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Historical Account of Boveedy Congregation

Boveedy Presbyterian Church, civil parish of Tamlaght O’Crilly, County Londonderry.

Bovedy Presbyterian Church – Looking north

Historical Account of Boveedy Congregation
(Reprinted from Bazaar Book)

Tradition has preserved two facts regarding the past history of the neighbourhood in which Boveedy Church is situated. The older people, if asked, will tell you that in previous times the condition of the country was such that you could walk from Magherafelt to Coleraine on tree stumps; and that the worshippers at Boveedy came from distant parts, even from across the Bann. The truth of the latter tradition will be seen in the course of our narrative; the former tale merely serves to indicate that a large part of the country, including the Boveedy district, was once covered with forest, which provided splendid cover for the native Irish in the constant warfare of Queen Elizabeth’s days. In fact, in official correspondence it was called the “strongest fastness” in all the country, harbouring the NEALES, the HAGGANS, the MULHALLANS, the MacCAHIRS, the QUINS and other dependents of the great O’NEILS.

When King James I. was arranging for the colonization of Ulster in the great Plantation of 1610, it was deemed prudent on account of the difficult and dangerous nature of the country to entrust the planting of the “County of Coleraine,” with the subsequent addition of the Barony of Loughinsholin, to the wealthy London Companies. In the sub-division the Mercers’ Company were allotted the larger part of the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght-O’Crilly, with a small part of Desertoghill or the area of country which subsequently became the congregational district of the ministers of Boveedy.

Considering the hostility offered by the dispossessed and rebellious Irish, slow progress in “clearing” the country was made by the colonists, who were at first chiefly English and but few in number. Before 1641, however, large numbers of Scotch, hardier in constitution than their English comrades, were introduced on the companies’ estates, only to be driven out when the great rebellion of that year began. Direct evidence is available to show that the English and Scotch settlers were worsted at Garvagh in December 1641, a garrison having been placed there under Edward ROWLEY Esq., of Castleroe. In the engagement that took place one of the CANNINGS of Garvagh was killed, having taken refuge, it is said, in the old church of Desert. This is still spoken of as the Battle of Revelin’s Hill. But the most terrible local event of that critical period for the Protestantism of Ulster was the massacre of Protestant soldiers which took place at Portna on the 2nd of January following. Some companies of soldiers were guarding the passage of the Bann at this point and among them were Roman Catholic Highlanders, who, with the Scots Protestants, composed the regiment of Lord Antrim’s agent, Archd. STEWART. While a section of the Protestant troops were on duty further down the Bann, the Roman Catholics fell upon and murdered their comrades.

First introduction of Presbyterianism

This disaster is of importance for our story. Tradition has it that about this date the meeting-house of the Scots Presbyterians at Moynock was destroyed. Considering the nearness of Moynock to Portna and the existence of a strong colony of Presbyterian farmers at the former place, there is every probability that the first meeting-place for Presbyterian worship in this part of the country was at Moynock. It is believed a minister of this persuasion was also settled at Garyagh as early as 1641. Certainly John LAW had the tithes of Desertoghill and Errigal in 1658 and was ejected for nonconformity from these livings in 1661. He continued to preach at Garvagh till about 1673. He was the only minister in this particular part who was deposed for conscience sake and we may conclude that there was no Presbyterian minister at Boveedy or Kilrea as yet. The rector of Kilrea and Tamlaght had perished in the siege of Coleraine in 1641. The Scotch were returning to their farms, though Cromwell expressly stipulated in his new charter to the London Companies that Scotch settlers were to be discouraged on their Irish estates.

At what time the Presbyterians of Kilrea and Tamlaght or Boveedy erected a new meeting-house, or when Mr. William GILCHRIST became their minister, we have no evidence to show. We merely know that he was one of the heroic band of Presbyterians who “turned at bay ” behind the walls of Derry in the famous siege and had ministered at Tamlaght and Kilrea before that. There was a student of that name at Glasgow University in 1660 and laureated in 1663, who may soon after have been settled at Kilrea. When Sir John M’GILL’S regiment, which was stationed at Kilrea and the other officers were no longer able to defend the passes of the Bann, the Protestant population fled over the mountains to Derry and with them went their minister never to return. His poor widow was supported by the congregations of the Presbytery of Route for many years afterwards.

