Drumbo Presbyterian Church
A Short History
BY Rev. J. B. Wallace M. A.




History has been defined as "a past of more than common interest." We hope that this revised History of Drumbo will prove such to all who may read it, and that it will fall into the bands of all lovers of Drumbo at home or abroad.

We think of certain people as "makers of history." That, in a little measure, at least, is how we think of some of those mentioned in the following pages. May what is here written serve to keep their memory fresh as well as preserve much valuable information.

The texts and mottoes enhance the hook. Their daily use should be a source of encouragement and an inspiration in the vicissitudes of life. Sincere thanks to all who sent quotations accompanied by contributions towards the funds of the Church. And a special "thank you" to the Rev. David Stewart, B.A., D.D., for his much appreciated help by way of information and suggestion, and for so kindly reading the manuscript.
J. B.W.
Drumbo, Lisburn.
July, 1956.

'Midst wooded hills and rich farmlands
This church Drumbo has stood;
Through centuries three, 'mid changing scenes,
A witness to God's Holy Word.

This stately fate embowered in trees,
And lawns of golden daffodils,
Where banks of roses bloom in June,
Shedding around their rich perfume:
And nature in floral mantles gay
Greets the proud ter-centenary:
A setting worthy to adorn
This Fine historic church of God.

Where men of vision bore on high
The lamp of truth and loyalty,
And left enrolled undying fame
When they had passed with oriflamme
The opened gates beyond the sun
And there had heard the great "Well done"
From the Master whom they served.

The Tower, too, a Watch has kept,
In the background on the hill
Whose frowning bulwark challenges
Any untoward thing!
Historians might add a page,
Before their leaves are bound,
In honour of a duty done
On that ancient grassy mound.




The Parish of Drumbo is in the Barony of Upper Castlereagh, and is one of tte most pleasing parts of County Down. There are extensive and charming views from some of its vantage points, such as Braidujle, Tullyard, Ballycairn Hill, and The Back Hill. When Baronies were divided into Parishes and Townlands, Drumbo included twelve Townlands that were later annexed to Drumbeg. As it now stands, it comprises 9,629 acres, chiefly arable, with a small proportion of woodland. At one time there was a large tract of bog which is now cut out.

It is a district of much historic: interest, as we shall see, interest that stretches from pre-Christian times down to quite modern days. King William III, once visited the Court, Hillhall. This was probably on his journey from Carrickfergus to Hillsborough, and, although there is no record of it, he may have visited the Round Tower at Drumbo on his way.

Within its hounds are some things of much archaeological interest, which are worthy of note. There are several raths, i.e., pre-historic hill forts. They are generally circular, comprised either of large stones without mortar, or of earth thrown up and surrounded by one or more ditches. The most outstanding of these is on the summit of Tullyard, and is constructed of earth, loose stones, and vitrified substance similar to the cairns of Scotland. It is supposed by some writers that there was once a fortified town here.


The Giant's Ring, in the Townland of Ballynahatty, is one of the most important of its kind among ancient Irish monuments The stones lying around, disturbed from their original position, indicate that there was an avenue leading to the Cromlech. The enclosure, which is about six hundred yards in circumference, is not quite circular, though nearly so, nor is the altar in the exact centre. The sloping stone, which has slipped out of position somewhat, is almost circular, and is about one foot in thickness at the edge, but considerably more at the centre.

In a field to the North side of the embankment, there was once discovered an ancient sepulchral chamber covered with earth. Two little compartments within this chamber contained four urns of burnt clay, and were filled with burnt bones. One of the urns held two skulls and fragments of several others. In this same piece of ground indications of extensive interments have been noted, stone coffins found, which in most cases contained urns, and in one urn there were two stone arrow-heads along with burnt bones.

