The Gaelic Drummor means `The Great Ridge' and
was a place where the river Lagan was crossed from earliest times -
there was a ford. It was only natural that around such a place a
village would spring up. The imposing earth work (known as The
Mount), overlooking the place of crossing, is Norman and probably
dates back to the 11th century. It indicates the strategic position
of the ford. There had been an Abbey here from the 6th Century, with
Saint Colman the first Bishop of the See of Dromore.
In the 17th Century the Cathedral was built or
rebuilt with a tower house opposite to defend The Bishop's Palace.
Sadly, the Cathedral, the Castle, the unfinished bishop's palace and
the small developing town were all destroyed by the troops of Oliver
Cromwell during the Reformation period. The first bridge over the
Lagan was called Bishop's Bridge in memory of Bishop Percy. After
the accession of Charles II the town made a recovery. On several
occasions Dromore was a place of battle. For instance, the forces of
James and William met, in March, 1688, over a year before the Battle
of the Boyne. The skirmish was known as `'The Break of Dromore."
In the middle of the last century Dromore was an
important town with a population of about 2,000. The old coach road
from Carrickfergus to Dublin ran through Dromore. It followed the
line of the Milebush Road-a Toll House still stands at the North end
of this road-then by Gallows Street, across the Square, along Bridge
Street, up Rampart Street and ultimately up what is now known as the
Rowantree Road. This North-South traffic added to the importance of
Today Dromore is by-passed by a dual-carriageway.
This, far from damaging the town, has brought new life and
especially since 1982 many new housing estates have been developed.
The village image of Dromore with its fairs, its
home weaving, and small factories has gone. It is now growing
quickly and has become a very pleasant dormitory town, many of its
people travelling to Belfast and the surrounding towns to work.
Since the last war most of its houses have been replaced and it
would be true to say that more additional houses have been built in
the last five years than in the previous hundred years. It is a good
time for the businesses, for the schools and for the churches. A
bright future awaits this lovely old town, built on the banks of the
Lagan River. As long as the river flows may Dromore prosper.
The Presbyterian churches in Ireland prior to
April 1840 belonged to one of the two Synods, the Synod of Ulster or
the Secession Synod. Since the Union of these two Synods took place
during the time the congregation of Second Dromore was being
established it is interesting to look at what was happening in the
church at large.
It was to the Secession Synod that those wishing
to establish a congregation in Dromore applied. Before the
congregation was finally established the Union had taken place. This
accounts for some of the changes of the Presbytery Commissions that
The first move towards union was taken by the
theological students of both Synods, who had been meeting together
for fellowship. They decided to petition their respective Synods to
ask them to consider the question of union. The idea was received
favourably and each Synod appointed a committee to meet and together
work out a basis for union. Naturally there were some differences to
be overcome, such as the Psalmody of the Church, the voting rules
regarding the choice of ministers, and the qualifications and
appointment of ruling elders. The Seceders in singing used the
Psalms only, whereas the Synod of Ulster were including the
Scripture Paraphrases. The joint committee, in giving their report,
managed to avoid raising the Psalmody question but gave an agreement
on other issues.
The spirit of unity was manifest and in April,
1840; the two Synods met separately, approved the joint
recommendations and gave authority to the joint committee to draw up
actual terms of corporate union. The committee met in May and
everything was put in order for a speedy consummation of the union,
arranged for Friday, 10th.
On the appointed day the Synod of Ulster met in
May Street Church and the Secession Synod in Linenhall Street and at
11.00 o'clock both Synods set out for Rosemary Street Church. On the
way they met and joined into one procession headed by the two
Moderators, the Rev. James Elder, Moderator of the Synod of Ulster,
and the Rev. John Rogers, acting Moderator of the Secession Synod.
When the destination was reached the two
Moderators conducted the devotional exercises. Then the Act of Union
was read over twice by the Clerk of the Synod of Ulster, Dr. James
Seaton Reid. The Act of Union 1840 can be found in the Code, Part
III, appendix No. 13. Then all ministers and elders rose and held up
their right hands in token of approval. After the singing of the
122nd Psalm, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Hanna, minister of Rosemary Street
Church, was unanimously elected as the first Moderator of the new
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The Union was not completely unanimous as the
Moderator of the Secession Synod, the Rev. Dr. Alexander Rentoul,
grandfather of James, minister of Banbridge Road, and fourteen
ministers refused to join the Assembly partly on points of Church
discipline, but the chief difficulty was that of the Psalmody of the
Church. A Committee was appointed to confer with them and succeeded
in effecting a reconciliation with eight out of the fifteen. A
situation threatening division then arose over the recommendation
made to meet the Seceding objectors, that the metrical version of
the Psalms, to be the only Psalmody authorised by the General
Assembly, nevertheless, the resolution was passed and interpreted in
a liberal way, the Paraphrases, though not authorised, were not
At the time of the Union, there were 292
congregations in the Synod of Ulster and 141 Secession congregations
making a total of 433 congregations divided into 33 Presbyteries.
