First Dromara, established 1713
For some visiting this site, you are on search for your ancestors who hailed from the Dromara area. Our baptismal register dates back to 1762, marriage register to 1799 and Kirk Session Minutes to 1763, but for access to a fuller breadth of historical data, please also consider the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland http://www.presbyterianhistoryireland.com
The first Presbyterian Minister in the district of whom there is any record is that of a Scot named Mungo Bennett, who was appointed to preach in Dromara on Christmas Eve, 1658. This, during the Cromwellian Regime, meant that worship was conducted in the Established Parish Church. When the Monarchy was restored in 1660, Presbyterians were driven out of the Parish Churches. Therefore, for more than half a century, Presbyterian worship ceased in the district. Following the Williamite Wars in 1696, Co Antrim and Co Down saw an influx of Scots desiring to settle here.
First Dromara congregation was originally part of Dromore. On 23rd June 1713 the Synod of Ulster made it a separate congregation, annexing to it the townlands of Tullyniskey, Enock, Fedoney, Carnew, Kinallen, Leppock and the upper half of Ballykeel (still townlands referred to today). We cannot find any record, beyond a date stone bearing the date 1735, as to the building of the first thatched Meeting House on Artana Hill, but we do know that the situation of the Meeting House, two miles outside the village of Dromara was to accommodate a petition launched by members from Garvaghy, as at this time, Dromara Congregation also served the faithful Presbyterians of that district until they formed a seceding congregation in the nineteenth century.
The first minister of First Dromara Church was the Rev. John Campbell MA, a native of Magherally. He was ordained and installed into the new congregation on 13th December 1715. Like many early ministries’, little is known of Mr. Campbell and his family, but we do know that his work was not in vain as he built the congregation up to around 600 people. We do know when Mr. Campbell’s ministry came to an end, for he died on 3rd June 1724.
Following this, the congregation’s first vacancy, the Rev. John King MA was ordained and installed by the Presbytery of Armagh on 14th December 1726. We know that Mr. King hailed from Dunmurry and studied at Killyleagh Academy and completed his Divinity training at Glasgow University. Having passed his degree, Mr. King was licensed by the Presbytery of St. Andrews (Scotland) and returned to Ireland in 1719. First Dromara Presbyterian Church is proud of her rich evangelical and reformed heritage. This is evident following the subscription controversy of the early 1700s, when at a time when some Ministers were sceptical concerning subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Mr. King remained faithful to the standards that he had subscribed to at the time of his ordination. The Presbytery of Armagh was split in two in 1743. Non-Subscribing Ministers and congregations remained in the Presbytery of Armagh, whereby the new Subscribing Dromore Presbytery was formed, and included Mr. King. This is the Presbytery the congregation remains apart of.
Rev. James Jackson Birch MA
As well as being rightly proud of her evangelical and reformed heritage, First Dromara Presbyterian Church is also proud of her farming and agricultural links to many members throughout the locality through the years. This is celebrated in that, following the ministry of Mr. King, Gilford born farmer, the Rev. James Jackson Birch MA, was ordained to Dromara Presbyterian on 12th August 1764 by the Dromore Presbytery. Although records are not verbose enough to give us many details concerning Mr. Birch’s ministry in Dromara, he was honoured by his colleagues by being elected Moderator of the Synod of Ulster in 1792. This was prior to the formation of the General Assembly in 1840 (hence why Mr. Birch does not appear in lists of former Moderators). Mr. Birch retired from Dromara in 1816 and he died on 10th October 1820.
As one Birch ministry ended, another one began. Interestingly, as the Rev. Birch’s ministry came to an end, he was aided by his grandson, and so seeking a successor was an easy task, as the congregation called the Rev. James Birch Black MA, who was ordained on 30th July 1816. Although held in high regard for his assistance of his grandfather, and quickly called, Mr. Black’s ministry was cut short when the presbytery dissolved his tenure in Dromara for intemperance. Tragically, he died the same year.
Rev. William Craig MA
The Psalmist reminds us, “the entrance of Thy Word, bringeth light”, and the congregation’s continued interest in her reformed and evangelical witness was matched by the congregation’s growing from strength to strength. Dromara is recorded to have been one of the largest congregations with a connection to the Synod of Ulster, with over 1200 people claiming connection. With this being the case, the Minister’s stipend being £80 per year (lucrative for those times) and a predecessor having served as Moderator, it is not surprising that the Dromara Congregation quickly called a new minister. The fifth minister of this historic congregation was installed on 26th December 1823, a native of Co. Antrim, Rev. William Craig MA.
