The Arrival of the Presbyterian Ministers
People often think that all Ulster-Scots are Presbyterians. This part of our story shows us that in the early years of the 1600s the Ulster-Scots settlers, both people and ministers, worshipped and ministered within the Established Church (the Church of Ireland) - a period often described as the“Prescopalian” era (ie both Presbyterian and Episcopalian). Even through the religious difficulties and theological differences which lay ahead, large numbers of Ulster-Scots have always been members of the Church of Ireland, right up to the present day. You don’t have to be a Presbyterian to be an Ulster-Scot!
The Attraction of Ulster
By now the Settlement was a spectacular success. Many of Hamilton and Montgomery’s family connections and major tenants were now pushing westward into new territory in King James I’s Plantation in the west of Ulster - a pattern which around 250,000 of the settlers’ descendants would continue centuries later in the
New World of North America.
For example, James Hamilton’s brother John acquired lands in County Armagh and founded Markethill, Hamiltonsbawn and Newtownhamilton. The Co. Londonderry villages of Eglinton and Greysteel were named after Sir Hugh Montgomery’s cousin and the head of the Montgomery family, the Earl of Eglinton, whose nickname was Greysteel.
The economic success of the Settlement, whilst good news for Ulster, was causing significant economic problems back home in Scotland. Huge numbers of tenant farmers had left for Ulster, particularly from the large estates in the West of Scotland. The Scottish Secretary of State wrote “...the West country people of the common sort do flock over in so great numbers that much lands are lying waste for lack of tenants...”. The attraction of Ulster was causing so much difficulty that the Scottish Privy Council ruled that no tenants were to migrate without their landlord’s permission. There weren’t even enough boats to meet the demand, and this allowed the shipowners to raise their prices. Again the Scottish Privy Council stepped in, to introduce fare controls.
The appeal of Ulster was to be a major factor in Scottish emigration for centuries. In fact, from 1650 to 1700, only 7,000 Scots emigrated to America, yet between 60,000 and 100,000 emigrated across the North Channel to Ulster. The Scots settlers seem to have agreed with Sir Arthur Chichester when, comparing the New World with Ulster, he said “I had rather labour with my hands in the plantation of Ulster than dance or play in that of Virginia.”
The Scum of Both Nations…?
For all of its economic success, the spiritual condition of the Settlement may not have been quite so positive. Two of the early Scottish Presbyterian ministers who came to Ulster, Rev Robert Blair and Rev Andrew Stewart, wrote bleak accounts of what they found when they arrived.
Blair wrote that “...the case of the people through all that part of the country was most lamentable, they being drowned in ignorance, security and sensuality... the most part were such as either poverty, scandalous lives...”.
Stewart famously wrote that “...from Scotland came many and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, who, for debt, or breaking and fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, came hither, hoping to be without fear of man’s justice in a land where there was nothing, or but little, as yet, of the fear of God... void of Godliness who seemed rather to flee from God in
… Or Worthy and Godly?
When most authors and historians quote Blair and Stewart, they stop with the two statements above.
However, Blair went on to write that “...among these, Divine Providence sent over some worthy persons...”. Stewart went on to write “...yet God followed them when they fled from Him...”, and The Montgomery Manuscripts record that “...among all this care and indefatigable industry for their families, a place of God’s honour to dwell in was not forgotten nor neglected...”. John Harrison, in his 1888 book The Scot in Ulster, wrote that “...Hamilton and Montgomery looked after the spiritual wants of the emigrants in County Down...”.
Faith and church life clearly played a significant role in the early Settlement in Ulster.
The Divine Right of Kings and The Geneva Bible
At this time the Established Church (the Church of Ireland) held precedence, yet Sir Arthur Chichester wrote that the churches in Ulster were few, none were in good repair and that many of the clergy were absent. It has been said that there weren’t three sufficient preaching Bishops on the whole island.