Matthew CLERK, soldier and preacher

For some time after the siege the country was in a state of desolation. It was not till 1697, that the inhabitants of Boveedy were in a position to secure a minister, Mr. Matthew CLERK, who had been licensed a short time previously. Mr CLERK had already a fine record, having served as a lieutenant in Derry during the siege, where he received a wound on the temple from a bullet. His ministerial career accorded with his character as a soldier. He entered with energy and enthusiasm into the controversy which raged around the subscribing the Westminster confession of faith. He boldly published two pamphlets to which he appended his name and in which he defended subscription with stout, if somewhat rude, courage. He was according to his American biographer, “sound in the faith, decided and independent in his sentiments and fearless in defence of what he judged to be correct in doctrine or in practice.” He ministered at Boveedy for thirty years.

His Extensive Parish

Let us consider the field of his operation  His parish was a wide one, including the parishes of Kilrea, Tamlaght- O’Crilly, Desertoghill, and probably Errigal. There was for twenty years after the siege no minister at Garvagh, which lay at the junction of Desertoghill and Errigal, so that the tradition before mentioned is well founded that worshippers came from all parts to Boveedy. Mr. CLERK was clerk of the Route Presbytery and has left a record largely in his own hand of Presbyterian discipline in the opening years of the eighteenth century. From his account of a visitation at Kilrea we learn that he preached a sermon in which he had to guarantee to be of uniform quality with his ordinary discourses; and the people were required to be good sermon tasters for once and confirm the point.  It was easy to express satisfaction with the minister in every particular; it was a different matter to give satisfactory answers about stipends and repairs to the meeting-house, and minister’s dwelling-house.

Although the parish was so wide, default in payment of stipend was so frequently before the Presbytery that Mr. CLERK  was to be “declared transportable”, if there was no improvement, a drastic procedure in those days of few ministers. There were promises that as soon as harvest was over, or when the butter was sold the meeting-house would be thatched, the minister’s dwelling-house and office-houses finished and arrears of stipend paid. In 1703 Thomas REID appeared from the congregation (then known as Kilrea) saying that some of the people had provided “boards to floor their minister’s cellar,” but that the parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght had done nothing.

Ministerial Maintenance

The following extract is instructive as to the difficulty of getting maintenance for a minister;

George WOODBURN and David GORDON appeared from Kilrea, the first declaring that they are using diligence to collect stipends in Desart and doth now ask the Pby whether they shall take corn from some of ye people at one shill. per boll more yn ye market rate and whether they shall prosecute by law such as will not pay, or deprive them of church privileges. The meeting makes answer they cannot take corn above market rates and for suing at law the Pby will not hinder them, but for depriving them of church privileges the Pby has determined already that such who are able to pay stipends and will not, shall be deprived of church privileges.

The second, namely, David GORDON comes only from ye parish of Kilrea, one of ye four parishes of Mr. CLARKE’S congregation and he promises that that parish which was only ye most deficient of ye four, are now designed to be as forward if not more than any of ye rest.

The Presbytery appoints ye whole congregation in gross to give account at our next meeting of what duty they have done to their minister.

How shorn of their former powers are our modern Presbyteries! With what eagerness would a present day sustentation convener in his returns make a shilling count a florin, or a shilling “more than ye market rate!”

Earlier Meeting-houses

Where was this thatched meeting-house of 1700? We can only assume it was on the site of the present structure. Why was it built here? Possibly on account of its central position for the four parishes. It is traditionally reported that it was removed from Moynock about 1650 through the influence of the CANNINGS of Garvagh. Boveedy townland was one of the six freeholds on the Mercers’ Estate and was held by the CAREY family in the seventeenth century. There was a considerable number of houses forming a village and every Christmas a fair was held at it where singing, dancing, cock-fighting and drinking were a common practice.

