Dromore and District Local Historical Group Journal

Volume 2-1992





On the 4th November, 1884 Mary Ferguson presented her husband James with a son, Henry George. The family home, Lake House at Growell near Dromore is where the young boy grew up with his 3 sisters and 7 brothers. His father was a farmer and unlike many farmers of his day he owned the 100 acres that he earned his living from and provided work and food for the family.

James and Mary Ferguson were devout religious people being members of Growell Gospel Hall. Family life was characterised by allegianceThe family home at Growell to the Bible and so young Harry (as he was called) grew up under this influence. It was an influence that was to have the opposite effect to that which his parents would have desired. Harry left school at the age of 14 and started work on the farm. The hard work of farming and the light stature of Harry together with the pressures being brought to bear on him by his parents made him think of leaving home. He seriously considered emigrating to Canada and had the necessary papers in his possession ready to head for foreign shores when his older brother Joe made him an offer of a job in Belfast.

Joe had got an apprenticeship as a maintenance mechanic with the firm of Combe Barbour, Linen Spinners, in 1895. He then set up in business on his own in the Autumn of 1901 on the Shankill Road as a car and cycle repair shop. Harry joined his brother as an apprentice and together with their love of things mechanical they established what was described by many as the best business of it's kind in Belfast and they developed into a financially sound business. Just a few years earlier the bank had refused to lend them any money because "the automotive industry had no future"!

Many people came to Joe's garage to have their cars tuned and serviced and it was here that Harry met some people who would have an input to his life at a later date. One such person was T. McGregor Greer, a wealthy landowner from Tullylagen, Co. Tyrone. Greer had a passion for cars and Harry became a frequent visitor to the estate to repair his various cars.

Harry had a love for racing and he became known as the "mad mechanic" because of the many stunts he attempted. Racing was not enough to keep him on the ground and he became interested in aviation. He attempted many times to get airborne and spent some time at Newcastle trying to get in the air with the hopes of landing on the beach. Huge crowds gathered on many occasions but they all ended in failure and for many people he became something of a maverick. Plaque on Harry Ferguson's birch place (G.M.) However, Harry did not give up and he successfully

Harry Ferguson with Henry Ford and the tractor in America in 1939. (courtesy of Ulster Folk and Transport Museum). got airborne from Dundrum Bay. This was in 1909 and the first flight over Ireland to be recorded.

Back at the business however signs of strain between the brothers were starting to emerge. It was not over any particular piece ofHarry Ferguson with Henry Ford in America in 1939 (courtesy of Ulster Folk and Transport Muesm). mechanical engineering but rather over a special young lady whom Harry had started to keep company with and it being the same lady upon whom Joe also had designs that caused the friction. She was Maureen Watson, the daughter of a Dromore grocer and it was Harry who won the day. Despite strong objections from Maureen's parents who were members of the Brethren as well and knew the Ferguson family they felt that the "mad mechanic" was not the man for their daughter. Harry had by this time declared himself to be agnostic and this was a further reason as to why Harry should not marry Maureen. The wedding nevertheless did take place at Newry Registry Office.

Harry then set up in business backed by his good friend McGregor Greer and he opened the May Street Motor Co in Belfast.

Joe would not allow him to open up under the name of Ferguson. Within a year the name of the firm was known as Harry Ferguson Motors. He became the distributor for Austin Cars in Northern Ireland and the business later moved to Donegall Square East in Belfast, at the side of the City Hall.

Being from an agricultural background and with his mechanical ability Harry had taken an interest in the many attempts to bring mechanisation to farming. He studied the many pieces of machinery that were emerging from various manufacturers and whilst regarding them as innovative he felt that they lacked a system that would make the tractor more effective and labour saving to the farming community. He had an idea to introduce a hydraulic system that would enable implements to be attached to the tractor from a single hitch point. Harry brought together a design team to put his ideas onto paper and eventually into production. At the same time Henry Ford was making tractors in America. Harry felt that they could conquer the industry together and after contacting Ford he eventually visited America to show Ford his ideas and plans. Ford and Ferguson went into partnership in 1938 by the way of a "gentleman's fitted agreement" and soon production of the Fordson tractor with the Ferguson hydraulic system was rolling off the line and being sold on both sides of the Atlantic. Ferguson realised that if the tractor was to be successful then its virtues had to be shown to the farming community at large. He had a flair for marketing and so he organised various demonstrations around the Ulster countryside so that farmers could come and see for themselves the wonders of this mechanised horse! Many carne to laugh and to pour scorn on Harry but he was not put off as he continued to give shows all over the country Harry Ferguson knew that what he had developed would prove to be a winner all over the agricultural world.

