Monday, 24 August 2009

Stranorlar Presbyterians Celebrate 300 Years!

Anyone with an interest in or a connection to Donegal and more specifically to the village of Stranorlar, may be interested in the tercentennary of Stranorlar Presbyterian Church. And in the history of the congregation itself...

Stranorlar Presbyterian Church 0r 'Meetin'hoose' has been a rock for successive generations of Presyterians in this locality for more than three centuries. Family names such as Adams, Alexander, Arle, Armstrong, Baird, Bates, Blair, Bell, Boggle, Campbell, Carson, Ewing, Fairman, Hastings, Henderson, Irwin, Knox, Leeper, Love, Lucas, MacGregor, Magee, McCain/McKane, McClean, McClure, Neilands, Roulston, Russell, Kee, Taylor, Virtue, Wallace, Wauchop, Woods, Wilson and Whyte are examples of the many planted family names associated with this congregation since the early days.

The village of Stranorlar like so many other remote Ulster villages of this time quickly developed a strong Presbyterian influence as the planted Scots of that era brought with them their 'Scriptural Creed, and habits of industry and love of Liberty'. Their strong faith combined with their high moral standards and work ethic has laid the foundation of the proud Ulster-Scot heritage we enjoy today.

Stranorlar lies on the outer edge of the Laggan Presbytery in East Donegal which is noted as the second Presbytery established in Ireland in the year 1649, after Carrickfergus in 1642. According to its early records the first commissioners in Stranorlar requested supply of a Minister as early as August 1675: "John Armstrong from Stranorland (sic.) desired a visit and some supply for that people, who now have of late become more willing to receive the Gospel than before..."

Rev. Alexander Leckey, Minister in nearby Convoy village from 1870 and a renowned local historian, remarked in his notes in 1905: "this previous unwillingness to 'desire and receive the Gospel' on part of the people of Stranorlar and the neighbourhood should not lead us to think that they were sinners above all others that dwelt in the Laggan, but should, rather, I suppose, be attributed to the fact that they lived within what would have then been considered at an inconvenient distance from two other Presbyterian places of worship, viz., Donoughmore and Covoy."

As both meetinghouses at Convoy and Donoughmore were at a considerable distance we can assume that Stranorlar folk had been gathering for worship locally in a somewhat informal manner for some time before August 0f 1675, and felt that their numbers and their needs justified the formal calling of a Minister to lead them.

However, due to various underlying reasons such as the scarcity of such Ministers, serious poverty and wretched living conditions among the people, as well as the on-going and continued suppression by the established church, the Presbyterians in Stranorlar were not successful in installing their first official Minister, Master Robert Wilson, until 25th June 1709. And the congregation has had an interesting and colourful past and, like most others, has gone through various phases of growth and decline since its inception.

Many able men have passed through our pulpits since Master Wilson passed on in 1727 including Rev. Joseph Kinkead (1745-1755); Rev. Joseph Love (1767-1807); Rev. James Neilson (1808-1821); Rev. James Steele DD (1821-1859); Rev. Hugh Clarke Graham (1859-1874); Rev. WJ Macaulay (1874-1880); Rev. James Curry (1881-1940); Rev. John McFall (1941-1947); Rev. Charles McKimm Eadie (1948-1951); Rev. Herbert Courtney (1951-1955); Rev. WJE McClure (1955-1965); Rev. John Sproule ((1966-1971); Rev. W McI Craig (1971-1977); Rev. GD Campbell (1978-1986); Rev. Eleanor Henning (1988-1997); Rev. Alan Carson (1998-2004); Rev. Tom Luke (2005-2007) and Rev. Stanley Stewart, our present minister.

Meetinghouse Street pictured c.1910 with the existing Meetinghouse (built in 1906), Sunday school building just visible on the upper left and the Manse on the right (built in 1881).

The existing church building replaced the earlier 18th century building which would originally have had a traditonal thatched roof, clay floor and no seating! Worshippers simply brought their own seat, sat on the floor or remained standing for worship!

The centenary of the present meetinghouse was celebrated by the congregation in April 2006 and the Tercentenary of the founding of the congregation is currently being celebrated since the anniversary on 25th June 2009.

Stranorlar is an interesting corner of Ulster-Scot history and much work is still required to unearth what is still out there. However, a fairly detailed history of this congregation (produced to mark the centenary of the church building in 2006) is available in booklet form and includes various facts, figures, personal memoirs, photos, family names & information as well as a general overview of the church and locality since the 17th century. A glimpse into our forfather's lives after arriving here all those generations ago...

They always stood up for what they believed and many suffered to preserve what we have today - we trust that Presbyterians will continue to worship in Stranorlar for many generations to come!

Mark M Knox

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