Full of enthusiasm for a thriving and willing congregation, Mr. Craig undertook on leading the congregation through an illustrious project of building a Meeting House for her current needs. Our current Meeting House was opened in 1826 at a cost of £2’035.8.6 1/2 . The debt was paid by 1854. Bearing in mind the Irish Potato famine occurred in-between, this was no mean accomplishment. Personally, Mr. Craig contributed 18% of the total needed. The people of Dromara could sing with the Psalmist, “I Joy’d when to the House of God, go up they said to me.”
As if this wasn’t a large enough endeavour, in 1858, Mr. Craig began the scheme of building the Manse on the Tullyniskey Road. Described by the Evangelical Witness as a man with “a wonderful power of command, which enabled him to maintain excellent order. He was a model chairman at a public meeting.” It is not surprising that he ascended in 1838 to the role of Moderator in the Synod of Ulster, and this quote describes his conduct. During Mr. Craig’s ministry, not only was Dromara blessed, but Ulster as a whole. The year 1859 is known as the “Year of Grace.” Such a revival has not been seen in our land since. Our prayer is that of the Psalmist, “wilt Thou not revive Thy people again.”
The Psalmist also reminds us of the “blessing when brethren dwell together in unity.” This was not the case in Dromara, and unfortunately, much of the upbuilding of the Rev. Craig and unity that other congregations experienced following the ’59 Revival was desecrated. Mr Craig died in December 1871 and the congregation was much disturbed by disputes as to his successor. The minority of the congregation, backed by the General Assembly wanted an immediate settlement. A majority party however, wanted to wait until a student called William Wilson had completed his studies and was available for a call in 1873. They took possession of the church, during which time the minority party held services in a barn granted by Joseph Bell of Bellfield.
In February 1874 the majority party held a meeting at which resolutions were passed renouncing their connection with the General Assembly and expressing their desire to be received into the Reformed Presbyterian Church. On the advice of the Presbytery they decided to withdraw from First Dromara Church building in May 1874 and worshipped in the open air during the Sabbaths of June. A wooden hall, erected in a plot of ground across the road from the church, was opened in July 1874. Their first minister, the Rev Torrens Boyd was installed in February 1875 and the present Reformed Presbyterian Church was opened in February 1877.
Rev. William Shepherd BA
As the autumnal evenings began to set in, September 1874 saw the installation of the next minister, the Rev. William Shepherd BA. After a tumultuous vacancy period, the Stewartstown (Co. Tyrone) minister had an uphill struggle as he inaugurated his tenure in Dromara, however, it was not without fruit, as records show a sizeable increase in membership from 55 families to almost 150 families during his six-year tenure. In 1880, Mr. Shepherd accepted a call to the fellow Co. Down congregation, Ballyroney.
Rev. John Richard McCleery
After many lengthy and harmonious ministries, some may consider Mr. Shepherd’s ministry short. However, it doubled the tenure of the next incumbent, the Rev. John Richard McCleery of Cootehill (Co. Cavan). It is said that Mr. McCleery struck up a strong friendship with the new Reformed Presbyterian Church minister, Rev. Torrens Boyd. This friendship helped with the historical animosity between the two congregations. Thankfully, such spade work in short ministries can achieve much by way of building strong relationships that aid and bless those that are to come. Mr. McCleery accepted a call in 1883 to the congregation of First Killyleagh.
Rev. Edward Ekin MA
First Dromara’s eighth minister, who’s tenure spanned from 26th March 1884 - until July 1892, was the Rev. Edward Ekin MA. Having grown up in the congregation of Brigh (Co Tyrone), Mr. Ekin was called back to the scene of his childhood and ministered in Coagh until his death in 1906. It is thought that he was a direct descendant of the first Presbyterian Minister in Ireland, Rev. Edward Brice of Ballycarry.
Rev. William Martin
Following Mr. Ekin, the Rev. William Martin was ordained and pastorally responsible for the congregation of First Dromara on 22nd March 1893. Embarking upon major renovations, the Rev. Martin oversaw the closure of the gallery, the lowering of the pulpit and a list of alterations, still evident in our Meeting House today. After two years of change, the congregation were changing pastor again as Mr. Martin resigned in October 1895.
Rev. William George Glasgow BA
As the number of ministers reaches double figures, the congregation were pleased to call their next minister and ordain him on 25th February 1896. He was the Rev. William George Glasgow BA. In the 21st century many preachers and teachers engage with the world through the mediums of social media and blogs; Mr. Glasgow was a pioneer for this form of wider communication and wrote often in local newspapers and gazettes. A flavour of his prowess and proficiency in this way can be observed in his 1913 bicentenary history of First Dromara. Ministering in First Dromara during the Great War, Mr. Glasgow did not see its armistice, dying on 25th February 1918, on the anniversary of his installation in this congregation, 22 years previous.