Demonstrating the tractor to Winston Churchill and Christopher Soames at Chartwell. (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum)

Trouble lay ahead for Ferguson and Ford and soon their partnership was to come to an end not in an agreeable way but by the means of the Law Courts. A dispute arose between the two men that resulted in the longest law suit in history to take place. The hearing lasted from 1948 until 1956 and Harry Ferguson won the case and was awarded several million pounds in damages.

Ferguson of course was a wealthy man before this case but now he was considerably wealthier though his outlet for the tractor was gone. After some time he became involved with the Massey Engineering Company and this eventually led to the formation of the Massey Ferguson Company, a name that is well remembered to this day for its production of red tractors.

Time for Harry Ferguson was passing on and he and his wife bought a large estate near Coventry called Abbotswood. It was near to his design centre though the house had a large study which Ferguson used as a base to work from. Often as he would be driven through the countryside he would watch out for one of his tractors at work in the fields. He would ask his chauffeur to pull up and he would often get out and speak to the farmer or help him if he was experiencing any mechanical difficulties with the machine. In most cases the farmer would have had no idea who this man was that had helped him.

When he was back in Ulster he usually called with the late Joe Martin who lived in Mount Street, Dromore and who had been one of his close mechanical companions during those early days of aviation and in the garage in Belfast. Ferguson's influence was far and wide and while he had friends from lowly places he had friends in high places. A frequent visitor to Abbotswood was Christopher Soames son in law of Winston Churchill. Ferguson had the privilege of demonstrating the tractor to Winston and he sought to get Churchill to adopt a price reduction policy after the war to get the country going again. Churchill did not buy the idea and of course he lost the next election. Had he taken Ferguson's idea on board things may have proved different and a Dromore man may have been credited with keeping Churchill in power.

He was not an easy man to work for or to work with. Some of the staff at Abbottswood will recall how he ran the place with military precision. Meals would always be on time and great attention to detail would be given. He liked to see an even overhang of the sheets on the bed and his shoe laces must always have an equal length of lace for tying! This was just a development of the attention that he paid to all areas of his life. He loved to see things neat and tidy. On one occasion he had a meeting with his dealers and Ferguson appeared on the rostrum looking somewhat scruffy and with oily marks on his face. The audience started to talk amongst themselves when Ferguson spoke loudly and said that if their business premises looked scruffy and dirty people would not pay any attention to them. He had proved his point and after cleaning up he returned and gave his dealers an address on selling.

He was always pleased to hear of new advances that his tractor was making in different parts of the world and he received many letters including some from Africa. In parts of the world today the tractor is called the Fergie more often than it is called tractor.

Harry Ferguson and his wife continued to live at their country home. It was the first time that they could call this place their home. So much time had been spent living in America and in other places in England. He would often be seen out on the fields working with the tractor. He spent a lot of his time in correspondence to the Government, to the press and to many others.

Every morning at precisely 8.30 he came down and joined his wife at breakfast. One morning in October 1960, the 25th, he did not appear at the usual time and after the alarm was raised a member of staff found his body in the bath. Harry Ferguson was dead. Yet the memory of this great man lives on. So many years earlier he knew that if man was to survive he needed food and that meant cultivation of the earth. His life was dedicated to pioneering a system that would make this easier for the farmer and give to the world an instrument that would help nations cultivate their land and feed their people.

Harry Ferguson is a man that should be remembered for time immemorial because his inventions and pioneering spirit contribute so much to life today. The tractor, the aircraft and the four wheel drive system that he developed are all modes of transport that are taken for granted in this modern mechanised age. Plaques on the building at Donegall Square East, the Promenade at Newcastle and on the house at Growell all pay tribute to Harry Ferguson, Inventor and Pioneer.

Dromore Co. Down The Stepping Stones near Dromore
Dromore Co. Down The Stepping Stones near Dromore


Amid the hills of County Down,
On Ireland's northern shore.
There is a place of fair renown
It's the City of Dromore.
T'was there I found an early love
That touched an inmost core,
And caused my rambling steps to rove
Towards the City of Dromore.

