Presbyterian Church in Ireland web site 1813-1963








Following the death of the Rev. Shaw the congregation called Mr. John Downes, who was born in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, on 24th July, 1802. He received his education at the local grammar school and at the University of Glasgow. As he had also received calls from Longridge and Kennoway in Scotland the matter was referred to the Synod, which decided on the 10th May, 1826, that he should accept the call to Boardmills and appointed his ordination to be gone about in due form. He was ordained in the following year.

The Rev. Downes was a man of great versatility and talent, and his sermons, extending often to an hour and a half in length, were characterised by great vigour and poetic beauty. During his pastorate in Boardmills he published a sermon "The God of Bethel."

We also have a copy of "The Harmonic Meeting, and Other Poems," which he published in 1848. The author tells us that one of the poems "was written during a soiree held in Carrick naveagh Schoolhouse, 28th January, 1842, and read at the close of the meeting, as a small contribution to the bill of fare of the evening." The following extract, a description of the schoolhouse, is a fair sample of his poetry:-

'Low is its site, and, being made of dust,
Nor wonder ye this caravansary
Should wish to have an anniversary-
One time the platform of some tithe heatings-
Again of Missions and of Temperance meetings-
"The rising hopes" each day the master teaches;
And, now and then, a minister here preaches;
And every Sunday here, like English clergy,
The grave, good Vicar reads the Liturgy.
It serves for all-for every noble purpose-
For books and tracts, for speech, and tea, and surplice.

In 1839 the Original Secession Synod - the Old Light Burghers-joined with the Church of Scotland, leaving a small minority to protest, of whom Mr. Downes was one. They formed a Remanent Synod-Downes was Moderator in 1840-and opened negotiations with the Original Secession Synod (New Light Burghers). In September, 1841, a basis of union was prepared, and in January, 1842, agreement was reached. The union took place on the 18th May, 1842, and the new body was known as the United Original Secession Synod, and as such joined the Free Church of Scotland in May, 1852.

The Boardmills congregation was not involved with the latter union, as on the 7th July, 1851, Mr. Downes and the congregation had applied to the Belfast Presbytery to be received into the General Assembly (1) A year later, on the 7th July, 1852, the General Assembly sanctioned the action of the Presbytery in receiving them.

This step did not meet with the approval of some members of the congregation, the result being that several, who had thought it a duty to travel some miles on the Sabbath to worship at Boardmills, connected themselves with other communions or joined congregations more convenient to their homes. This weakening of the congregation, plus the fact that a few years later he became involved in a theological dispute between the Rev. George Hay Shanks of First Boardmills and the Rev. Thomas Clugston of Killaney Secession Church, encouraged the Rev. Downes to consider leaving Second Boardmills, as it was known since it joined the General Assembly. He received a call to Hobart, Tasmania, in circumstances highly honourable to himself. A Boardmills man whom Mr. Downes had educated when orphaned, influenced a call to that distant field. The call was accompanied by a cheque for �400 to bring him and his family over. Mr. Downes accepted the call, and resigned his congregation on the 7th August ,1855. Accompanied by his wife and seven children he sailed in "The Champion of the Seas" for Hobart, where he arrived in October, 1855. After several years in Tasmania he became minister of Learmouth in Victoria, and later of Clunes in the same state, where he died on the 29th May, 1866.

(1) The Burgher and Antiburgher Synods united in 1818 to form the Secession Synod. In 1840 the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod united to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.


Boardmills National School (now the church hall) with Second Boardmills Church in the background. Early photograph of Rev. Alexander Dobbin and his Session

The Rev. Downes was twice married. His first wife, whom he married on the 17th October, 1833, was Mary, eldest daughter of David Jamison of Prospect. She died on the 3rd September, 1840, aged 26. He then married, on 11th October, 1842, Martha, third daughter of John Gilmore, Ballycarnagannon, who survived him, dying in 1909, at the ripe old age of 96.

During the Rev. Downes' ministry seven members of the congregation entered the church. They were Rev. Thomas Meharry, Myroe and Bolay; Rev. James Bennet, St. John's, New Brunswick; Rev. David Walker, Kirkwall and Canada; Rev. John Blakely, Kirkintilloch; Rev. Andrew McBride, Aughnacloy; Rev. David Simpson, Dollar and Laurencekirk; and the Rev. Samuel Pettigrew of Mullabrack and Belfast. The Rev. Pettigrew's daughter married the Rev. John Moody of Killaney Secession Church.

