Presbyterian Church in Ireland web site 1813-1963












BOARDMILLS lies equidistant from Lisburn, Saintfield and Ballynahinch, and is the name usually given to the townlands which comprise the parish of Killaney-Killaney, Carrickmaddyroe, Carricknaveagh and Lisban--and Bresagh, which lies in the parish of Saintfield. The earliest reference to this name is found in a list of Protestants who were attainted and declared traitors by the Dublin Parliament on the 29th May, 1689, where the name of Hugh Farley of Boardmills appears. Farley was a miller, and as the district was heavily wooded he probably carried on his activities in a wooden building. This may have given rise to the name by which the district is known to-day.

Prior to the middle of the eighteenth century there was no Presbyterian Church in Boardmills, and the people worshipped in Saintfield. But with the growth of population in Boardmills a feeling grew that the district ought to have a church. Following the death of the Rev. Archibald Dickson of Saintfield in 1739, some Boardmills members of the congregation petitioned the Presbytery to have "supply of sermon at ye Boardmil." Presbytery refused, and the matter lapsed.

The Rev. Dickson's successor in Saintfield, the Rev. James Rainey, had a brief ministry in 1745. The Saintfield congregation became divided over the choice of a successor, the minority favouring Mr. James McKane and the majority Mr. Richard Walker. At a meeting of Presbytery on the 5th November, 1745, it was decided to lay aside the rival candidates and draw up a new list of probationers. This step did not please the Boardmills members of the congregation, who were Mr. Walker's strongest supporters, and they sent three commissioners-John Todd, William Blakely and James Smith-to the Presbytery, to supplicate for the appointment of Mr. Walker as their constant supplier in Boardmills, where they intended to build a meeting house in the spring. They intimated at the same time that if their request was refused, they would require disjunction certificates, and, if these were refused, they would like to know the reason why.

The Presbytery apparently ignored this request, and on the 25th August, 1746, they received an ultimatum from the Boardmills Presbyterians requesting a supply of sermon at Board mills, which, if not granted, would be obtained elsewhere. This communication surprised and troubled the Presbytery, who were desirous of retaining the Boardmills people in connection with the Synod of Ulster. They replied stating that at present they had no man to send on this mission, but that when one was available he would be sent, adding that they would be careful to aid and encourage them to the utmost of their power.

Finally, in February, 1747, the Saintfield congregation called Mr. Walker, presumably to gratify and reconcile those at Boardmills, but it was too late. A meeting house had been built, and seceding preachers had been called in before this decision was made. In September, 1746, the Rev. George Murray of Lockerbie, and Mr. John Swanston, a probationer, were in the field, and by the time Mr. Walker received his call the congregation of Boardmills was practically an accomplished fact.

Who were the Seceders? There have been many books written about the Secession Church, but it is sufficient for the narrative to state that in 1733 a number of ministers of the Church of Scotland withdrew from the jurisdiction of the mother Church and formed themselves into a separate body, the Associate Synod. The Seceders, as they were called, insisted upon the doctrine of grace and asserted the rights of the people in the election of ministers. They sent missionaries into Ireland, where their love of sound evangelical doctrine won them many hearers.

The first minister of the new congregation was the Rev. Andrew Black, who was installed in Boardmills on the 22nd June, 1749. By this time the Associate Synod was divided into two opposing parties, the Burghers and Anti-Burghers; and Boardmills joined the Associate (Burgher) Synod.

At this date each minister of the Synod of Ulster received a share of a government grant known as the Regium Donum (King's Gift), which was first given to the Synod of Ulster by King William III, in recognition of the loyalty of Irish Presbyterians. The Secession Church did not receive this grant, but in 1784 the government made an annual grant of �14 per annum to each Burgher minister, thus giving parity with ministers of the Synod of Ulster. In 1803 the government increased the grant to the Synod of Ulster, payment being made according to the size of the congregation.

The Burghers denounced the Synod of Ulster in the strongest terms for accepting the classified grant, which cut across all Presbyterian ideas of parity. Ministers were denounced as "Government hirelings" and "wolves in sheeps' clothing," while acceptance of the money was denounced "as selling the crown off the the head of Christ." At the same time, however, a Burgher committee was making secret representations to the Government for an increased grant. This increase was granted in 1809, but on the same lines as the grant to the Synod of Ulster. A large minority of the congregation of First Boardmills was not willing that their minister should take the revised grant, which his Church had been denouncing for six years.