The area of the enclosure, which is a little over ten acres, has not been disturbed for almost a century. Indeed it may have lain fallow from the time, perhaps about 2000 B.C., when it is believed that the Cromlech was erected as the burial place of some pagan ruler. But in the early part of 1955 most of it was turned up at a ploughing contest by some eighteen competitors from all parts of Northern Ireland. Not long ago some hand-worked flints were unearthed during excavations. And in the hope of discovering more ancient treasures, Mr. Patrick Collins, of the department of Archaeology in Queen's University, spent the day at the site. The only "finds" which were reported to him, however, were a 1902 penny, a sixpence of even later vintage, and a piece of stone which might have been shaped by man or nature.

As to the use or purpose of this enclosure, history gives us no information, nor can we gather any from tradition. But these monuments were still respected at the time of the introduction of Christianity, and it is not unlikely that they belonged to a people whose institutions had long disappeared before the Christian era in Ireland.

In the garden of Edenderry House there is a funereal mound in which urns have been found. There is a tradition that the site of this house was once occupied by a church and other ecclesiastical buildings.


The Round Tower is the only remaining one in County Down. This fact greatly adds to its interest. There are many of them in Ireland, and the theories as to their origin and use are very numerous. They have been attributed to the Danes by some writers, while others have declared them to be of Phoenician origin. In respect of their uses, the following are some of the theories :-used as places from which to proclaim the Druidical festivals; fire-temples; gnomons or astronomical observatories; phallic emblems or Bhuddist temples; anchorite towers or stylite columns; penitential prisons, belfries, keeps or monastic castles, beacons, and watch-towers.

Quite obviously all these cannot be right, but there is good reason for believing them to be of Christian origin, and that in accordance with the uniform tradition of the whole people of Ireland. They were always built on church property, and were probably designed as watch-towers and places of refuge for the clergy and of security for church valuables. It is believed that they were built during the period of the Viking raids. Evidently these were attached to important places of worship, or where some special need existed. They were in close proximity to cathedral and abbey churches.

By way of proof of their Christian origin it can be stated that there is no evidence that the people of this island were acquainted with the art of constructing an arch, or with the use of lime cement anterior to the introduction of Christianity. In no building assigned to that time, either by historical evidence or popular tradition, have been found those forms or features usual in Round Towers. Indeed they have no characteristics that would indicate that their builders possessed sufficient architectural skill to construct such edifices. On the other hand, Round Towers invariably possess architectural features not found in any buildings in Ireland ascertained to be of pagan times.

On several of them Christian emblems are observable, and others display in the details a style of architecture that is universally acknowledged to be of Christian origin. They were designed, it is believed, for a twofold use to serve as belfries and keeps or places of strength in which the sacred utensils, books, relics and other valuables were deposited, and into which the ecclesiastics to whom they belonged could retire for security in case of predatory attack. Their architectural construction eminently favours this belief. They were probably also used when occasion required as beacons and watch-towers, and the perfect fitness of the Round Towers to answer such purposes strongly support this conclusion.

In the interior they are divided into storeys, varying in number from four to eight, according to the height of the tower. These storeys, usually about twelve feet high, are marked either by projected belts of stone, or by holes in the wall, to receive the joists on which rested the floors, which were usually made of wood.

In 1841 the interior of the Drumbo Tower was cleaned out to the foundation. There was an accumulation of rubbish seven feet in depth. Under a thin layer of mortar, the explorers found the skeleton of a man whose probable height was about six feet two inches. The head lay towards the west and the body extended towards the east. The skeleton was complete except the right arm and both legs from the knees down. The explorers believed that the missing parts had never been interred there, or had been carefully removed. The skull was well preserved, having an almost perfect set of teeth in the lower jaw. No vestige of a coffin or dress was observable.

The skeleton may infer that the tower was erected on a spot which had been previously used as a Christian cemetery, or it may simply indicate that some one of distinction had the honour conferred on him of having his, remains laid to rest within the tower.

Among the rubbish were large stones, a considerable number of them having marks of fire, as had some in the interior of the building. At some time there must have been very strong fires within the building, as the inside surfaces towards the bottom had the appearance of vitrification. The fire's may have been used for temporary purposes, and unconnected with the original intention of the builders.