Although the two Synods had now united to form
the General Assembly they still retained their identity and have met
separately ever since during Assembly week.
The union of the two Synods caused great delight
amongst the congregations composing the new Assembly and was
celebrated by some stirring verses, two of which we shall quote:
"Two hundred years ago there came from
Scotland's storied land, To Carrick's old and fortress town a
They planted on the Castle wall the Banner of the Blue,
And worshipped God in simple form � as Presbyterians do.
Oh! hallowed be their memory, who in our land did sow
The goodly seed of Gospel truth, two hundred years ago!
Two hundred years ago, our Church a little one appeared -
Five ministers and elders four the feeble vessel steered;
But now, five hundred pastors, and four thousand elders stand,
A host of faithful witnesses within our native land;
Their armour is the Spirit's sword, and onward as they go
They wave the flag their fathers waved two hundred years ago."
The Early History of Banbridge Road Presbyterian
The following paragraph is taken from A History
of Congregations by Dr John Carson:-
"A deputation of local people waited on the
Secession Synod on the 11th October 1836 asking for services to be
arranged in the town of Dromore. This was done and the Seneschal of
the time gave the use of the Court House. In December the Presbytery
was informed that the Bishop had forbidden its further use and the
Reformed Presbyterians accommodated the new congregation. A
committee of Presbytery took charge and in July 1837 a site was
sought and ultimately promised, but it was not available until May
1838. Progress was slow. Money was insufficient and the Presbytery
had to come to the rescue. The cause was weak and lacking in
enthusiasm, and even in July 1840 at the union of the Synods it was
still unfinished. The united church body decided to pursue the idea
of a new congregation and the meeting house was completed and on the
7th March the first minsiter was called. There had been a Rev. John
Allen working here at the start and old newspapers indicate him as
the first minister. Whatever his status, he resigned early in 1843
and Mr John McKee, a licentiate of the Dromore Presbytery, was
ordained on the 7th March 1843."
The following chapter is an attempt to fill in
some of the details of what took place over the period of years
indicated in the quotation from `The History of Congregations' (1836
"Beginning to Begin"
The period covered in this section may at first seem
very uninteresting, but it is worthwhile reading it thoughtfully as
it indicates the struggles the founder members had to establish the
Just as it is difficult sometimes to say exactly
where the source of a river is, in that there are a number of
contributing streams (for instance the source of the river Jordan is
hard to establish) so it is often difficult to know exactly how and
when an organization or society came to be formed. This is very
clearly so when one looks at the few facts known about the
establishment of Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church, Dromore. At the
time � 1836, there were two churches in the town of Dromore � the
Cathedral Church of Christ the Redeemer and the Unitarian or Non
Subscribing Church. Up the hill and outside the town was Dromore
Presbyterian Church, later to be known as First Dromore. A history
of this congregation has been published by the Rev. Donald Patton,
B.S.Sc., B.D., and is called `The Church on the Hill.'
It would seem from what is known, that a
deputation of local people waited on the Secession Synod on the 11th
October 1836 asking for services to be arranged in the town of
Dromore. Tradition has it, there were about 25 in number who thought
there should be a Presbyterian church in the town. This was done and
permission was received from the Seneschal (chief steward of the
area) to use the Court House for such services. Later that year the
Presbytery was informed that the Bishop had forbidden its further
use. It would seem that the Reformed Presbyterians (Coventanters),
who held services on occasions in a hall in the town, accommodated
the new congregation.