`Neath the Viaduct a tryst we made
Beside a bluebell grove.
And on the river's bank we strayed
To tell our tale of love.
By the Avenue past Bishopscourt,
Which once a Palace bore,
We spied the gambolling lambs at sport
Near the City of Dromore.

We saw the wallflower wildly grow
On the crumbling Castle walls.
And watched the lazy Lagan flow
Where the Cathedral's shadow falls
On the old Cross our thoughts did dwell
Rare relic of days of yore.
And we listened to the vesper bell
In the City of Dromore.

We scaled the spiral Norman Mound
By the feet of ages worn
And viewed the landscape all around
To the distant peaks of Mourne.
As on the summit fringe we stood.
We pictured sights before
Of roofs of straw and swellings rude.
In the City of Dromore.

Those far off scenes I oft recall,
Their memory naught can sever.
Mid shade and shine whate'er befall
They haunt my visions ever.
Though circumstance caused us to part
And seas between us roar;
Still I left a portion of my heart
In the City of Dromore.

A Dromore-man (who wishes to remain anonymous) was inspired to compose this poem, having read in our last Journal of the lack of any song about Dromore. Admittedly this could be sung 'if there was an air to it.' Can anyone suggest a pleasing traditional tune that would fit?



My Lagan LoveWhen Hamilton M'Bride's Stitching Factory was built in Dromore on the banks of the Lagan around 1900, it necessitated the construction of a millrace to provide the power to propel the machinery. A suitable head of water was required to give a constant flow in the millrace and this was established by placing a weir across the Lagan 1/2 mile upstream from the factory. The resulting damming of the river gave a stretch of water approximately 200 yards long and varying in depth from three to seven feet. It also gave us the Lagan Lido; a free gratis swimming pool for the use of generations to come.

What a great joy it is to reflect down the years as myriad memories jostle each other in my mind, of those apparently rain-free summers when we boys; and latterly and insidiously the girls - for prudence dictated that females should not encroach within a hundred yards of this undressed male preserve on penalty of being branded a "brazen hussy" - eventually indulged in mixed bathing. Eve had arrived and fig-leaves were a must.

My first introduction to this aquatic paradise was when, as a 5 year old, I was taken by my older brother across fields, over ditches, through barbed-wire fences - with the inevitable snagging of clothes on barbs - till at last the panoramic vision of the promised land lay before our eyes. The gentle cascade of water over the weir all a-bubble of spume and froth, the groups of bathers at their favourite bathing points along the river bank. The little piles of clothing discarded in hurried abandon as their owner's hastened to get into the swim; but the towels carefully draped on rushes or bushes to dry in the sun.

Eventually we reached a part of the river called "The Wee Pool" which because of it's shallowness; was ideal for `L' or kindergarten beginners. As a five year old I had neither bathing pants or modesty and to this day, some sixty years on, I vividly recall being led by the hand of big brother until the water reached my belly-button - which is the Plimsoll Line for young bathers - and the fear that I would be lifted clean off my feet by the buoyant water and drowned, but for the reassurance of the hand on mine, The tentative attempts, aborted at the last moment, to duck entirely under the water. Until finally with clenched teeth, a sharp intake of breath, eyes tightly closed, I submerged and surfaced again gasping and spluttering, a baptised bather.

Thus began an alliance with the Lagan which provided the happiest hours of my young life. To-day at the drop of a sleepy eyelid I can relive, like a replayed video, the sights, sounds and sensations of life on the Lagan. The bird song, particularly the Chiff-chaff, whose voice repeated his name over and over again. The yellowhammer not to be outdone sang unmistakably "A little bit of bread and no cheese".

The swallows who, when we were in mid-stream, seemed to be heading straight for our heads like miniature spitfires at water level. The lazy, languid wing-beat of the Heron which belied the speed of his stabbing beak as he speared another fish. The flashing vivid colours of the Kingfisher as he hurtled up stream and the almost indiscernible speck high in the sky where the Skylark rehearsed his repertoire of sun-sponsored songs.

There were the other winged marauders in the shape of clegs that feasted on our bare bodies and burst in a mess of blood when we managed to swat them. And the Daddy-longlegs who looked so drab compared with his colourful look-alike, the Dragonfly.

Overall was the continuous hum of flying insects, interspersed with the castanets of the Grasshoppers and the popping of whins as they ejected their seeds. While the brousing cows would come inquisitively to the waters edge, attracted by the splashing of our swimming, and nose and tentatively nibble at our clothing strewn on the river bank.

