am not one for thinking of this as a ministry. I see this as a continuation of the ministry, the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ … Jesus tells us ‘Others have laboured and you have entered into their labour.’”
The congregation of Bushmills in the first decade of the third millennium has much for which to be thankful. As Professor Lawrence Kirkpatrick points out in his recent work Presbyterians in Ireland: An Illustrated History (Booklink, 2006), Bushmills is one of the congregations of the Route Presbytery that has experienced the greatest growth in recent times. Mr Wallace’s history reveals that in 1963, the number of families stood at 185, in 1985 it was 225 and in 2006 it was 289. Many of these are long-established families, with surnames that have been closely associated with the congregation throughout its long history. Others are newcomers to the area, many of whom have retired to the scenic beauty of the North Coast. Both groups co-exist happily in Bushmills and contribute greatly to the life and witness of the congregation. The surrounding area is changing dramatically – for good and ill – with a slow but undeniable decline in farming alongside a mushrooming of increasingly expensive second homes and associated leisure and retail facilities. The population of Bushmills in the census of 2001 stood at 1,319 people in 570 households. Most members of the congregation live in the surrounding countryside areas. The opportunities of coming years will be for the congregation to continue to upgrade facilities (including the Hamill Hall), so that they might meet the needs of the community, alongside a call to greater commitment to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. The hope and prayer of the Kirk Session is that Almighty God will bless them in the future as their forebears were so richly blessed in the congregation’s long and distinguished past.
|The Rev’d John Logue||1746-1756|
|The Rev’d Samuel Moore||1760-1776|
|The Rev’d Hugh Moore||1779-1780|
|The Rev’d William Douglass||1783-1794|
|The Rev’d Daniel McKee||1796-1820|
|The Rev’d Hugh Hamill, M.A.||1820-1864|
|The Rev’d James Boyle||1864-1902|
|The Rev’d Francis James Paul, M.A., D.D.||1902-1911|
|The Rev’d Joseph Fisher Anderson, B.A.||1912-1918|
|The Rev’d Samuel McCully, B.A.||1919-1928|
|The Rev’d David Maybin, B.A.||1928-1949|
|The Rev’d Samuel Eaton, M.A., H.C.F.||1950-1959|
|The Rev’d John William Patrick Lowry, B.A., B.D.||1959-1969|
|The Rev’d Hugh Barkley Wallace, M.A.||1970-2000|
|The Rev’d Ronald David McDowell, B.Sc., B.D.||2001-2005|
|The Rev’d Philip Bolton Wilson, B.A., B.D., Th.M., Ph.D
The Rev’d Nancy Cubitt B.A. B.D.