The Ordnance Survey memoirs preserve particulars of the meeting-house that preceded the present structure. The building was erected about 1756 on a site presented by Mr. CAREY and cost £150. It was of the usual unpretentious kind, with thatched roof and clay floor. Its dimensions were 58ft. 10in. by 21ft., the receding aisle at right angles to the main portion measuring 27ft. by 21ft. The windows, twenty-five in number, were diamond-paned and in 1836 the pulpit, pews, etc., were not in good repair. A later proprietor of Boveedy, Andrew ORR Esq., of Keely, ornamented it with a fence and plantation of trees. The session-house was on the opposite side of the read.

To return to Matthew CLERK’S ministry, it may be interesting to have the names of elders and other members of the congregation;

Daniel KERR
Samuel REID
Thomas REID
Robert HOUY
Robert HILL

These belong to the period 1701-1706.

Emigration to America

After this time the seasons grew gradually worse, with the result that there were bad harvests and much poverty; and Presbyterians were subjected to much oppression both from landlords and the State church. Hence a tide of emigration to America started in 1718, from the valley of the Lower Bann. James MacGREGOR, the minister of Aghadowey, with many Presbyterian families of Kilrea, Aghadowey, Coleraine and Ballymoney joined in the exodus and after some wanderings settled in New Hampshire and formed the progressive township of Londonderry, their express design, in the words of their minister and leader, MacGREGOR, being “to avoid oppression and to have an opportunity of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience.” MacGREGOR had been a lieutenant in the siege. His comrade in arms, Matthew CLERK, laboured on in Kilrea and Boveedy to 1729, when at the age of 70 or upwards he also went to New Hampshire, only to find his friend had just died and to become pastor of his flock for six years.

Long as stands good Londonderry,
With its stories sad and merry,
Shall thy name be handed down
As a man of prayer and mark
Grave and reverend Matthew Clark.

It is related that John SCOTT, of Boveedy, enlisted in William’s army about 1690, crossed the Boyne and after five or six years deserted. Being pursued to Boveedy, he escaped by the aid of Mr. CLERK and settled in Lismoyle.

Rev. Robert WIRLING and Alexander CUMMING

Little is known about the next minister, the Rev. Robert  WIRLING, who was installed in Boveedy, 25th July 1732. He
was a member of the Belfast Presbytery and had been ordained some years earlier to the company of the ship, the “Revival,” of London. He removed to 2nd Donagheady in 1741. Before his departure, Boveedy presented a petition to the Synod of Ulster complaining that the congregation had been “greatly weakened by defalcations made on both ends of it,” and were in danger of being deprived of Gospel ordinances. They were receiving assistance from the Sustentation Fund of that time, but it was so much in arrear that they were in very straitened circumstances. The Presbytery, to whose negligence their plight was due, were instructed to attend to the matter and do justice to Boveedy.

Circumstances must have improved, for Mr. Alexander CUMMING, a native of Kilraughts, was ordained 22nd May 1744 and remained there till his death in November 1748.

Where Matthew CLERK resided is not known, but during the ministry of his successors, WIRLING and CUMMING, the manse was in Drumagarner, where the HUTCHINSON’S subsequently resided.

Mr. CUMMING left a widow who married his successor, Mr. John SMYTH, half a year after the ordination of the latter, which took place 31st October 1749. SMYTH was from near the River Roe, parish Boveva, and must be carefully distinguished from his successor of the same name.

13 Oct. 1910 Ballymoney Free Press

Rev. John SMYTH and the Dividing of the Ways.