A committee of Presbytery took charge, but little
of their work or the small congregation is known, until the 18th
February 1837 when the Presbytery Committee responsible requested
that a meeting of Presbytery should be called as soon as possible -
the 28th of the month was suggested. The purpose of this special
meeting of the Presbytery was to receive and decide upon statements
which certain members were authorised to submit to the Presbytery
respecting the propriety of establishing a congregation in the town
of Dromore in connection with the General Synod of Ulster (it would
seem from the documents that both Synods were approached). The
request was signed by the Revs. Hamilton Dobbin, John Johnston,
Alexander Orr, Henry J. Dobbin, Samuel Marcus Dill and an elder John
When the Presbytery met records seem to indicate
that the committee had very little to report. Some investigation of
a possible site had been done, but the congregation, if it could be
called that, was weak and money insufficient. After some discussion
among the members of Presbytery and those :members of the
congregation who were present, it was agreed that a new committee
should be formed, consisting of Revs. H. Dobbin, R. Anderson, Samuel
M. Dill, with John Scott and William Rogers elders. Their main brief
was to find out if there were good grounds for the erection of a
congregation in Dromore. It had been suggested at the Presbytery
meeting that the new congregation might be better built at the
Diamond, which seems strange as the main point being made was the
need to establish a congregation in the town. There were red
herrings in those days too!! They were also instructed to appoint
the ministers of the Presbytery to preach alternately on the
evenings of every second Sabbath in those places, Dromore and the
The committee reported to a meeting of Presbytery
held in Tullylish on the 2nd May 1837 that it was their mind that
the congregation should be established in Dromore, and that
preaching should commence on Sabbath evenings with a view to
establishing a congregation.
Application was made to the Lord Bishop for the
use of the Market House, but this was refused. The report was
received and it was resolved that the whole subject be considered at
the adjourned meeting on the 1st June. It would seem that no further
decision was made and for the next 14 months; the matter was in the
hands of the Presbytery committee.
After over a year a meeting of the County Down
Presbyteries, by order of the Synod was held in Ballynahinch on
August the 14th 1838, a new committee was formed. The members were
Revs. Johnston, Collins, Craig and Dill. They were given precise
instructions - to get on with the task of establishing the new
congregation in the town of Dromore. They immediately took steps.
They waited on the Bishop of Dromore and this time were successful
in getting his permission to use the Market House. At a meeting of
Presbytery held on the 11th September they resigned their trust into
the hands of the Presbytery. The Presbytery agreed that members
should preach in the Market House and a rota was made out.
At a later meeting of Presbytery, held in
Magherally on the 27th November 1838, preachers were arranged until
Sunday 3rd Feburary in the New Year 1839 and the Revs. Dill,
Anderson and Johnston were appointed to solicit subscriptions for
the building of the new Meeting House in the town of Dromore.
In the meantime during the intervening months the
situation seemed to have deteriorated. A very gloomy letter from the
committee responsible was read to the Presbytery, again meeting in
Magherally on the 5th February 1839. The opinion was expressed very
forcibily `that at the present there is no prospect of a new
congregation in Dromore succeeding'. The Presbytery now seems to
have made a decision that proved very valuable and played a big part
in getting the congregation going. They decided after some
discussion on the matter to ask the Rev John Johnston to communicate
with a Mr.Richardson, a scripture reader, who at times was employed
by the Synod, and to ask him to visit the town and neighbourhood of
Dromore for the purpose of ascertaining as correctly as possible the
number of families and individuals who were not supplied with Gospel
ordinances and that the Presbytery order that a return be made as
soon as possible after the visitation was completed.
At this time, it would appear that the present
site was purchased and that the building of the new Meeting House
was begun later that year. The stones, it is known, were drawn in
the carts of the members and also the building began on a voluntary
basis. The writer remembers William Robert Jones recounting his
memory of his grandfather telling how he with others carted the
stones and helped with building of the walls. A further
setback, however, awaited the struggling members. The `Big Wind' of
January 1839 blew down the walls that had been built and the work
had to be done all over again. The building proceeded slowly and
would seem to have taken some years to complete. Even on the 2nd
February 1841 the matter of a church in Dromore was still being
discussed by the Presbytery. At this Presbytery meeting a Rev.Robert
Moorehead of Loughaghery requested the Presbytery that the matter of
establishing a congregation be dealt with urgently and that a new
committee of Presbytery be appointed. The Revs. Thompson, Anderson
and Collins were appointed and met in Dromore seven days later.
Reading between the lines of the little information we have of the
years 1839 - 41 one concludes that the congregation built a church
and held services while the Presbytery was still trying to put the
matter in order. For instance, the Dromore congregation was again
before the Presbytery on the 10th August 1841. They discussed the
supplying of the congregation and the Clerk was instructed to write
to a Mr.Boyle, a licentiate under the care of the Presbytery, and to
inform him that he was to supply the Dromore congregation on the
22nd, 29th August and 5th September and that Mr. Fetlis, the
secretary of the congregation (The first mention that there was an
actual congregation), be informed of this decision so that it could
be announced to the congregation. The letter also requested that
commissioners be appointed to attend the next meeting of Presbytery.