In the midst of the heated argument, on 10th October, 1809, the Rev. Joseph Longmoor, the Rev. Black's successor, died. The congregation, already weakened by the secession of members who had formed Bailiesmills Reformed Presbyterian congregation, became hopelessly split over the choice of a successor. (1) Those who favoured their minister taking the revised grant wanted Mr. John Sturgeon, son of the Rev. John Sturgeon of Ballynahinch and Lissara, as minister, and a call to him was signed by 138 persons, with 91 members dissenting.

The call to Mr. Sturgeon was duly made out, and presented at a meeting of Synod at Cookstown. Those who opposed the call to Mr. Sturgeon appointed a deputation of three (Messrs. John Gill, James Edgar and William Warrick) to go to Cookstown and ask the Presbytery to order a further hearing of candidates. The deputation was not accorded a very favourable reception, for the minister who introduced them (Rev. Samuel Edgar of Loughaghery, and a nephew of James Edgar of the deputation) told the Synod that the deputation comprised "three cross, irreligious and seditious men from Boardmills." They replied, "We are Christ's freemen," and returned home to tell their friends of the reception they had been given.

Mr. Sturgeon was ordained on the 31st July, 1810, and signified his intention of accepting the classified Regium Donum. Those members of his congregation who were opposed to this action formed a congregation, and sent a petition to the Glasgow Presbytery of the Original Secession (Old Light Burgher) Synod on the 3rd November, 1811, asking for supply of sermon. The petition was granted, and ministers were sent over periodically. During their stay they lived among the congregation, and preached in a disused quarry belonging to Robert Cairnduff, Bresagh. In 1811, at a meeting in the quarry, plans were made to build a church, and the following committee was formed :Messrs. John Blakely, John Shaw, James Wiley, John Gill, William Blakely and John Simpson, each of whom gave �25 as a personal subscription, while the site of the church with the ground attached, was the gift of William Gilmer, Bresagh.

(1) The first reference to Bailiesmills in the records of the R.P. Church is at a meeting of the Reformed Presbytery in Garvagh on the 10th April, 1805, when Mr. John Stewart, a licentiate, was appointed to preach at Bailiesmills on the twelfth Sabbath following the meeting. At this date the Covenanting Societies in the Boardmills and Bailiesmills districts were part of the Knockbracken congregation. At a meeting of Presbytery on the 14th August, 1806, the Societies of Cargycroy, Loughaghery, Carrickmaddyroe and Loughearn presented a petition by their commissioner John Priestly. It stated that "on account of their extreme distance from Knockbracken and the old age and inflrmities of several of their members, they could not attend on ordinances as they wished and prayed that they might be separated from that congregation.

The Presbytery considered the petition, but could not grant it as they were not furnished with documents expressing the sentiments of the Session and Congregation on the subjects. The Societies renewed their petition the following year and it was again rejected. Finally, on the 9th September, 1807, the four Societies, together with the Society of Flush-hilt, were disjoined from Knockbracken.

Bailiesmills congregation is listed as a vacant congregation in 1811, and was supplied by the Synod until 1826, when Mr. John Wright Graham was ordained as the first minister.

Longmoor was opposed to the growth of Covenanting Societies in the parish, and in 1806 he published an attack on the Reformed Church. We have a copy- on our shelves and the title reads: An/Appeal/To/The People;/Wherein/Subjection, in Things Lawful, To the Present/Civil Rulers/In the United Kingdom of/Great Britain and Ireland/is evinced to be agreeable to the Word of God/To which a few things are subjoined/Respecting the Extent of/Christ's Mediatorial Dominion/By Joseph Longmoor/Minister of the Gospel of Killeny.


Building operations were begun early in 1812, and later that year, on the 17th of November, the congregation, being anxious for the settlement of a minister, requested a moderation. The Presbytery, learning that there was no Kirk Session, declined the request until a Session was constituted. On 5th January, 1813, the congregation petitioned Presbytery for an election of elders, and the Presbytery granted the request and appointed the Rev. Robert Aitken of Kirktilloch, to preach and preside. Messrs. John Rogers, Samuel Abernethy, David Shaw, William Martin, John Pettigrew and William Warrick were elected, and ordained in May, 1813, by the Rev. Robert Torrance of Airdrie.

On the 4th August, 1813, the congregation again petitioned the Presbytery for a moderation, offering a stipend of �80, The request was granted, but the Presbytery stipulated that the stipend should be paid in British currency, and that a convenient house should be provided for the minister. The Rev. Alexander Brown of Burntshields was appointed to preach and preside, and a call was made out for the Rev. Robert Aitken of Kirkintilloch, signed by 112 members and 22 adherents.