There were about six main bathing spots on the river. Starting from the weir itself and much favoured by mothers with paddling toddlers. The next, and my favourite spot, was 100 yards up-stream called "The Gib" where a huge submerged stone measuring about six feet by four feet suggested a miniature Rock of Gibraltar - hence the "Gib". Further along was the "Ash Tree", the deepest part of the river where the elevated bank provided a natural diving platform. Further along still was the "Policeman's Pool" where according to legend a policeman was drowned. Even on a sunny day there was always a sombre, brooding menace hanging over the small, dark and deep pool. We children gave it a wide berth as we hurried on to the "Wee Island", which was a raised shelf of rock and silt splitting the river into two channels of fast flowing water below which Gudgeons cavorted in shimmering shoals, providing the amateur angler with inexpensive sport using his best pin and a grub from the river-bed as a lure. "The Wee Pool" was but a stone's throw from here and "Brennan's Pool" and the "Stepping Stones" marked the boundary of our aquatic playground.

But it was not to last. The unthinkable happened when the stitching factory no longer needed the millrace for power, and farmers who owned land adjoining the river complained about their fields being inundated with flood water which could have been dispersed but for the weir spoiling the drainage. . It was a disastrous day for swimmers when the weir was breached in numerous places and the river level sank several feet - even the submerged "Gib" stone was now exposed - and our Lagan Lido was ruined and a great play area devastated.

But it will forever remain in my memory in all it's natural, pristine, condition when it was the love of my young life and as years pass by it diminishes not and distance lends enchantment. From time to time I have tried my hand at composing poetry and lying on the river bank was most conducive for this pastime. It was in such a setting that I mused over John Masefield's "Sea Fever", the opening lines of which read "I must down to the sea again. To the lonely sea and the sky And all I want is a tall ship and a star to sail her by."

I parodied it with the following, which encapsulates the thoughts of.

The Lagan Layabout

I must down to the "Gib" again,
To the lovely "Gib" and the sky.
And all I want is a tall blonde
With a clear and starry eye
And a sweet lip and a neat hip,
And no teeth missing.
With two shapely legs, and her own 'fegs',
And a fierce desire for kissing!

The blonde was fictional but my Lagan reveries were real.



Our local mount has, in some circles, become known as the mound.

However, instead of this more genteel and probably more correct title I much prefer the use of the old traditional name. That this is based on common, local usage can be seen by the fact that the street leading to it from the Market Square has always been known as Mount Street.

Learned sources tell us that our prominent local landmark is in fact a Motte with an accompanying Bailey - an Anglo-Norman defensive earthworks, built, it is believed in the 13th Century. It is known that the native Irish also constructed similar `raised' raths. In considering the great number of raths still existing in the vicinity it is not unlikely that the Normans used an existing rath as the basis for their later fortification. In any case, what we have today is one of the best preserved examples of this type of Norman military earthworks existing in the North of Ireland.

John DeCourcy's northwards thrust from Dublin in 1177, in which with a force of 22 knights and some 300 foot soldiers, he carved out for himself a considerable fiefdom in the Northeast of this country. This resulted in the appearance of a great many Norman fortifica tions in this area. Some 40 such mottes have been identified in Co. Down with 70 being found in Co. Antrim.

The Mount, DromoreThe use of the motte seems to have been an important factor in the Norman's military strategy. One is depicted being constructed at Hastings in the Bayeaux Tapestry. It would have been relatively simple to construct during a campaign and must have proved to have been a particularly effective instrument in an alien environment, as here it is being employed in Ireland a couple of centuries later. Their purpose would appear to have been the provision of a secure base for military operations. Somewhat similar to today's fortified Police and Army posts throughout the province. In many cases the simple motte was further developed into stone built castles - as in the case of Greencastle in South Down. This was presumably done to meet prevailing requirements. Although few records exist of the Norman occupation of the Mount, it has been calculated (based on the food supply required for Dundrum castle) that a possible garrison of 2 knights, 11 foot soldiers, 12 servants and archers may have been based in the fortification.