An interesting link with Mr. Downes' ministry was broken in 1958 when the Session decided to use cardboard communion tokens, instead of the old leaden tokens which bore the date 1827.

(1) The Burgher and Antiburgher Synods united in 1818 to form the Secession Synod. In 1840 the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod united to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.


Front Row : Mr. Dales, Rev. A. Dobbin, Mr. Jas. Lvttle. Back Row : Mr. Robert Innis, Rev. J. Dobbin, Mr. James Shaw. The Manse in Early Days



Following the Rev. Downes' resignation the Belfast Presbytery appointed Rev. Professor John Edgar, Rev. Professor W. D. Killen and the Rev. D. Hamilton of York Street to take charge of the vacant congregation. The choice fell on a young probationer, Alexander Dobbin, and in November, 1855, they invited him to be their pastor, at a stipend of �35 per annum, the legal minimum. The Presbytery advised him not to accept the call until the congregation increased their offer, and he was eventually called at a stipend of �50 per annum.

Alexander Dobbin was born at Cappagh, near Banbridge, in 1829, and as his father sold his farm when Alexander was a tiny baby and bought another one at Cranfield, near Randalstown, he was brought up as a member of the Old Congregation, Randalstown. His father was a pious man with a keen interest in church affairs and a great admiration for the Rev. David McKee of First Annaghlone. (1) He encouraged his eldest son, William, to enter the Christian ministry, and he was ordained in Second Annaghlone in 1839. (2) Alexander decided to follow in his brother's footsteps, and after finishing his education at the Belfast Academy he became a missioner in Co. Cork, working under the Rev. William Irwin of Bandon, who had charge of a large district in which schools and mission stations had been established. After three years in Munster Dobbin returned to Belfast to pursue his theological studies under the Rev. Henry Cooke.

After his ordination on the 27th December, 1855, the Rev. Dobbin entered heartily and loyally into the work set before him, and succeeded in a short time in securing the esteem and affection of his own congregation and the respect of the whole neighbourhood. He was a most faithful pastor, regular and systematic in his visitations, and most attentive to the wants of the sick and dying, whilst his pulpit ministrations gave ample evidence of extensive reading and careful preparation.

During his long ministry many improvements were made to the church property, a manse was built in 1860-61, the schoolhouse was re-built in 1892, and the church was renovated in 1880 and 1901. On the occasion of the re-opening after the latter renovation the service was conducted by Rev. Dr. Lynd of May Street, and the Rev. Dobbin was privileged to announce that all the church property was entirely free from debt.
In September, 1903, owing to increasing years, the Rev. Dobbin felt compelled to act upon the permission given to him by the General Assembly to retire from the active duties of the ministry, and he died on the 8th September, 1909.

(1) Rev. D. McKee was the son of Hugh McKee, Poagsburn, Carricknaveagh.
(2) Rev. W. Dobbin (1816-1901) was an active member of the Tenant-Right movement, and was author of several pamphlets and many magazine and newspaper articles. The subject on which he wrote most was Assurance of Faith, and in connection with this doctrine he engaged in a controversy extending over many years, till at length it reached a climax in a debate in the General Assembly.



The Rev. Alexander Dobbin married Marianne, youngest daughter of Andrew Ringland, Killyleagh, by whom he had a family of three daughters and six sons, and was greatly pleased when the congregation chose his third son, John Wilson Dobbin, as his assistant and successor, and he was ordained on the 26th November, 1903.

The new minister had a somewhat varied and remarkable career. After leaving the Belfast Model School at the age of twelve he had entered a linen firm as an apprentice, and rose to the position of manager. He decided to enter the Christian ministry, and to have more leisure for study joined a firm of accountants. When qualified as an accountant he became registrar of Campbell College, and in 1900 graduated B.A. with honours in History and Political Science from the Royal University of Ireland. He then took a theological course at Assembly's College, and became assistant to the Rev. John McDermot of Belmont.

After a brief ministry, Mr. Dobbin resigned on the 14th February, 1907, to accept a call from the congregation of Houghton-le-Spring, Co. Durham. He later emigrated to Canada and became minister of Qualicum Beach, Vancouver, where he died on the 10th October, 1924.