However across the water in Scotland, the Calvinism of the Presbyterians had been legally established in 1567, the year that King James came to the throne of Scotland. Thanks to Reformers like John Knox, Presbyterianism had won the hearts of the people. Many of the ministers who were graduating from Scottish universities, and many professors at the universities, were committed Presbyterians. Yet some of the Bishops within the Scottish Kirk were opposed to Presbyterianism and remained loyal to King James.
King James, as Head of State, was therefore also Head of the Established Church and he believed that Presbyterianism was destructive and anarchical. He was a firm believer in an idea known as the “Divine Right of Kings”, and as such was deeply unhappy with the popular Bible of the time, the Geneva Bible, which was used in the Scottish Kirk but not in the Church of England.
The reason for this was that the Geneva Bible included footnotes written by John Calvin, John Knox and other Reformers. King James saw these footnotes as highly dangerous - they opposed the idea of the “Divine Right of Kings” and encouraged resistance to tyrants. Because the Geneva Bible was so popular (there had been 144 printings of it between 1560 and 1644) James saw these footnotes as a direct threat to his position both as Head of State and Head of the Established Church.
So King James ruled the Geneva Bible “seditious” and made it a criminal offence to own one, and he commissioned a new Bible - the Authorised Version or King James Bible, stripped of these dangerous footnotes - with the intention that it would replace the Geneva Bible. The Authorised Version was first published in 1611, yet it would be 40 years before the Geneva Bible was unseated as the most popular edition. King James also worked personally on his own version of the Psalms, entitled The Psalms of King David, translated by King James.
He was assisted by Sir William Alexander, (left) the author of The Great Day of the Lord’s Judgement (Sir William Alexander will reappear in the next part of our story). The Authorised Version is rightly regarded today as perhaps the finest of all Bible translations, yet it is interesting to see some of the motivation which lay behind it. King James I’s ambitious desire to be Head of both Church and State were soon to cause great turmoil in Scotland and Ulster.
The First Two Ministers Arrive
Sir James Hamilton had already brought Rev John Gibson to Ulster in 1609 to minister in Bangor, but it was 1613 when the first acknowledged Presbyterian minister arrived in Ulster. Driven from Scotland by Archbishop Spottiswoode (King James’ main supporter in Scotland) Rev Edward Brice came from Stirlingshire to Broadisland (Ballycarry), on invitation from one of Sir Hugh Montgomery’s first tenants, Sir William Edmonston. Edmonston may have been a cousin of Sir James Hamilton, and had just moved from his initial Ulster lands near Donaghadee to a larger estate in east Antrim.
Next, in 1615, Sir James Hamilton brought Rev Robert Cunningham to Holywood; he had formerly been a chaplain to a Scottish regiment under the Earl of Buccleugh in Holland, and married one of Sir Hugh Montgomery’s daughters. Then events in Scotland took a serious turn for the worse for the Presbyterians.
The Five Articles of Perth
On 25th August 1618 King James exerted his power, and, in an effort to conform Scottish worship to the pattern of the Anglican Church and to impose bishops on the Presbyterians, his “Five Articles” were imposed upon a reluctant General Assembly at Perth. (these were - kneeling during communion; private baptism; private communion for the sick or infirm; confirmation by a Bishop; the observance of Holy Days). This coincided with a great storm directly over the Assembly building. When these “Five Articles of Perth” were made law on 4th August 1621 by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, an even greater storm took place and made the entire city as dark as night, with thunder, lightning and hail - a day which became known as “Black Saturday”.
The Scottish people now called their bishops “Tulchan Bishops” - tulchan being a Scots language term for a fake calf, designed to deceive a cow into giving milk. The people clearly felt they were being deceived by the actions of the King and his Bishops.