At the next meeting of Presbytery held on 7th September, a letter
from Mr. John Fetlis was read stating that the congregation was in a
very declining state. Commissioners from the congregation who
attended the meeting bore this out in their statement. So after five
years the outlook for the new congregation still seemed daunting.
At that meeting it was also resolved that in the
meantime application should be made to the Directors of Assembly
Missions for a Licentiate who would preach on Sabbath days and
remain for some time among the people. A Mr. John Allen began work
amongst the people. He was given the title Reverend and an old
newspaper refers to him as the first minister. Whatever his position
and title, he resigned early in 1843.
The matter was not dealt with again until the
November meeting when the subject of Second Dromore (the designation
Second used for the first time) was brought before the Presbytery.
The Rev. Moorehead reported that the Directors of the Assembly's
Mission had agreed to pay provided the Presbytery secured suitable
supplies. It was agreed that the congregation should continue to be
supplied by a licentiate of the Presbytery until the next meeting of
the Presbytery, arranged for the first Tuesday in February. This
meeting was held in Hillsborough. At it a memorial from Second
Dromore was presented by Mr. Stephen Archer, commissioner, praying
the Presbytery to take such steps as may be in accordance with the
laws of the church to have Mr. John McKee, a Licentiate under the
care of the Presbytery, settled among them as their minister. The
prayer of the Memoralist was granted and the Rev. Greer was
appointed to preach in Dromore on the second Sabbath of February for
the purpose of preparing a poll-list of the congregation, and a
committee consisting of the Revs. Collin, Greer and Dill was
appointed to take charge of the congregation until the next meeting
The Early Years�The Rev. John McKee
The First Minister
Mr. John McKee, who was a Lincentiate under the
care of the Dromore Presbytery, was Ordained and Installed as the
first minister of the congregation of Second Dromore (as it was then
known) on 7th March 1843. He was born in the year 1819 and was a
native of the Anahilt district. After his course of study, having
been licensed, he was appointed by the Presbytery to conduct the
services in the new congregation. He so impressed the members that
they issued a call to him to become their minister. After it had
been approved by the Presbytery they fixed the 7th of March for his
On the day of the Ordination the Rev. Samuel M.
Dill of Hillsborough conducted the service and preached the sermon.
The Rev. William Craig of Dromara read the Rule of Faith and
vigorously defended the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church and
the legality of its Ordination. The Presbytery then solemnly
ordained the new minister with Prayer and the laying on of hands.
The Rev. Robert Moorehead of Loughaghery gave the charge to the
newly-ordained minister and the congregation. Thus the Rev. John
McKee was launched unto the sea of the Christian ministry to become
a `fisher of men'.
this occasion in 1860 you had to buy a ticket to
get into the services and give a collection as
well. The quality of the printing is worth
The congregation was small, the people were poor,
but the enthusiasm was great. The Rev. McKee was the right man in
the right place. There was a gradual increase in numbers until by
the year 1857 there were almost 200 stipend payers. The first report
extant indicates a stipend of �54-3-3 (report included). The
congregation by this time was on its feet. Mr. McKee's ministry
proved to be successful and devout. He faithfully fulfilled in the
spirit and letter the vows he had pledged himself to keep on the day
of his ordination. The congregation of Second Dromore, known widely
for many years as Rev McKee's church. was to be his only charge. For
almost 35 years he served it faithfully. When he died on the 7th
December, 1877, the people felt they had lost not only a fine
pastor, but a friend. The last baby he baptized was Mary Jane
Martin, daughter of Robert Martin, who later mar- ried Albert
Bickerstaff and who were the parents of the Rev. Albert L.R.
Bickerstaff. The Rev. Bickerstaff has been most helpful with
information about the ministries of the Rev. McKee and his
successor, the Rev. James Rentoul. (Later reference to the Rev.
A.L.R. Bickerstaff is made).
The Rev. McKee was remembered by the people of
his day as a truly dedicated man in the service of his Master. He
won the hearts of the people by his work and conversation, as well
as by his sincere interest in their welfare. He was a man who went
about doing good. The Rev. Bickerstaff remembers his grandmother,
who had been in the Rev. McKee's Bible Class, speaking of him as `a
man greatly beloved and highly esteemed by all'.