The Dromore Mount occupies a fine defensive position, being situated on a ridge and within a bend in the Lagan. It's height would have afforded commanding views of the river crossings in the area. Overlooking Dromore on the North East of the town the circular motte, which rises some 40 ft. above the encircling ditch, which not only encloses the rectangular bailey but serves to separate the two, has a curious narrow shoulder around it's circumference at about two-thirds of it's height. The summit is surrounded by a low bank, as is the much lower bailey. The fortification is further protected on three of it's sides by an outer rampart and ditch. However, in the case of the bailey, this does not extend along it's Western side, where the ground falls steeply away to the river. Further fortifications, which were probably of timber, can only now be guessed at, although it is thought that both motte and bailey were originally linked by means of a swing bridge. Excavations carried out in the 1950's suggested that original defences on the top of the motte consisted of a wooden palisade. A few years later a further excavation of the bailey produced no sign of medieval occupation, but uncovered part of the wall of a brick-built structure which was possibly 18th century.

A local belief exists that there is an underground cave or tunnel linking the Mount with the old castle in the town. J. F. Mulligan thought that in an old description of the Mount, reference to a covered way 260 foot long, 7 foot wide and 9 foot deep leading from the Lagan up to the Mount, may have given rise to this mistaken belief. He was of the opinion that the covered way referred to the deep and wide ditch at the South East side of the site, leading to the river. The purpose of this ditch is a matter for conjecture. It may have served to drain the ditches surrounding the motte and bailey. But in that case why was it covered? Like Mulligan, I have found no evidence supporting the belief in a linking tunnel. The fact that the dates of construction of both fortifications are centuries apart and that they occupy opposite banks of the river some distance apart makes the existence of such a tunnel somewhat doubtful. J. F. Mulligan may be right. The covered way at the Mount and the discoveries of a cave and tunnel at the old castle may have linked themselves in people's minds when in actuality they are linked only by the river Lagan.

A few centuries ago the Mount seems to have been the focal point for various sports and pastimes for the young people of the town at Easter time. The Dromore poet Thomas Stott (1755 - 1829) added the following footnote to his poem celebrating the Mount of Dromore.

"N.B. It has long been the annual custom for the young folk around Dromore to assemble on Easter Monday, and amuse themselves in various ways, on this celebrated Mount, one of the completest specimens in the north of Ireland." Indeed to the present day some of our older inhabitants will address the following query to children at Easter - "Are ye goin' up to the Mount to `trinnle' yer egg?"

In the more recent past the Mount would appear to have served as the Town Park where it was possible to promenade and take the air on Sundays or holidays. The concrete bases can still be found on the outer ramparts which once held metal summerseats.

Over the centuries the Mount has become synonymous with Dromore. More so, perhaps, when the main Belfast/Dublin road ran through the town and the northern approach provided ample views of this local landmark.

It is a relic of our past of which we should be rightly proud. Today it's outlines are still clearly delineated, one wonders how much the absence of trees and undergrowth from it's grassy slopes has contributed to the retention of it's distinct outlines down the ages. . While at present it's care is in the capable hands of the D.O.E. - Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, the continuing maintenance of it's well-being is the duty of each and every citizen of Dromore.

In years gone by it was known as "the great fort" and it's existence may even be the reason for the name of the town itself. Long may it's prominent and unmistakeable slopes rise above our town!

Information for this article has been drawn from the following sources:

A talk to the historical group by Nick Brannon,
An Archaeological Survey of County Down (HMSO 1966), `A Ramble Through Dromore'- J. F. Mulligan,
`Songs of Deardra' - Thomas Stott,
and from a compilation of local history by Dromore High School.


(My wife and I went to see a former Dromore lady, Miss Grace May Kerr who lives at Shimna Road, Newcastle. She was born in Dromore and moved to Newcastle with her mother, Mrs. Olive Bertha Kerr in 1934, where her mother kept a boarding house. Grace worked for Newcastle Council until she retired. The following article contains the conversation that we had with her.)

Grace was born in Rose Cottage next to Pantridge's coachworks on the Ballynahinch Road in 1905 and was the daughter of Richard and Olive Bertha Kerr. Her father was a cabinet maker and worked for Harland and Wolf. He played football for Glentoran and had won a gold medal along with some other awards. Her mother was a daughter of David Johnston a building contractor. Her parents met at Gillhall while on a visit to the Castle, where the Ghost of Gillhall tragedy had taken place. (For a full account of that incident see Vol. 1 of the journal.) Her father unfortunately contracted an illness and he died early in life.

