Sunday, 1 July 2012

Building a Church

Ballyclare Presbyterian Church

Last week I spent a full morning in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. It was fascinating to work in the surroundings which date back to the end of the 18th Century. I had taken a list of a dozen books to be browsed, and references to some Historical Society journals, none of which I'm afraid produced any clan references. They had a card index of thousands of names from early newspapers listing births, marriage and deaths, which had but one name, about which I already knew, a 'Miss McIlhago' who was married in Islandmagee. It gave the date of 25 December 1840, some eight days after the marriage date of which I had learned from another source, but the library's date may well have been that of the publication of the Belfast Newsletter, a week after the event. Mary McIlhag(g)o, who was the younger of the two daughters of Samuel McIlhaggo, a farmer in Port Muck, married another farmer, John Fullerton. Would that more families had thought their 'vital events' worthy of the local newspaper.

So I was reduced to browsing the books on the library's 'Mid-Antrim' shelf. One book produced one reference for us. It was by R.T. Grange who in 1981 published Ballyclare Presbyterian Church. Ballyclare was one of the earliest Presbyterian foundations (mid-1650s) and had a minister in 1660. He was one of those 'ejected' in 1661 for not being willing to conform to the government and liturgy of the Church of Ireland, though he continued to minister to his people until his death in 1675. In 1669 in nearby Cogry three McIlhaggas had to pay the Hearth Money tax. The famous Covenanter fugitive, Alexander Peden, was sheltered in the area in 1682. In 1725 the church refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, so became part of the Non-Subscribing Presbytery of Antrim. In 1856 a section of the congregation separated from the Non-Subscribing Church and formed a new congregation within the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Clearly a new Church building and a new manse were needed. To quote from R.T. Grange, "In 1883... we have.. a complete list of all who subscribed to the building of the manse and it is not unreasonable to assume that fully 90% of those must have represented the families who in the first instance (about 1855) established our congregation". There are 105 names on the list including that of Wm. McIlhagga. I wonder if he could trace his line back to one of the three who almost two hundred years earlier paid the Hearth Tax, Alex McIlhago, Allexander McIlhago and James McIlhaga? I looked for a marriage or the baptism of children with a father William McIlhagga in both the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and in the records of the Presbyterian Church in Ballyclare but frustratingly found nothing. Perhaps William was a single man, though perhaps not! The one thing we can say about him is that he must have been sufficiently well-off to be able to 'subscribe' a capital amount to the building fund.

Have we got a possible William on record? We do have one record of a McIlhagga being married at Ballyclare Presbyterian Church but it is late into the 20th Century and on the assumption that the marriage was in his fiancee's church, we may discount him. There is however a perhaps tenuous link in a reference to William James McIlhagga and his wife Mary (nee McNeilly) and their daughter Margaret. They appear in both the 1901 and the 1911 Censuses. In 1911 they are at 52 Ballygallough (Ballyclare): William James McIlhagga, 62, Head, a widower, Farmer (Brethren); Margaret, 34, daughter (Presbyterian), an only child, and Jenny, 64, William James' sister (Brethren). They have two servants, a 24 years old man (Robert James Todd) and a 39 year old woman (Martha Mullen), both Presbyterians. In 1901 this family was at 45 Ballgallough (Ballyclare) living with William James' father in law, James McNeilly, 58, also a farmer. In 1901 William's wife Mary was still alive, and at 65, fifteen years older than him. Daughter, Maggie, was living with them. They then also had two servants, a 25 year old man (James Adair) and a 20 year old woman (Martha Pennie), both Presbyterians. In 1911 the clan surname was McIlhagga and in 1901 it was McIlhaggo.

I have mentioned this family in earlier blogs, on 7 Jun 2010 and 2 Jul 2011, when I noted from a marriage record that William James' father was William John McIlhaggar. Clearly employing two servants over such a period rather indicates that this family was fairly well-off. Also although William James and his sister had attached themselves to the Brethren, the family tradition does seem to have been Presbyterian. Surnames can have a variety of spellings, second names are often dropped and William James' father, William John, could well have been the man who lived in or near Ballyclare and 'subscribed' to the building fund of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church.

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