It is told that when he entered the pulpit on
Sunday mornings he always looked round the congregation to note who
was absent. The defaulters usually had a visit from the minister on
Monday, often in the morning, to inquire why they had been absent.
If a good reason could not be given he would administer a kindly
rebuke which it is said had the desired results. He carried out his
visits to the homes of the congregation on horse back. His Bible
Class was a feature of his ministry. It was open to all of all ages,
married and single. A notable member of that class was a young man
called William J. Cowden, who lived in the Drumaghadone area. He
studied medicine and when he qualified he set up practice in Church
Street and was M.O.H. for a time. He was a good Doctor and an active
supporter of his church. His Christian faith, which has been
nurtured in his minister's Bible Class as a boy, played its part in
his relationship with his patients. Dr Cowden died in January 1936
and was the last survivor of the Rev. McKee's ministry, bridging the
years between the Rev. John McKee and the Rev. Herbert Mulholland.
In appearance the Rev. McKee was a stately man
with a quiet attractive personality. He wore the clerical white
cravat, which was common in those days. When preaching he wore a
gown, which was not so common.
At the time the Rev. McKee was ordained the
church was a rectangular building and, in common with the other
Secession churches of that period, the access to the gallery was by
stone steps which were outside the building. These steps were later
covered when a porch or vestibule was built. The stone steps were
removed in a major renovation in 1953. It is a pity that at least
one of these steps was not preserved. At some time early in his
ministry two rooms were added at the back, the upper for Sunday
school work, which was becoming a feature of church life. This
explains the hip-roof construction at the back of the building. At
the front of the church, above the vestibule, a minister's room was
built and was used until the 1953 renovation. The minister robed
here, then went down the stone stairs and walked the aisle to his
place in the pulpit, which was reached by fourteen steps (see
photograph ). After the rooms at the back were constructed and a
choir became part of the worship, the members of the choir entered
the church by a passage-way under the pulpit. Again this remained so
until the 1953 renovation.
The earliest report - November 1857 (1852)
The Background History of
Rev. James Rentoul, B.A.
The Rev. James Rentoul
The Rev. James Rentoul, who had been minister in
Clough, County Antrim, was called to Second Dromore in 1878 and
Installed on the 30th of May. After a long ministry he died on the
2nd of January 1917, two days after his retirement. He was of
Huguenot stock. (The Huguenots were French Calvinists (Protestants),
who embraced the Reformed faith during those stirring days of the
16th century when the great religious movement known as the
Reformation swept across the Northern part of Europe changing
religious and political life). The Huguenots were regarded as
heretics and traitors, the object of ridicule by both state and
church and finally were persecuted.
However the Huguenots found a strong champion of
their cause in Henry the Third of Navarre, who himself as
brought up a Protestant. He became a staunch defender of their right
to freedom of conscience and civil and religious liberty.
Ultimately, as heir to the throne of France, he was confronted with
the dilemma of becoming a member of the Church of Rome or
giving up his claim to the throne. It took him some time to reach a
decision, eventually he decided to conform. He embraced the Roman
Catholic faith saying, `Paris is worth a Mass.' He was duly crowned
King. He still retained a warm place in his heart for the Huguenots
and continued to protect them. After a reign during which the
Huguenots enjoyed considerable liberty he was assassinated. by a
fanatic on the 14th May, 1610, much to the regret of his subjects,
especially the Huguenots..
From this time on persecution of the Huguenots
became more severe. Imprisonment, torture and death were normal.
Only one course of action was open to them; they must leave the land
they loved, only thus could their lives and the future of their
children be secured. Many made their way to the British Isles. They
were received with true Christian love. Amongst those who came were
a number of families by the name of Rentoul. Some of the Rentouls
ultimately found their way to Ireland. We pickup the story with the
Rev. James Rentoul who was born in 1762, grandfather of the `Rev.
James' of Banbridge Road. After his training for the Presbyterian
ministry he received a Call to the Secession Church of Ray, Co.
Donegal. He was ordained there on June the 23rd 1791. Early in his
ministry he married the daughter of his predecessor, the Rev. John
Reid. They had four sons, John Lawrence, James, Alexander Buchan,
and Robert. The first three became ministers and Robert became a
farmer (an elder in his father's church). He retired and lived until
the 30th May 1839 the year of the `Big Wind' (see the account of the
building of the Church). His son Alexander Rentoul, M.D. was called
to succeed his father and was duly ordained and installed on the
25th April 1822..