In Drumbo a church existed at a very early period. Indeed it is one of the oldest religious foundations in Ireland. In the life of St. Patrick, which is contained in the Book of Armagh, the name Drumbo signifies "the long hill of the cow," which was translated into "Collum Bovis," a name by which the ancient church was known. Its the burial ground close to the supposed site of the ancient church was an abbey, said to have been founded by St. Patrick, and of which St. Mochumma was the first abbot. It is probable that he was not only abbot, but bishop, for the lands of the church of Drumbo passed into the possession of the Bishops of Down. St. Mochumma was, according to Aengus the Culdee, brother of St. Domengart, whose death is placed by the calendar of the four masters at the year 506 A.D. In the same calendar, the names of Luighbe and Cumin occur at the 24th July and l0th August in connection with this church.

Harris, in his "Ancient and Present State of the County of Down," published in 1744, says :-"On the hill of Drumboe are the ruins of a church, forty-five feet in length and twenty broad, and at the north-west corner of the church, twenty-four feet distant from it, stands an old Round Tower .... It is the opinion of some that there has been a small fortified town on the hill of Drumboe, and that the foundation of the wall is at this day easy to be seen .... Close to this church there has been a Presbyterian meetinghouse erected."

From all this the conclusion is borne in upon us that in this place men and women have worshipped God since the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. What a history we have here! For nearly a millennium and a half the old story of God's redeeming love has been proclaimed. This spot has been hallowed by the prayers of thousands, and eternity alone will reveal the numbers who have sought and found pardon here. The very thought of all this should deeply impress us. If Ireland ever was an Isle of Saints, then Drumbo had its share of them, and we can think of them from Mochumma downward, as looking over the battlements of Heaven to see how we run our race, and how we pass on the great inheritance of the ages that has accrued to us.


The site of this ancient church came to be the site of the Drumbo Parish Church. In the year 1622 it was described as a ruin. Who or what circumstances were responsible for this state of affairs, the writer cannot say. But in the Ulster Visitation Book it is stated as being under repair in that same year. Also in that year complaint was made that the twelve townlands of Drumbo, and the four of Blaris, had been let to Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery by Bishop Dundas, at the yearly rent of �64. William Forbes is mentioned as curate in 1634.

The population as given in 1660 was small indeed. In Drumbo there were thirty-two - twenty-eight Scotch and English and 4 Irish. Ballycairn had 14-8 and six; Ballymagarrick, eleven-seven and four; Leverogue, five-four and one; Mealough, nineteen-thirteen and six; Ballylesson and Ballynahatty, twenty-ten and ten; Ballycairngannon, twenty-no Irish; Tullyard, ten; Lisnod, seven; Carr, nine-all Irish.

A subsidy roll (something like our income tax) dated August 1663 has the following names with their annual, payments:-James Graham, Drumbo, �4; Allan McIlveen, Ballycowan, �4; Richard Steele, Ballylesson �3 8s 9d; David Kennedy, Ballynahatty, �3 17s 0d; Thomas Johnston, Tullyard, �3 12s 6d; James Maxwell, Drumbeg, �3 10s 0d; Andrew Warwick, Carryduff, �3 10s 0d.

Henry, Earl of Clanbrasil, held from the Crown certain lands which included among others the following townlands :-Drumbo, Ballycowan, Ballymagarrick, Ballylesson, Ballynahatty, Edenderry, and Tullyard.

He leased Drumbo (1,274 acres) to James Maxwell for a term of five hundred years from 1st May, 1671. The lease, given as security for �500, was a conditional one, with the option of redemption at the end of sixty-one years. If the �500 was not paid in that time, Maxwell was to keep the land for the five hundred years. In these conditions the head rent was fixed at �20 per year. It was then already tenanted, bringing in an aggregate of �70 yearly.

Ballycowan (778 acres) was also held by James Maxwell in fee farm from Lord Clanbrasil, but no rent was reserved. Arthur Maxwell, the son of James, had a nephew by the name of Arthur Rainey Maxwell.