The Presbytery, however, declined to translate Mr. Aitken, and the congregation, on 12th April, 1814, applied again for a moderation, offering the same stipend as before. The Rev. John McKinlay of Renton, presided at a meeting of the congregation on the 8th September, 1814, when a call was made out to Mr. John Shaw, a probationer, and signed by 73 members and 4 adherents.

Mr. Shaw accepted the call, and was ordained the first minister of the congregation on 18th March, 1816. The Rev. Robert Aitken began the services by preaching from Matthew xvi.18, last clause, the Rev. Robert Torrance preached the ordination sermon from Acts xxvi. 16, and addressed pastor and people, and the services were closed by the Rev. Alexander Stark of Falkirk, who delivered a discourse from Hebrew x. 27. The day of the ordination had been looked to as a great event by the congregation; and although the church was roofless and had no seats, the people regarded these temporary inconveniences of comparatively little account on such a memorable occasion. (1) Towards the close of the service a slight shower fell, and this was regarded by many as a token "that the Almighty was now dropping the dew of heaven as His blessing."

Second Boardmills thus became the first Original Secession Church in Ireland. On the 19th October, 1817, the Rev. Shaw ordained Mr. William Stewart as the minister of Garvagh and Ballylintagh, the second congregation of this communion in Ireland. The next year they requested the Synod to erect them into a presbytery, to be called the Associate Presbytery of Down and Derry. This request was granted, and the first members were the two ministers and two elders, William Shaw of Boardmills and Joseph Warden of Garvagh.

We know nothing of the Rev. Shaw's ministry, and little of his personal life. He was a native of Boardmills, and had been educated by Professor John Rodgers of Cahans for the Burgher, ministry. Opposed to the classified Regium Donum, he joined the Boardmills congregation and was licensed as a probationer of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Original Secession Synod on 4th August, 1813. In May, 1824, he was chosen Moderator of that body, and just a year later-23rd May, 1825-he died of fever, aged thirty-seven.

Mr. Shaw married Anne Warden, a sister of Joseph Warden, the Garvagh elder, and she survived her husband for almost half a century, dying on the 29th July, 1874, at her eldest daughter's home in Coleraine. This daughter, Margaret Anne Shaw, had married her cousin, Joseph Warden Caskey, a Coleraine dentist, in 1839. The Rev. Shaw's only son, John Warden Shaw, emigrated to Canada in 1846.

(1) The church had a slab inset over the entrance, with the taunting inscription "For Christ's freemen." In the Ordnance Survey Memoirs (1837) the church is described as a plain oblong building, white-washed and slated, 66 ft. x 42 ft., and holds 560 persons. The congregation numbered 900, compared with 1,100 members of First Boardmills, and 12 Episcopalians, who worshipped in Carricknaveagh schoolhouse.




When the Rev. Shaw was ordained living conditions were very different to what they are to-day. Farms were very small, ranging in size from four to twenty acres, though a very few were thirty acres or over-for example, the townland of Killaney with 147 acres had thirteen farms, and Carrickmaddyroe had forty-one farmers on 969 acres. The farm houses were one storey, and were beginning to be slated-the first slated house in the district was John Kilpatrick's of Bresagh.

All the farmers were tenants of the Marquis of Downshire, and paid between 40s. and 45s. rent per acre, while window, hearth or land tax, county cess and tythes amounted to about 4s. 6d. or 5s. per acre.

Weaving was a common occupation in Boardmills. There were about sixty full-time weavers in the parish of Killaney, and in addition most of the farmers were part-time weavers. The linen and yarn was sold in Lisburn and Saintfield. Weavers wages were comparatively high-from 12s. to 18s. a week, compared with the 6s. received by farm labourers.

Our ancestors lived on a Spartan diet. "The basis of their food is potatoes and oatmeal; their drink, buttermilk and skimmed milk. Most of the farmers have salted pork, and many salt beef for their winter's store, but the food of the poor is rarely better than potatoes and salt, or a small herring, and sometimes butter. Oaten bread and oatmeal porridge is unfortunately a treat to the poorer classes."

The chief crops grown were potatoes, corn and flax (R. Fitzsimmons had corn and flax mills in Carrickmaddyroe, and J. Simpson had corn and flax mills in Bresagh), and the farmers chief source of income was selling salted butter and pork. In 1816 a young pig sold for 3s!