History of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church

We are indebted to Mr. Robert Bonar for the following text.

The date of the formation of the Carnmoney Presbyterian congregation is usually taken as 1657 for in that year the Rev. James Shaw, a Presbyterian minister, was ordained in the Presbyterian manner, as minister of Carnmoney Parish Church. During the rule of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth Government, the Established Church, the Church of Ireland, had been deprived of much of its power. It had supported the King during the Civil War and so was regarded with suspicion by Cromwell and his party. Many of the old Bishops of the Church of Ireland had died, others were inactive and the number of Church of Ireland clergymen was very small. The once powerful Church Courts no longer operated and Presbyterians had for the moment, freedom of worship. Presbyterian ministers, on application, were given £l00 per annum from Government funds. The result of all this was the number of Presbyterian congregations in Ulster increased rapidly. Most of these new Presbyterian congregations set up in vacant Parish Churches. The majority of the Protestant population in Ulster was of Scottish origin and was already Presbyterian. Such was the case in the Parish of Carnmoney when, in May, 1657, the Rev. James Shaw was ordained in the Parish Church and commenced his ministerial duties in accordance with the forms and rules of the Presbyterian Church.

All this was to change after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.Charles II was a staunch supporter of the Episcopal form of Church government and soon after his accession to the throne he restored to the Church of England and to the Church of Ireland their previous positions of power and privilege. New Bishops were appointed and they immediately commenced the task of regaining their former authority. In 1661 Jeremy Taylor became Bishop of Down and Connor and he enthusiastically began the task of re-establishing Episcopacy in counties Antrim and Down. He regarded the Presbyterian ministers occupying the various Parish Churches as impostors. These men had not been ordained by Bishops and in Taylor’s eyes, they simply were not ministers at all. These Presbyterian ministers were given a choice (a) That they would agree to being re-ordained by a Bishop and would conform to prelacy or (b) That they would be deposed from their Parishes. In 1661 over 60 Presbyterian ministers refused to conform and were driven from their Churches. The Rev. James Shaw was one of those who refused to conform. We are told that on a Sunday morning in April, 1661, while the Rev. Shaw was conducting morning worship, Bishop Jeremy Taylor arrived with a troop of cavalry and ejected him from the pulpit. Most of the congregation followed their minister. Not only was the Rev. Shaw removed from his Church, he was also forbidden to carry on his ministerial duties. Many of the deposed ministers fled to Scotland but the Rev. Shaw remained with his people, holding services in the homes or in the open air. He continued his ministerial duties in spite of the dangers of arrest and imprisonment.

By 1670 the persecution of the Presbyterians relented a little and it was about this time that the Presbyterian congregation of Carnmoney erected their first Meeting House. It was a simple barn Church, with sod gables and a thatched roof. We believe it stood a short distance to the south of the present Church and in the present Church grounds. In 1696 the Rev. Andrew Crawford was ordained minister of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church. It was during his ministry that a new Church was built to cater for a growing congregation. Although the Session Books survive for the time of the Rev. Crawford’s ministry, they do not give the date of the erection and opening of the new Church. There is an entry in the Session Book for November 12th, 1712 which reads "Agreed for repairing the Meetin House by thatching and rough casting and that the inhabitants be appointed to prepare and bring their several proportions of straw as shall be appointed and members of the Session to oversee as shall be directed." It would thus appear that the new Meeting House had not been built in 1712.There are indications that it could have been built in 1714. In that year John Shaw of Ballyganaway, Donaghadee, Co. Down, a friend of the Rev. Crawford, presented to the Carnmoney congregation a set of solid silver engraved communion cups. He also gave £lOO to keep the roof of the Church in repair and £lOO for the relief of the poor in the congregation. Could these gifts have coincided with the building and opening of a new Church? In 1814 two elders of the Congregation, James Simson and George White presented six copper collecting ladles. Could these ladles have been a gift to mark. the 100th Anniversary of the Church building? We do not have details of what the Church built on the site of the present Church during the ministry of the Rev. Crawford, looked like. We believe that it was cruciform in shape, with three galleries and a little. aisle behind the pulpit. There were three stone stairs built outside, leading up to the door of each gallery and a door under each into the body of the Church. The galleries could also be reached from the inside. It could accommodate about 560 people. By 18.62 the old Church had become too small for the growing congregation and it was decided to rebuild and enlarge the old Church. The contractor was a Mr. Magee from Ballyclare and the total cost came to about £1,lOO. The Church was opened on the last Sunday of May, I863 with the Rev. Dr. Henry Cooke preaching the sermon in the morning and the Rev. James Morgan of Fisherwick preaching in the evening. Sixteen hundred tickets were printed for the sermons and these were sold. As well people of note from a wide area were invited as special collectors at the two services. Collection at the morning service amounted to £102-3-10, made up as follows: £54 in notes, £l610-0 in gold, £31-11-7 in silver and £O-2-3 in coppers. The outside appearance of the 1862 Church changed little up to 1992 when the new vestibule was added.

Carnmoney Presbyterian Church is one of the few in Ireland that has records, artefacts, etc., dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The earliest surviving Session Book goes back to 1686 and to the ministry of the Rev. John Munro. Other Session Books document the 18th century and give a vivid insight into the life and work of a Presbyterian congregation at that time.

Baptismal and marriage records go back to the 1708 period. The Communion Cups presented by Mr. John Shaw are still in the possession of the congregation as are the Collecting Ladles presented in 1814.