Mr. SMYTH’S ministry was an eventful one in the history of the congregation and in the fortunes of his family. During his ministry Kilrea became a separate congregation and Boveedy joined the Seceders, who were making steady progress and growing in numbers and importance. Since 1751, Mr. Alexander STEWART of Ards, was lessee of the Mercers’ Estate and had as agent Mr. HENRY, a bleacher and probably the most influential Presbyterian in Kilrea. At Mr. HENRY’S solicitation Mr. SMYTH and the larger part of his congregation were persuaded to remove to Kilrea, which was now becoming a town. The minute from the sub-Synod of Derry’s records will explain the situation;

May 18th, 1779. – From Kilrea (in the bounds of the Presbytery of Rout) appeared a supplication (Samuel READ etc., commissioners) informing us that a division is likely to take place in that congregation, that this matter was canvassed at the Presbytery, but that they could not make up the breach. They therefore refer the matter to this sub-synod, as appears from their minutes which were read; and requesting that we may order their minister, Mr. SMYTH, to preach alternately; in Kilrea and Bovidy (as there is a great majority of the congregation for a coalition.) From Bovidy appeared a supplication (Wm. GILMER, etc., commissioners) requesting that this synod may order Bovidy to be declared a vacant congregation and that supplies may be granted them, particularly Mr. James ELDER. Mr. SMYTH and the commissioners from both places were heard at a considerable length.

The synod eventually appointed a large committee, including the members of the Route Presbytery, to meet at Boveedy and endeavour to bring about a reconciliation. The committee’s decision was in favour of the Kilrea petitioners, who are described in the Synod of Ulster records as the “inhabitants of Killreagh, Tamlagh and Desert.” Their contention was to the effect that to constitute the 226 heads of families of Boveedy into a separate congregation would be injurious to the interests of religion, as the whole stipend not being more than £26, would not admit of division. The committee’s decision to divide the time of Mr. SMYTH between Kilrea and Boveedy was upheld by the General Synod. After two years Boveedy joined the seceders and Kilrea continued as a separate congregation under Mr. SMYTH. The melancholy part of the story so far as he is concerned is that although he removed his residence from Drumagarner on the promise of generous treatment in the matter of house and land in the town of Kilrea, on his death in 1785 “his property is distrained and sold in satisfaction of a claim for rent during the whole of his occupancy and his family are beggared by it.” Part of the “generous treatment” was that he was to be free of rent. His descendants resided in the Diamond, Kilrea, up to the middle of the nineteenth century.

Boveedy and the Seceders

The first minister of Boveedy under the new conditions was the Rev. Adam BOYLE who was ordained there either in 1781 or 1782 by the Burgher Presbytery of Derry that had recently been formed. The nearest Seceding congregations were Garvagh and Knockloughrim. The introduction of this more evangelical, more rigid type of Presbyterianism had, it cannot be doubted, a beneficial effect on the religious life of the community. We may now regard some of its teachings as very narrow, yet that there was a need for stirring up of spiritual life all over Ulster, such as came with the Seceders, is abundantly evident. And in the particular part that we have under review, the impartial observer will find it difficult, judging by the type of Presbyterians that have sprung from the labours of old Adam BOYLE and his successors, to accept the plea of the majority in 1779 that a separate congregation would be “injurious to the interests of religion.”

We have inherited our regard for the sabbath from the old Seceders. Here is a sample of their teaching regarding its observance. “Others profane that holy day by idleness, or using it as a day of visiting their friends and neighbours; some by making it a day of reckoning with workmen and servants; others profane it by doing unnecessary servile work in and about their houses, which might either be done on Saturday before, or delayed to Monday thereafter, such as cutting of grass, carrying of fire and water, drying of clothes and the like. Others profane it by unnecessary journeying, or traveling about their secular business. Others profane it by carnal converse about their worldly affairs and even in going to and returning from public worship and in the intervals thereof. Also we cannot but testify against parading with the use of martial music and making the sabbath a day for learning the military exercises, without an apparent necessity (though practised by many of our worthy and respectable volunteers).” All these were regarded as transgressions of the law of God. Every form of evil the Seceders denounced unsparingly – “blasphemy, profane swearing, drunkenness, detraction, lying malice.” The Vanity fair of Boveedy already mentioned, we can very well believe, did not resist long the onslaught of the seceders.