Her grandfather in his capacity as a builder had worked on the Ulster Bank (Henry Hobart of Quilly being the architect) and he was also responsible for mounting the stocks outside the Town Hall in 1910. He also mounted the Celtic Cross at Banbridge Road.

The Kerr's lived where Reid's newsagents is in the square and ran a shop there which amongst other things sold ice cream.

Grace recalls the army buying horses in the square for use in the 1914-18 war and the square being packed with horses.

After Richard died Mrs. Kerr bought the Stag's Head public house in Church Street from a Mr. Stewart and she changed the name to the Railway Hotel. The spirits licence was given up in 1915. She kept boarders, usually bank officials and Dr. J. C. Wilson stayed with them when he first came to Dromore. Next door to them in Church Street a Miss Jardine lived in the Temperance Hotel. Grace attended the Church School where Mr. Loughery was headmaster and afterwards went to Miss Dunn's Secretarial School in Belfast. She played the organ in Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church until they went to live in Newcastle in 1934.

Mrs. Kerr had three sisters, Margaret who married James Ledgett who had a butchers shop beside Reid's newsagents, they had a family of five daughters Queenie, Elsie, Peggy, Dorothy and Josephine. Mrs. Kerr's other sister Sophie was a V.A.D. nurse in the 1914-18 war. She married an army chaplain. Maud, another sister went to live in Australia.

Grace's grandfather was a founder member of the Independant order of Rechabites, organised in Dromore in 1894. He was also a member of RAC No 70 Masonic Lodge. He died in 1931 and was buried in Banbridge Road graveyard.

Grace Kerr is now 87 years of age and still has a great memory. Her mother died in 1978 just a few months before her 98th birthday

The Colvill Family in Dromore, Co. Down in the Eighteenth Century

The Colvill family was connected with Dromore over a period of eighty years, but during that brief span they exerted an influence over the local Presbyterian congregation which was to affect its future and involve it in the wider history of the Presbyterian Church in Ulster. The first of the name at Dromore was;


Alexander Colvill was minister of the Presbyterian congregation of Dromore in the County Down (1700-1719). He was born in Scotland and obtained his M.A. at Edinburgh in 1689. On the occasion of his marriage to Christian Thompson in Edinburgh on the 4th August 1692 his occupation was given as that of a schoolmaster. He was ordained at Newtownards on 26th July, 1696 but removed to the congregation in Dromore in 1700.

Colvill was a member of the Belfast Society, a society which was formed about 1705 and comprised Ministers and students who met to discuss, confer and debate on matters of religion and operate in concert for the purchase of books. The members came from various Presbyteries and Belfast being central to their various residences they met there and became known as the Belfast Society. Colvill died prior to the major Synodical controversy which involved that Society.

Mr. Colvill attended regularly the meetings of the General Synod of Ulster, served on various committees and was chosen Moderator on 23 June 1713 at Antrim. The following year he opened the Synod at Belfast by preaching on 1 Timothy 4:16, "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." He died suddenly on 1st December 1719 in his pulpit at Dromore while conducting the service and was buried the following day.

Alexander Colvill had, as far as is known two children. His daughter Christian married John Bradner who was recorded as a student of Divinity in Dromore in 1714; and his son Alexander who succeeded him at Dromore.


Dr. Alexander Colvill was the son of the Rev. Alexander Colvill above mentioned. Colvill graduated M.A. at Edinburgh on 2nd March 1715 and was studying medicine on the death of his father. The Dromore congregation urged him to become their minister and he went through a theological course at Edinburgh under William Dunlop. He acted as tutor to the family of Major Hay of Parbroath for a while and he signed the Westminster Confession of Faith and was licenced by the Presbytery of Cupar in Fife on 19th June 1722.

On being called to Dromore he applied in 1724 to the Presbytery of Armagh to ordain him as minister of Dromore. The Presbytery refused on the grounds that he had declined to renew his subscription and Colvill appealed to the Sub-Synod and then to the General Synod. Fearing an adverse decision at appeal he left for London, with the consent of his session in December 1724 and was ordained by ten non-subscribing Presbyterian ministers in the vestry of Dr. Calamy's Church; Joshus Oldfield, the leader of the London nonsubscribers, presiding.

He returned to his congregation in Dromore and they applied to the Presbytery of Armagh to install him as they now claimed that all difficulties in the way of his ordination had been removed. The Presbytery rejected outright the application and refused to receive him as a member because Mr. Colvill, contrary to his promise of subjection to the Presbytery, without their knowledge, or consent or any certificate from them had withdrawn himself from under their conduct, obtained ordination and on his return exercised his ministry in Dromore a vacant congregation under their inspection without their consent, or appointment and without having produced his Certificates before any of the Synods.