The First Wave of Ulster-Scots Ministers
These “Five Articles” were met with fierce opposition across Scotland, and ignited a new exodus of clergymen and settlers across the water. The initial wave of ministers who came to Ulster was:
1619 Rev John Ridge (Antrim)
an English Puritan
1621 Rev James Glendinning (Carnmoney, Carrickfergus, Oldstone)
1621 Rev Henry Colwert (Broadisland, Oldstone)
an English Puritan
1621 Rev George Hubbard (Carrickfergus)
an English Puritan
1620? Rev David McGill (Greyabbey)
personal Chaplain to Sir Hugh Montgomery and son of Lord Nisbet, the Lord Advocate of Scotland
1620 John MacLellan / McClelland (Newtownards)
First Principal at Sir Hugh Montgomery’s school in Newtownards and also a part-time minister. Sir Hugh’s eldest daughter married John’s close relative Sir Robert MacLellan around 1620.
1623 Rev Robert Blair (Bangor)
Blair’s first wife was Beatrix Hamilton, a sister of Jenny Geddes (who famously threw the stool at the Bishop in Edinburgh in 1637).
His second wife was Sir Hugh Montgomery’s daughter Catherine, who he married in 1635.
1625 Rev George Dunbar (Larne)
1625 Rev Josias Welsh (Templepatrick)
John Knox’s grandson
1625 Rev James Hamilton (Ballywalter)
Sir James Hamilton’s nephew, who married one of Sir Hugh Montgomery’s daughters
1627 Rev Andrew Stewart (Donegore)
1630 Rev John Livingstone (Killinchy)
Other Ministers of the era, listed in The Hamilton Manuscripts and the Ulster Visitation Book of 1622, include:
Rev John Bole (Killyleagh)
Rev George Porter (Ballyhalbert)
Rev John Leathem (Holywood)
These ministers were theologically Presbyterian and were welcomed by the Ulster-Scots settlers, yet they preached and worshipped within the Established Church and its buildings. The Bishops in Ulster tolerated the Presbyterians for a time, and perhaps even initially welcomed the influx of new people and new clergy. The Bishops were also flexible in the ordination ceremonies of these new ministers, and in fact many of the new Bishops coming to Ulster were Scots. Bishop George Montgomery was Sir Hugh Montgomery’s brother (he was transferred from Derry, Raphoe and Clogher in January 1610 to become Bishop of Meath). His replacement was fellow Scot Bishop Andrew Knox, formerly Bishop of the Isles.
During the reign of King James VI & I, at least 65 Scottish ministers served in Ireland, and 12 Scottish bishops, seven of whom were in Ulster dioceses.
The Rebuilding of the Churches
In many instances the Scottish ministers and their new congregations set about restoring and rebuilding the ruined churches which had been destroyed by the English/Gaelic wars of the late 1500s, renewing worship in them for the first time in many decades. Montgomery repaired or built:
• Donaghadee Parish Church
• Portpatrick Parish Church
• Newtownards Priory
• Grey Abbey
• Comber Parish Church (2/3 of the cost)
Kilmore Parish Church
Montgomery presented these six churches with a large bell, a Geneva Bible and a Common Prayer Book - all of which had his Braidstane coat of arms stamped on them. Hamilton repaired or built:
• Bangor Abbey
• Holywood Priory
• Comber Parish Church (1/3 of the cost)
• St Andrews, Ballyhalbert
• Whitechurch, Ballywalter
• Dundonald, St Elizabeth’s
• Killinchy Parish Church
• Killyleagh Parish Church
• Innishargy Church
The Death of Con O’Neill & The Death of King James
During this period of great change, in 1618, Con O’Neill died. By the time of his death Con had sold off most of the 68 townlands he had agreed in the deal with Hamilton and Montgomery back in 1605, and may only have had as few as six townlands left in his estate. Con was buried near Holywood, but no known grave remains today. The Montgomery Manuscripts tell us that the local people fondly described Con as “the ould King.” (page 83)
On 27th March 1625 the other “ould King”in our story, King James VI & I, also died. In the months that followed, great religious revivals would sweep through the West of Scotland and East Ulster, through the work of the ministers listed above.
However, when King James’ son took the throne and was crowned as King Charles I in February 1626, life for the Presbyterians in Scotland and Ulster was to become worse than ever before...
(With thanks to Rev Dr Joseph Thompson of the Presbyterian Historical Society for his assistance with this article)
(This article was originally published in The Ulster-Scot, July 2006)