Rev. Adam BOYLE*

We know all too little of Adam BOYLE. He seems to have received his University training at Glasgow. He was 28 years of age when he began his ministry and when he had long passed the allotted span of life, he was preaching every Sunday and visiting regularly an extended congregation without assistance. His old-fashioned, salutary training developed in him, honesty, industry and as his ministerial career proved, a singular capacity for work, only giving up the reins to an assistant at the age of 87. His residence was at Brookfield and is still standing. Three years after his ordination, he, with the other Seceding ministers, was allowed a grant of Regium Donum. When he was eighty, his stipend amounted to £24, supplemented by an allowance of £50 from Regium Donum.

The last record in the session book at Boveedy made by him reads as follows;
Married by the Rev. Adam BOYLE in the 2nd Presbyterian Meeting-house, Kilrea, July 20th, 1845, James COOKE to Eleanor GILMORE.

The inscription on the tombstone in Boveedy graveyard reads;
” Rev. Adam Boyle, minister of Boveedy, who died 1st November 1848, aged 94 years.”

*His grandson, the Rev. S. B. CLARKE M.A., of Cairncastle, possesses a MS. volume of his sermons, the first of which is dated 1781, possibly the first preached by the old seceder in Boveedy.

Brief Ministries

The Rev. William DENHAM was Mr. BOYLE’S assistant and successor. He was ordained on 30th November, 1841, but resigned in 1844 on his appointment to Duneane.

The next minister was. the Rev. D. T. BOYD, who also remained but a few years. It was during his ministry that the new church was built. It was alleged that he collected money outside the bounds of the congregation for which he gave no account. For this and another charge , which was preferred against him, either resigned or was deposed.

About this time very serious trouble arose in the congregation. The district was one where handloom weaving prevailed and the population was very dense. There was one place known as the “Cluster”, which an old inhabitant remembers as having at a time thirty-six “smoking chimneys.” At present there are only about four families. There were two or three looms in each house and the “drapers” came round once a week, gave out the yarns and took back the webs. Sometimes the weaver would have three or four hanks of weft left after the web was finished. On returning this to the draper he was fined. Then he began to keep it and through accumulation of these leavings, he had in time as much as would do for the weft of a whole web. The non-weavers in the congregation held this to be a dishonest practice, but the weavers affirmed that there was no harm in it seeing that they turned out as good linen without it and ran the risk of a fine for their being honest in returning it. The matter got into the Session and two parties were formed when the vacancy occurred. The Rev. Matthew MACAULAY J.P., who only recently died at M’Kelvey’sGrove, was one of the candidates and a Mr. John GILMORE the other. At a vote the two parties were equal and one voter having recalled his vote for GILMORE, MACAULAY was elected by a majority of one. The other party left, erected another building about a hundred yards further up the road and became connected with the U.P. Church of Scotland. They and their descendants worshipped here for about fifty years, but the congregation gradually dwindled away and now the building is used by a neighbouring farmer as a barn. Mr. MACAULAY resigned M’Kelvey’s Grove and ministered at Boveedy for about six months. He was never installed. The whole powers of the rent office were strongly in favour of the dissatisfied portion of the congregation and these powers were so mighty in those days that many of the farmers had either to obey the dictates of an arbitrary land agent and join the dissentient portion of the congregation, or be evicted from their holdings. It was probably the system of landlordism which MACAULAY experienced so early in his history at Boveedy that caused him in later years so strongly to espouse the cause of the farmer. He was recalled to M’Kelvey’s Grove, where he spent the remainder of a long and useful career.

Rev. James GILMORE

Rev. James GILMORE was a native of Garvagh and was ordained in October 1848. He found everything in confusion, and a heavy debt on the congregation. The slates and timber used in the construction of the new building were unpaid. The merchants who supplied these were pressing for their money. The potato blight happened about the time and people had no money. The house was closed until these accounts would be settled. Mr. GILMORE, with the assistance of members of the church, broke open the door and afterwards raised as much money as satisfied the creditors. During his ministry an attempt was made by the land agent to take from the congregation the portion of ground on which the manse now stands and also the old schoolhouse. He was a brave man, for he fought the rent office single-handed and came out victorious and had a trust deed made out which prevents the property from ever being alienated from the Presbyterian Church. During his ministry the present manse was built. At a congregational meeting in 1853 it was resolved and passed unanimously; ” That we are anxious that a house be built as a manse for our minister and that we request Mr. GILMORE to build it to please himself and that he advance any funds that may be required.” He lived in stirring times and was subjected to much harassing, but he never lost the good-will of the majority of his people, who to this day remember him as a good minister and a kindly man. He died on the 8th July, 1887, aged 70 years.