In June 1725, Colvill's appeal from the sentence of the Synod of Armagh was prosecuted by Robert Hamilton, John Beard, Adam Keatley, Jam. Ker and George Woods commissioners who appeared for the majority of the congregation and the minority were represented by Captain John Magill and others who earnestly desired that Mr. Colvill would not be settled in Dromore for it was against their consciences to submit to his ministry.

The Commissioners were asked if they would subject themselves to the judgement of Synod on this affair and they answered in writing that they would do all they could for the preservation of the peace order and just authority of the Church but did not indicate that they would accept the judgement. The Synod now decided to consider the conduct of Mr. Colvill and the people of Dromore before it entered into a discussion of the appeal. This decision was minuted and read to Colvill and his commissioners who were asked to attend on 22nd June, but on the appointed day Colvill did not appear and his commissioners requested a dismiss from the General Synod. This request was refused, and in the absence of his commissioners Colvill was suspended until the first meeting of the Synod of Armagh in October, and afterwards until he give satisfaction to the Presbytery of Armagh for his irregular practices.

The Synod then agreed that Mr. Samuel Henry should go to Dromore and preach in their Meeting House and intimate the sentence of Mr. Colvill's suspension to that congregation, and if the major party refused to give him access to their meeting house, (which was to prove the case) he was to preach to the minor party. Mr. Henry was to convey the sentence of suspension to Colvill and a letter was to be written to the people of Dromore to exhort them to their duty.

Colvill's rebellion was virtually complete; he continued to preach to his congregation disregarding the sentence of the Synod and applied to the ministers in Dublin to receive him into their Association and to install him. A deputation of three ministers, Choppin of Dublin, McGachy of Athy, and Woods of Summerhill, together with Smyth from the Munster presbytery journeyed North and installed Dr. Colvill as the minister on 25th October 1725. The congregation became a non-subscribing congregation but continued to use old Meeting House until a new one was erected near the Pound at the head of Meeting Street then called Pound Street. Colvill became a member of the Presbytery of Antrim and represented them in consultations with the General Synod.

Colvill's first publication was the funeral sermon preached at Downpatrick, March 24, 1744 for the late Mr. Thomas Nevin a gentleman who featured to an even greater extent in the Non-subscription controversy. His other publications were (1) The Persecuting, Disloyal, and Absurd Tenets of those who affect to call themselves Seceders laid open and refuted, in a letter addressed to the People under the care of the Presbytery of Antrim. Belfast, 1749, (2) Some important Queries humbly and earnestly recommended to the serious consideration of the Protestant Dissenters in the North of Ireland belonging to the Synodical Association, Belfast, 1773.

At the outbreak of the rebellion in 1745 Colvill obtained from Lord Chesterfield a commission for raising a Volunteer Corps of which he was Captain with other officers Lt. Wm. Hall and Ensign Richard Foule.

An indication of Alexander Colvill's property interests is obtained from an examination of the Registry of Deeds. A deed of lease dated 10 November 1749 between Colvill and Francis McClelland of Ballynafoy records a letting of 32 acres 3 roods for a term of 2000 years at a clear yearly rent of �9.16.10 stirling. A mortgage deed dated 23rd December 1749 records the sale to William Colvill of the City of Dublin Gent of the upper quarter of the townland of Ballynafoy, containing 132 acres 1 rood for a term of 500 years at a consideration of �315 stirling.

From Colvill's funeral service preached by the Rev. James Bryson, of Lisburn we obtain a cameo sketch and estimation of his character.

"It is well known that he early applied himself to the study of polite and useful learning, and his profiting was quickly known to all. And, to say nothing of the improvements which he made of a liberal education, by much reading, and an extensive acquaintance with men of all ranks and professions; the very greatness of his own spirit, which seemed to render him almost independent of those helps and that severe application by which other men arrive at knowledge, would have rendered him the admiration of the discerning, and the delight of his friends. It is but strict justice to the memory of so great a man to declare, that in strength, boldness and energy of thought, in a rich, clear and comprehensive understanding; and in all the qualities of accuracy in reasoning, readiness of speech, uninterrupted presence of mind and masterly command of his talents, to which these gave birth, he has been but rarely equalled among the sons of men.

