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A Place of Worship
Banbridge Road Presbyterian church




Town of Dromore

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 Dromore.

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 Ecclesiastical Background

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 took place.


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 prohibited.

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 Presbyterian band;
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
Church Dromore

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 - 1843).

"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 cause.

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 Lockhart.

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 Diamond.

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 of Presbytery.

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 Ordination.

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'.

On 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 noting

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 the
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 seats!!

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.

Two pages from the Illuminated Address presented to the Rev. Rentoul in 1915.
It was of course originally in colour and very beautiful workmanship.

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 occasion."

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.

Two interesting extracts from the minutes:

  1. J. A. Doak, a member of Committee, at a meeting held on the 10th May 1915, reported to the meeting that the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was anxious to purchase a right of way from the main road to their church. It was decided to offer them 13 feet from the quick of the Boundary hedge at 4 shillings per foot for 13 feet measured from the county road up to and 106 feet along the boundary wall. At the next meeting it was reported by Mr. Doak that the Rev. Alfred Davison, the Non-Subscribing Minister, agreed to purchase the walk at `�85 free of everything.' At the July meeting it was reported that the Non-Subscribing Church now wanted a three feet broader walk - 16 feet instead of the 13 originally agreed. This was agreed and no change in the purchase price was made. There is no record of why this was never carried out. Looking back it was fortunate that it wasn't.

  2. In July 1916 at a meeting of Committee the matter of lighting the church was raised and it was agreed that tenders should be sought from Dromore Gas Company and Dromore Electric Company. The tenders were considered at a Special meeting of the Session and Committee. The estimates were opened by the Chairman. Dromore Gas Company: for fitting service pipe with branches to gallery and school rooms �12. Mantles and gas �4 per year for three years.

Dromore Electric Company. For putting new electric service through church and school rooms �15 and �6 � 10 shillings for three years. On the motion of our R. J. Poots seconded by our James McCormick the estimate of the Gas Company was accepted.

The Rev. James Rentoul's life and work was summed up at the time of his death with the following words:

He lived for those who loved him
And for those who knew him true
For the future in the distance
And the good that he could do.

On the 14th January 1917 at a meeting of Session and Committee the following record of sympathy was passed and sent in letter form to Mrs. Rentoul.

"The Session and Committee desire to put on record this expression of their sense of irreparable loss which they in common with every member of the Congregation have sustained by the death of their beloved pastor, the Rev. James Rentoul. During his lengthened ministry of over 38years he had won an abiding place in their affections. In their homes he was regarded not only as a faithful pastor and wise counsellor but as an intimate and personal

friend who entered into all their joys and sorrows with wholehearted and sympathetic tenderness. His pulpit ministrations had a freshness and an originality both of illustration and expression which secured the attention of every hearer and which were most often used to emphasise that practical side of religion which was so abundantly exemplified by his own life. His work and worth will long be cherished in their memories as a valued gift from the King and Head of the church. They desire to express their deep sympathy with Mrs. Rentoul in her bereavement and their regret that it separates them from one who as well by her own kindness of heart and word and work had gained her own place in their esteem."

The Rentoul Family Tree


Born 1762, Minister of Ray Congregation, County Donegal
Ordained 1791. Married a Miss Reid. Grandfather of `our' James


Four sons: Alexander B., James, Robert,
and John Lawrence (born 1806)


Three sons and seven daughters
One of the sons was called James, born 12th August 1841
He became minister of Clough and then of Second Dromore (Banbridge Road)
He had two sons by his first wife (Miss Elizabeth Steele Robinson)


Steele and Lawrence
Steele became a minister. Lawrence a doctor.
Steele married and one of his three children, who was called Lena Elizabeth,
married Charles Jardine Baxter of Dromore. Their daughter, called Lena after
her mother, is the minister of the Non Subscribing Church, Cairncasle, Co.