The Rev. Dr. Alexander Rentoul made good his
ministry in the congregation of Ray; a new Meeting House was built
to accommodate the growing congregation and was opened in 1834. In
1840 he was appointed Moderator of the Secession Synod. Just before
the memorable meeting of the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod
to form the General Assembly of the Prebyterian Church in Ireland,
Dr. Rentoul resigned from the office of Moderator of the Secession
Synod because he was opposed to the singing of Hymns (Paraphrases)
in the worship of God in the Meeting Houses of the Church. In
consequence of this the Rev. John Rodgers of Glascar was hurriedly
appointed Moderator to lead the Secession Synod into the new General
Assembly being assured that only the Psalms of David need to be used
in Public Worship. Dr. Rentoul died on the 26th January 1864.
The Rev. James Rentoul's third son also followed
his father and entered the ministry, as did John Lawrence who after
his theological training was licensed a probationer of the Synod and
ultimately he received a Call to the congregation of Ballycopeland.
He married Dorcas, the daughter of Mr. Richard Carmichael of
Millisle. The Rev. John and his wife were highly respected in their
work for the congregation. After a ministry of four years the Rev.
John Lawrence Rentoul was called to the congregation of Ballymoney.
He was installed on May the 16th 1837. His stipend was �11.
During his ministry a new church and manse were
built and later the congregation became known as Trinity
Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney. He refused to take the congregation
into the General Assembly because, like his brother, he was opposed
to Hymns being used in worship. They had a family of three sons and
seven daughters. Some four years after coming to Ballymoney one of
the sons was born on the 12th August 1841. He was called James after
his grandfather and was destined to become the best known of the
Rentouls and a `character in his own right.'.
His second son, also called John Lawrence, was
born in 1852. He was licensed by the. Presbytery of Route in 1872
and ordained in First Lisburn in 17th October 1872. In 1886 he was
installed in St. George's, Sunderland.
The Rev. James Rentoul grew up in Ballymoney
Manse. In later life he often spoke of his boyhood days and loved to
recount stories about Ballymoney. He was educated at Queen's
College, Belfast, and graduated B.A. He took his theological
training at Assembly's College, Belfast. After college he was
licensed by the Presbytery of Route on the 10th May 1864. In 1865 he
received a Call from the congregation of Clough and was ordained
there on the 14th March that year. Here he ministered with great
acceptance for over thirteen years. Fairly early in his ministry he
married a Miss Elizabeth Steele Robinson. It was a happy marriage
and there were two sons. The elder was Steele Henderson , and the
younger John Lawrence (after his uncle).
This happy home was sadly broken by the death of
Mrs: Rentoul in 1877. It was a shattering blow, and it is said that
it left a deep wound. This experience affected his life and work as
a minister of the Gospel�giving him a deeper sympathy. Mrs. Rentoul
was buried in Clough close by the wall of the church, just behind
where the pulpit was in those days. The Rev. James Rentoul now had
the care of his two sons as well as his pastoral duties. The
associations of Clough and the sadness of his heart were no doubt
factors in leading him to seek a change of church.
Another event in 1877 was to affect his life. On
the 7th of December 1877 the death took place of the Rev. John
McKee, for almost 35 years the minister of Second Dromore. The death
of his wife and the death of the Rev. Mr. McKee together affected
his future destiny.
The fact that the Rev. James Rentoul's younger
brother, the Rev. John Lawrence Rentoul, was at that time minister
of First Lisburn may also have influenced his decision to consider
the vacancy in Dromore.
In the Spring of 1878 he preached as a candidate
for Second Dromore and received a Call. He was installed in Dromore
on 31st May 1878. His nurture of his sons and pride in them was well
known in those days. Steele having finished his theological course
in Belfast was licensed by Dromore Presbytery. In 1898 he became
assistant to the Rev. Dr. R. W. Hamilton in Railway Street, Lisburn.
The following year he received a Call to Hebburn Church,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Later he moved to the United Church of
Scotland. He had two sons and a daughter. The daughter, Lena
Elizabeth, married Charles Jardine Baxter, of Dromore. Their
daughter, Lena Baxter, is now minister of the (Non Subscribing) Old
Presbyterian Churches, Cairncastle and Glenarm. Her brother Charles
and sister Jane still live at Dromore.
The second son, John Lawrence, became a Doctor.
He eventually settled in Lisburn where he had a successful practice.
