THE first Carol Service for almost 370 years was held recently in the restored former 13th century Christian place of worship at Brookhall Historical Farm at Magheragall near Lisburn.
Nearly 100 people packed into the restored building, which is owned by Mr Sam Johnston — a former Lisburn City Councillor —and his wife, Pauline.
The last Carol Service in the original building was believed by historians to have been in 1640, as the then Christian church was destroyed by fire in the Irish rebellion of the following year. Church records show that Christian worship was taking place in that building as far back in time as 1210.
The gathering was welcomed to the restored church building by Mrs Johnston, a member of the Ferris family circle, which owned a series of businesses in Lisburn for many years.
The Carol Service was chaired by North Antrim Assembly member, Rev Dr Robert Couiteer. Mr Johnston's family heralds from the Ballymena region and Rev Dr Couiteer was Mayor of Ballymena when Brookhall Historical Farm was first opened in 1993.
The musical items were led by husband and wife Gospel duettists Simon and Sharon Hodgins from Maghaberry Elim Church. Using the trumpet and electric organ, Mr and Mrs Hodgins also led the hearty singing of the carols.
The gathering re-created the atmosphere of a 17th century Carol Service by switching off the electric lights and singing 'While Shepherds Watch' in the candlelight only. The festive spirit was added to when snow fell outside during the singing of 'The First Noel'.
The Scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments were taken by Rev Dr Coulter, political journalist Dr John Couiteer, and Lady Daphne Trimble, wife of former Northern Ireland First Minister, Lord David Trimble. Following the closing prayers and grace, the crowd enjoyed a delicious supper in the tea barn beside the restored former church.
Such was the popularity and success of the Carol Service, Mr and Mrs Johnston are considering making it an annual event in the Brookhall Farm calendar.