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Middle Church, Ballinderry open for European Heritage Open Days 2006

 

The Middle Church, Ballinderry was open to visitors on Saturday 9th September - European Heritage Open Dasy 2006.  Pictured at the church last Saturday morning is L to R: The Rev Canon Ernest Harris - Rector and Daphne Davidson (daughter of the Rev John Lowe - Rector 1940 to 1972).  Also included are visitors - Arthur Warwick from Lisburn and Gillian Dalton, Nan Watson, Olivia Steele and Mena Smyth from Carrickfergus.

 The Middle Church, Ballinderry was built in 1668 at the direction of the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, Jeremy Taylor, who also financed its construction.  It was built to replace the medieval church of the parish of Ballinderry, the ruins of which still exist two miles away at Portmore, close to Lough Beg.  He chose this site for the new church because it was more convenient and accessible than the old church, being in the centre of the parish and on a country road.  This is how the Middle Church got its name.  It is also often known as ‘Jeremy Taylor’s Church’.

In 1824 this church was itself superseded by the construction of a new parish church close to Upper Ballinderry village.  Although the parish church continues today as the centre of worship, the Middle Church has regular evening services in the summer months and other services throughout the year.  The Middle Church graveyard is still the burying ground for the parish.  The oldest headstone dates from the late 17th century.

The Middle Church fell into disrepair after the opening of the new parish church and photographs taken in the late 19th century show the east gable end and part of the roof covered in ivy.  In 1902 a programme of restoration was undertaken, with the aid of a donation of £2000 from Mrs Walkington, Oatlands, Upper Ballinderry.  It was re-roofed and the windows were re-glazed.  Prior to the restoration, the exterior was white-washed like a traditional cottage or barn, hence its description as a ‘barn’ church.  In more recent times the parish has sought to maintain the physical soundness of the building without altering its character.  There is no electricity so services are conducted by the aid of candle or other portable lighting and heating.

The church measures 71 feet long by 29 feet wide.  It is thought that some of the wood used in its construction was removed from the medieval church at Portmore and re-used here.  All of the oak would have been felled in the great oak forests that covered this district, which was known as Killultagh (Coil Ultagh - the great wood of Ulster).  The interior has the original 17th century oak pews with fixed candleholders, communion table and a three-deck oak ‘pepper pot’ pulpit, placed at the side of the church.  The pulpit’s design means that the seat in the lowest position can be used by the parish clerk, the middle section used for the readings and additional prayers, and the upper section by the preacher.  The lowest seat was known as the ‘Amen Corner’ because the clerk led the responses by the congregation.  The large pew opposite the pulpit is traditionally known as ‘Lord Conway’s pew’.  Fixed to the west wall is a former pew door, which has the date 1668 and two sets of initials carved on it.  The church possesses a silver chalice dating from the 1660s, which is inscribed ‘the cup of Ballinderry’ and several 18th century Prayer Books.  There is a chest dated 1706 and four long handled brass collection pans.  A funeral hatchment bearing the arms of Bishop Taylor is on the wall opposite the pulpit.  An external staircase gives access to the gallery, which is an eighteenth century addition to the church, made presumably to cope with an increasing congregation.  There are two circular windows in the west gable, over which is a simple bell turret.  The original 17th century bell was taken down in 1869, at a time when the church was not in use.  It was sold in Dublin and later recast into a bell for Gilford Church.  The present bell was donated by Wing Commander Higginson in 1954.

Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) was a close friend of Edward, 1st Earl of Conway and Killultagh, whose family owned all the land between Derriaghy and the shores of Lough Neagh and developed the town of Lisburn.  Bishop Taylor was chaplain to Charles 1 and therefore fell from favour during Cromwell’s time.  Through the patronage of Lord Conway, he came to Lisburn in the 1650s.  He also spent time at Conway’s house at Portmore and from this peaceful location developed his interest in Ballinderry.  Taylor was a noted theologian who published several significant books, including ‘Holy Living’ and ‘Holy Dying’.  The preface of another, Ductor Dubitantium or the Rule of Conscience, reads ‘from my study at Portmore in Killultagh, October 5, 1659’.  He died in Lisburn in August 1667 and was buried in Dromore Cathedral.

Church historians will be interested to know that the Moravian Church at Ballinderry, which was opened on Christmas Day 1751, was also open to visitors for European Heritage Open Days 2006.  For information on all 134 churches and places of worship in the Lisburn City Council area go to the ‘Lisburn Churches’ page of www.lisburn.com.