Rev. W. J. HILL, B.A.

Was ordained 22nd December 1887, and since then continues to be the minister of Boveedy. During this time the manse has been remodelled and almost rebuilt, new offices and church stables erected, the church renovated and a congregational hall formed out of a part of the church building, which was too large for the present members. New entrances have been made and trees and shrubs planted and the whole property is now in thoroughly good order. The financial affairs of the congregation are at present in a more flourishing condition than ever before in its history.

Educational and other Cleanings

From the earliest days of the Presbyterian Church education has gone hand in hand with religion. But details are wanting of the schools in the vicinity of Boveedy. In Kilrea, a school-master named RICHARDSON, who was also clerk in the Parish Church, conducted a school in 1738. There was a similar school at Moyletra Church early in the late century, which was attended by Presbvterians. The present Boveedy school-house was erected in 1834 by public subscription. Andrew ORR Esq., the proprietor of the soil, gave £35; the Rector, £4; Rev. Adam Boyle, £1 ; and the surrounding farmers, £8.

Trinaltinagh school was in existence in 1828, for Mr. Michael WALLACE planted fir and alder trees around it then.

In 1836 the people were in a state of “slow but progressive improvement,” being chiefly occupied hitherto in farming on a small scale and weaving. This latter industry was steadily declining. The chief hindrance to improvement in farming was the smallness of the farms. Gortmacrane, described as a “barren tract of churchland,” sent five times as many harvesters to England as all the rest of the district. The dates of the building of the neighbouring churches may be of interest. Churchtown, 1836; Moneydig, 1836; Drumbolg, 1812;  Drumagarner chapel, 1778. In the whole parish of Tamlaght there were in 1834, 2,787 Presbyterians; 865 Seceders; 1,538 Episcopalians; 4,735 Roman Catholics.

From the Banner of Ulster and the Derry Journal

3 Nov. 1848 died –
On the 1st instant, at his residence in Rushbrook, Rev. Adam BOYLE, Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Boveedy, in the 95th year of his age, and the 67th of his ministry.

7 Nov. 1848 The late Rev. Adam BOYLE
We have been favoured by a correspondent with the following particulars respecting the life and character of the late Mr. BOYLE, Presbyterian minister of Boveedy, county Derry, whose death was announced in our obituary last week.
Since the death of the Rev. James ELDER of Finvoy, Mr. BOYLE was the father of the General Assembly, being ordained by the Secession Presbytery of Derry on the 23rd of October 1731. He entered Glasgow College, 1773. At this time he attended the ministry of the Rev. James FISHER, a principal author of the valuable work on the Shorter Catechism, usually denominated “Fisher’s Catechism.” About 1777 and ’78, he attended Divinity lectures at Haddington, under the late Rev. John BROWN. He was licensed by the same Presbytery who ordained him in 1779. In his public ministry, for more than sixty years, he exhibited the doctrines of the Scottish subordinate standards, like one well acquainted with them, as well as intimate with their practical development, in a constant holy living in the fear of God. His preaching was very conversational, illustrated both in the doctrinal and practical parts, by abundance of anecdotes and observations, collected from his reading, and stored in his retentive memory. Mr. BOYLE was born in March 1754 and died November, 1848. The Rev. Lewis BROWN, of Sixmilecross, County Tyrone, who also studied at Haddington, is now the father of the General Assembly, being ordained in Dublin before July 1788, by the Secession Presbytery of Monaghan. He was in youth under the ministry of the Rev. John TENNANT, one of the first Secession ministers settled at Roseyards, near Dervock, County Antrim.


Church Records at Bann Valley Genealogy

Boveedy Presbyterian Cemetery at Maghera Genealogy

Boveedy Presbyterian Cemetery at Find A Grave