He was a member of Railway Street Church where he was ordained an
elder. From time to time he came to Dromore to assist his father at
the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The Rev. A. L. R. Bickerstaff
(see related chapter) recalls that on the first Sunday of November
1915 as a boy of almost sixteen, he received the Sacrament for the
first time from the hands of Dr. Lawrence Rentoul. He had been
baptised by the Rev. James Rentoul on the 4th April 1900.
The Rev. James Rentoul had a long and happy ministry
in Second Dromore. He was a beloved pastor and a wise friend.
He married again, his second wife being a Miss
Turner of Belfast, who belonged to a well known legal family. She
was, it is recalled, a gracious lady and a great help to her husband
in his work. She survived him and was present in September 1921 at a
memorial service when she unveiled the marble plaque erected by the
congregation in memory of their beloved minister.
The Rev. Mr. Rentoul celebrated his Golden
Jubilee in the ministry on the 15th December 1915, when he was
presented with a wallet of notes and Mrs. Rentoul received a gold
watch. He also received a magnificent Illuminated Address (see
photographs)The Rev. Robert Kelso of Boardmills was appointed by the
Presbytery to convey the congratulations of his ministerial friends.
Soon afterwards Mr. Rentoul applied to the General Assembly for
permission to retire from the active duties of the ministry. In June
1916 this was granted. He retired at the end of the year and two
days later, on Tuesday morning, 2nd January 1917, he died. The Rev.
A. L. R. Bickerstaff recalls that it was a wet morning brightening
later when he and his mother heard the news at Skeogh, from a well
known business man, Mr. William Dickson, J.P. (whose wife, Mrs.
Dorcas Dickson, M.B.E., J.P., is still living at Rostrevor at the
time of writing).
The funeral took place on Thursday 4th January
1917 to Clough the scene of his early ministry. He was laid to rest
beside his beloved Elizabeth, who had died exactly 40 years earlier.
He left instructions that the grave was not to be opened again. The
headstone bears the simple record:
Elizabeth Rentoul 1877
James Rentoul 1917
The Rev. Rentoul was
recognised not only as a preacher of merit but also
as a very entertaining lecturer. He was much in
demand. The ticket to a Celebrated Lecture in
Magherally Presbyterian Church indicates that it was
on a specific subject, for the word Women has been
changed to Wives. Tickets were of two colours white
costing Sixpence and blue costing One Shilling�front
It is interesting to pause to look at the Rev.
James Rentoul's home background in Ballymoney. When his father
became minister of Second Ballymoney (Trinity Church) he had the
task of building a new church. To this he devoted his energy and he
succeeded in this objective. After this, a manse was the next
project�the Rev. John L. Rentoul was living in a rented house at the
time. A well known story goes that when the manse was being planned
a difference of opinion arose between the Kirk Session and the
minister. The Session wanted a modest building, while the Rev.
Rentoul, mindful of his large family (seven daughters and three
sons), wanted a more commodious dwelling. The disagreement was not
resolved when the builder arrived on the site to commence the work
and set out his pegs for the foundations. The story goes that the
Rev. Mr. Rentoul visited the site under cover of darkness and moved
the pegs outwards so that the building would be more in keeping with
his ideas. The alteration went unnoticed until the walls were up and
it was too late to do anything but `accept.'
The view from the manse was one of open country;
the Leaney Race Course, could be easily seen from one of the
upstairs windows. The father had warned his sons not to go near the
window when the races were on. James Rentoul, it is said, later
related how one race day he crept upstairs to watch, only to find
his father seated at the window with a pair of field-glasses intent
on what was going on at the race course. It is also told that on an
occasion James was walking with his father in Ballymoney when they
came across a tramp abusing his wife and challenging any passers-by
to a fight. Young James, who was well built, said to his father he
would like to take up the challenge. His father pointed out that he
wearing his good suit. James immediately took off his coat, left it
in a shop, and in a very short time the tramp had had enough. James
Rentoul was to become a fighter for all that was best as his
ministries in Clough and Banbridge Road were to prove.
There is one other little piece of information
that indicates the versatility of this man of many parts. It is told
that he wielded a cricket bat with some power. Whether he ever
played for Dromore is not known. There was a Dromore Club, but it
existed about the time he was due to retire. Was there a previous
club? Someone else will have to answer this question.
from the Illuminated Address presented to the Rev.
Rentoul in 1915.
It was of course originally in colour and very beautiful
Rev. James Rentoul-
The Man and the Minister
The Rev. Albert Bickerstaff remembers the Rev.