His moral temper was strongly marked with the most honourable characters of generosity, sincerity, plain dealing, and integrity. To these he added a fortitude fit to brave the greatest dangers, a constancy not to be subdued by the most unrelenting opposition, and an openness of heart and freedom of speech, through which his whole soul might be perceived at once, on every subject that he thought important. The fear of man never awed him into silence. The hope of being patronized, never betrayed him into the meanness of adulation. His piety was the result of the justest and most worthy sentiments of almighty God; and, like them, was equally removed from the irrational fervors of enthusiasm and the gloomy horrors of superstition.

He loved mankind, and of course he was fond of the society of men: and few have ever combined the talents of pleasing and improving, in a higher degree. He gave life to reasoning, and force to wit. While the strongest imagination and a memory which knew not what it was to fail or to betray, enchanted and delighted; so sound an understanding, so correct a judgement of men and things, could not miss to supply instruction on every subject. He was a stedfast and unshaken friend of civil and religious liberty. His conduct during that most illiberal of all rebellions in the year 1745, is a proof of the former: and as to the latter, it is sufficient to say, that he was from the beginning a fellow-labourer with the immortal Abernethy, Halliday, Bruce, Kirkpatrick, etc. in defence of the religious rights of men and christians. Few men understood this subject better, or were capable of defending it in a more masterly manner.

As to his public character among you; his extensive knowledge of the great principles of natural religion, and his intimate acquaintance with the scriptures, qualified him to discharge his duty in a very useful and honourable manner. In devotion, he was rational, solemn and affecting. In preaching, which he always performed without the aid of papers in the pulpit, he was clear, distinct, and instructive: he delivered himself with dignity and ease; and displayed an astonishing flow of ready, unaffected eloquence, remote alike from the swellings of pomp, and the meanness of familiarity. In expounding the scriptures, he possessed talents which all must envy, but few indeed, need hope to equal. In sum. Doctor Colvill was distinguished through his whole life by a generous contempt of the world, a frank and open heart, a liberal turn of thought, a remarkable command of temper, an active desire to do good, strong social affections, an undaunted courage, and perfect prefence of mind."

Alexander Colvill died of apoplexy on 23rd April 1777 in his 78th year and his will dated 3rd October 1772 refers to a son and five daughters. The daughters were married to: Mr. Isaac Moreland of Tullindony, Mr. William Blackwell of Belfast a cabinet maker, Mr. Dickson of Dromore, Rev. Isaac Patrick, Minister of Magherally, and Mr. Henry Munroe of Tullylish. The latter was the father of the celebrated beauty Dorothea Munroe referred to by Oliver Goldsmith in the Haunch of Venison, and whose portraits by Angelica Kauffman are in the National Gallery, Dublin. A son Alexander Colvill is recorded as a witness in deeds of lease by his father in 1749 but little else is known about him. Colvill's other son Maturine did not long survive him.


Maturine Colvill, a son of the above - Dr. Alexander Colvill, had emigrated to America, n 1762/3 and disembarked at Charlestown South Carolina. He later acquired plantations and negro slaves in Bladen County, North Carolina and was killed in September 1781 during the American War of Independence. The Tories of Bladen County had been active against the Whigs and Hector McNeill who commanded the Tories was killed at Lindleys Mill on Cane Creek. On his death a commission was sent to Maturine Colvill to take command of the Loyalists in Bladen County, which he accepted. His command was brief as the Dickson letters record "Some of the leading men of the Whig Party in that county and Mr. Colvill having formerly been obnoxious to each other occasioned by some dispute among themselves, and they dreading his courage and intrepidity and the impetuosity of his temper, which some of them very well knew would be fatal to some, as soon as he came to lad his troops, it was so contrived that he was soon taken off by a party who slew him in his own house the morning of the same day in which he was to have headed his loyal troops."

Following Maturine Colvill's death, the quest for the Colvill estate took Patrick Neil, and Joseph Dickson from Dromore to North Carolina. Possession of one of the plantations and some of the slaves was obtained by a Mr. Patrick and his plantation, which rented out in 1786 and the negroes hired for wages produced a combined annual income of one hundred and thirty pounds.

This account of the Colvill's is restricted to the Dromore branch of that family, but the author would welcome any information on their connection with the family of Sir Robert Colvill of Newtownards and William Colvill of Dublin.


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