Rev. Francis Sydney King Jamison BA
The Rev. Francis Sydney King Jamison BA, Mr. Glasgow’s successor, was a son of the manse. His father, the Rev. David Jamison BA of Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh. This was a ministry flowing from the end of the First World War until the beginning of the Second World War. His ministry spanned from 19th July 1918 until his sudden death on 6th September 1942. The congregation’s love for their pastor was displayed when they dedicated a two-manual organ to his memory. This same organ still resides among the historical archives of our congregation.
Rev. William Hugh Wilson MA
Rev. William Hugh Wilson MA was the first Belfastman to be called to First Dromara. Growing up in the large congregation of Duncairn, he was licensed by the Belfast Presbytery in 1940. Mr. Wilson was Assistant to the Rev. S.R. Jamison of Ulsterville for 3.5 years. Unfortunately, his ministry was cut short due to ill-health and he resigned on 30th September 1959. He died in the summer of 1964.
Rev. Ronald Joseph Wilson BA
New Year’s Sunday, in the new decade of the 1960s, during electrical interruptions, brought the trial sermon for the next minister, Rev. Ronald Joseph Wilson BA, assistant minister of Newington. During his time in First Dromara, again more renovations were undertaken, with the removal of the old dark wooden box pews, a new floor and inside porches erected. During his time here, Mr. Wilson married Miss Carol Elizabeth Halliday. He was called to the congregation of Portstewart and was installed there on 7th December 1967, where he swapped the rolling hills of Dromara for the North-Coast sea-side. He remained in Portstewart until his retirement. Now, in his mid-eighties he is still engaged in pastoral ministry with the congregation of St. James’ Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney.
Rev. Andrew Peden McComb BA BD
During the early years of the Rev. Andrew Peden McComb BA BD who came to First Dromara from Craigavon on 14th November 1968, extensive property renovations took place; a new church hall was built in 1974 and the gallery of the church was adapted for use as a local History Gallery in 1980. It is interesting, where many Meeting Houses have massive galleries, ours was shut almost 150 years ago. We do not have the problem of people not sitting together, but Mr. McComb realised that this was wasted space. Now, the gallery is still not used for anything. Could we share in Mr. McComb’s vision, fifty years ago, of seeing that space once again used for God’s glory? Mr McComb retired on 30th September 1981.
Rev. George Frank McKeown BA
The assistant of Rathcoole, namely, the Rev. George Frank McKeown BA was installed in First Dromara on 19th March 1982. Just like many of his predecessors, on coming to an historic congregation, renovations and upkeep is essential. Renovations were carried out around the Meeting House, and particularly on the church roof. He was the last Minister to reside in the Manse on the Tulliniskey Road, for even though renovations were embarked upon during Mr. McKeown’s time, as we will see under the next ministry, this house’s days as a manse were coming to an end. Mr. McKeown was called by the congregation of Second Newtownards in 1987 and in 2003 he returned to Rathcoole, where he continued in ministry until his retirement in 2016. Mr. McKeown, and his wife Liz, now live in Bangor and are involved with pastoral visitation in Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church.
The Rev Alexander Shaw Thompson BA BD , assistant to the Very Rev Dr Rodney Sterritt of Greenwell Street, Newtownards, was installed in April 1989 and during his ministry the church witnessed a growth of 50%. The 1858 manse at Tullyniskey, now a listed building, was sold in July 1989 and a new manse was opened in December 1990. In 1994 the Meeting House was renovated, carpeted and new heating and electrical fittings installed. A new hall and adjoining suite of rooms were opened in July 2000 and a new car park added in 2003. Mr. Thompson and his wife, Evelyn, reside locally. He is currently our Minister Emeritus and we are always glad to see them with us in First Dromara.
Our present Minister, Rev. Scott William Moore CF BA BD MRes MTh, a native of Cullybackey, Co. Antrim, was licensed by the Presbytery of Ballymena in June 2011 in his home congregation, Cuningham Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he grew up under the ministry of Dromara born preacher, the Rev. W.J. Hook. Mr. Moore served his Assistantship for three years under the Rev. A.S. Smyth in Carryduff, and after four years of ministry in the Co. Antrim congregation of Dervock he was installed in First Dromara on 14th September 2018. Mr. Moore studied at Queen’s University Belfast, where he was training to be a teacher in History and Politics, before he attended Union College and trained for the Ministry. He brings an interest in global mission, having served with many organisations abroad in places such as Hungary, Romania, Guatemala, Spain and Malawi and an interest in praise, enjoying singing in a few choirs and dabbling with the violin and piano, now and again. He and Lorna live in the current manse on the Kinallen Road.