Ballymagarrick (964 acres). was leased to Thomas Bradley on the 23rd October, 1670, for fifty-one years, to commence on 1st November, 1673. There was a mortgage for �l00 lent by Bradley. He was to keep the premises at - a yearly rent of �25 until the mortgage was paid, after which the rent was to be �35. A condition of the lease was to ditch and quickset the premises by twenty perches a year until the whole was enclosed.
Ballylesson (524 acres), Ballynahatty (257 acres), Eden-derry (122 acres) and Breda (496 acres) were leased to St. John Webb on the 4th October, 1672, at a rent of �7 19s 0d.

Tullyard (378 acres) was leased to Gavin Hamilton on the 28th July, 1674, at a rent of �8.

Hugh Montgomery, of Braidstane, in Ayrshire, afterwards Viscount of Ards, died in May, 1636, and was succeeded by his son Hugh, second Viscount of Ards. On the 6th October, 1639, Hugh granted to his brother, Captain George, a portion of land that he called the Manor of Drumbrackley, or Drumbrackland. It included Mealough (827 acres), Ballycairn (457 acres), Ballyaughlis (302 acres), Lisnod (240 acres), part of Ballylesson (containing 140 acres), Knockbreda (496 acres), Clogher (310 acres) and Duneight (416 acres). Captain George died in 1674.

He was succeeded by his son Hugh (commonly called Ballylesson), who had one son, Hercules, who assumed the name of Willoughby in order to inherit lands in Tyrone. He died in 1732 and left an only child, Ann Montgomery, who married Hector M'Neill, of Duruseverick, County Antrim. Hector died in 1738. On the 17th May, 1756, Ann sold (probably this only means that he was made trustee) to the Hon. Michael Ward (Lord Bangor is his successor) Justice of the Court of King's Bench, the townlands of Ballyaughlis, Ballycairn, Lisnod, Ballylesson, Mealough, Clogher, and Knockbracken.

She bequeathed her estate to her second son, Archibald. After her death in September, 1758, there was some litigation between Archibald and his elder brother, Roger. This was settled in 1764 by Archibald getting a life interest in the estate. At his death in 1781 it reverted to Roger, who had a son called Daniel, and several daughters. Daniel married Jane Isaacs, and to discharge his debts he sold (after 1816) the lands of Mealough and Knockbracken to Richard Keown for �24,000. The remaining part of his estate was valued at a like figure.

The plantation of Down took place at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Sir James Hamilton, afterwards Viscount Clandeboye, and Sir Hugh Montgomery, afterwards Lord of Ards. As the settlers came from Scotland, ministers were brought over to look after their spiritual interests. To begin with, these ministers carried on their work in parish churches. Archbishop Usher drew up a confession of faith in 1615, in which he implicitly admitted the validity of Presbyterian ordination, and denied the distinction between bishop and presbyter. Thus it happened that men like Robert Blair and John Livingstone maintained a Presbyterian communion within the Episcopal church supported by its endowments. Bishops received ministers from Scotland and placed them in Episcopal churches. Even in the case of ordination, the Bishop acted simply as a presbyter. Had this state of things continued, there would have been one great Protestant Church in Ireland to-day.

The rebellion of 1641 and subsequent years overturned church and constitution, and in 1642 the long Parliament abolished Episcopacy, and summoned an assembly of Divines to meet at Westminster in June, 1643, to advise Parliament as to the new form of church government for the three kingdoms. In June, 1646, the ordinance establishing Presbyterianism was ratified by Parliament. After the Restoration, Episcopacy gained the ascendancy, and persecution of the Presbyterians began. The bishops insisted that the Presbyterian pastors should submit to re-ordination at Episcopal hands. With only a very few exceptions they refused, and so were driven from their churches. Happily, this state of affairs is long since ended, and the spirit of toleration and goodwill is firmly established in all the Protestant churches.