James Rentoul as a man of fine physique, well built and of
commanding appearance. He was about 5' 9" tall with grey whiskers
and a clean shaven upper lip and chin. `It was the face of a man
able to make true judgements.' Those who remember him recall that he
was a kind man, his left hand not knowing what his right did. He
hated sham and hypocrisy. The faith that he preached on Sundays was
followed by example during the week. He lived it out in his daily
walk and conversation. `He did justly, He loved mercy and he walked
humbly before his God'. His sermons were the product of a
well-trained mind and they were delivered in a quiet conversational
tone of voice. He had the ability to make his people cry or laugh
with a few well chosen words.
He normally wore a black suit and a white bow on
a white shirt or a white linen dicky, as did many Presybyterian
ministers of that day. On Sundays he wore a frock suit which had
silk lapels. The morning service was conducted from the high pulpit
(There were fourteen steps to it at that time). The evening service
was conducted from a desk.
Students and licentiates in those days were not
allowed to enter the pulpit in many Presbyterian churches.
There were about 105 families in the
congregation, at the turn of the century. He visited them twice
yearly, usually before the May and November communions. He used a
jaunting car, owned by a Mr. J. Hill, who carried on a car hire
business in the town. It was often used by people going to fairs in
neighbouring towns, Hillsborough, Dromara and Banbridge. He was also
a keen walker and in good weather he did many visits on foot. He was
welcome in the homes, being a good conversationalist, and he loved
to discuss the affairs of his day. He had a happy relationship with
the minister and congregation in First Dromore and when Dr. J. K.
Strain died he was appointed Convener. It was a long vacancy
extending for almost two years and ended when a Call was made out to
the Rev. John C. Greer, M.A.,who was ordained in September 1909.
The Rev. Rentoul was a very helpful man. On one
occasion when he visited an elderly woman and found her lacking in
bed clothes he went immediately home and took the bed clothes off
his own bed and brought them to her. On another occasion when a
small farmer lost one of his cows, it is told that the Rev. Rentoul
visited him and before leaving pressed some notes into his hand.
The Rev. Albert Bickerstaff has a vivid
recollection of the celebration in Dromore to mark the Coronation of
King George V. It was on Thursday, 2nd July, 1911. The children
gathered at the church to receive from the minister a small souvenir
- a gold-coloured brooch in the form of a Royal Monogram: before
leaving to parade round the town and out to a field for refreshments
and sports. Unfortunately, it began to rain, and continued so
heavily that the event had to be postponed to the following
Saturday. At the beginning of the day when the Rev. Rentoul was
giving instruction with regard to the procession and joining up with
the parades from the other churches he said: "My only regret is that
our Roman Catholic brethren are not joining with us on this
In those days the Rev. James Rentoul was looked
upon as one of the characters of the church, something of an
eccentric. This was true up to a point, but only because of his
unusual way of doing things. He always acted from the best motives.
For instance, when there was a special evening service and he wanted
a good choir, he would make up little posies of flowers, put them in
a basket, hang the basket on his stick over his shoulder and walk
down through the town to church. All the ladies who attended were
presented with a posy. He was an excellent gardener - the field on
which the new manse is built was totally cultivated by him with the
help of tramp labour. When the fruit season came round the Bible
Class members were invited up and told that they could eat as much
as they liked, but they must not `pocket any'.
He was a staunch opponent of the Drink Trade, and
yet if he thought an old person would benefit from a spoonful of
whisky at night he would buy a bottle and carry it openly unwrapped
to its destination. On one occasion he gave a tramp a coin to go and
buy a cup of tea. He suspected the man might look for a different
beverage, so he followed him into the town and into the public house
where the tramp had left the coin on the counter. The Rev. Rentoul,
close on his heels, lifted the coin, saying `That is not what I gave
you that for'. The tramp challenged him saying, `If it were not for
that clerical bow you are wearing I would use these,' holding up his
fists. Mr Rentoul is reputed to have pulled off the bow in a counter
challenge, but the tramp quickly left. The interesting story of his
tarring the manse is told in the chapter on that building.
In the year 1908 the name of the congregation was
changed from Second Dromore to Banbridge Road.
The Rev. James Rentoul conducted a special
service in connection with the Ulster Covenant 1912. The Orangemen
paraded. In his address he spoke. of the statesman like qualities of
Mr. Gladstone and his influence on national affairs. Mr. Rentoul,
like many of the ministers of his day, was a strong Gladstone
Liberal. Though this was so, he did not proclaim it from the house tops, `Home Rule' were emotive words.