The Restoration and after - another phase of persecution.

In 1661 some 61 ministers refused to accept Prelacy and were ejected from their ministry; 7 ministers were seized and imprisoned in Carlingford Castle and expelled to Scotland; ministers were excommunicated and Bishop Leslie of Raphoe caused four ministers - John Hart of Taughboyne, Thomas Drummond of Ramelton, William Semple of Letterkenny, and Adam White of Fanet, to be incarcerated at Lifford for six years simply because they were Presbyterians. The Rev  Thomas Kennedy of Carland was similarly imprisoned in Dungannon for alleged `non conformity`.

Blood`s Plot

The cause of Presbyterianism was not helped by an attempt at rebellion which began in December 1662 led by a Captain Thomas Blood, the brother in law of William Lecky, a Presbyterian minister in Dublin.  The plot was apparently founded on the grievances of some old Irish Cromwellians and they sought the assistance of the influential Presbyterians in the North, thus dragging them into a rebellion in which they generally wanted no part. The plot was, however, betrayed by an informer among Blood`s associates and on 22 May 1663 , the day set for an attack on Dublin Castle and seizure of the Lord Lieutenant,  several of the ringleaders were seized.  Blood escaped while two other alleged conspirators Rev John Crookshanks and Rev  Andrew McCormack fled to Scotland only to be killed at the battle of Rullion Green in 1666.

Several Presbyterian ministers were locked up in Carlingford Castle for alleged complicity but they were gradually released and returned to their congregations. The Rev William Lecky was tried and executed, but there remained the suspicion that other ministers had been involved and there followed another period where the Bishops pursued the Presbyterians for ` non compliance`. Despite these privations there was still the common man who assisted in making barns available for services or provided shelter and sustenance to the surviving ministers. Communion services were forbidden on pain of 100 fine but these also continued in quiet places from time to time. Fortunately the truth of the Blood rebellion was revealed and by 1668 the government was tolerant of small, albeit crude, meeting houses that were being constructed. Importantly, they government became less supportive of the more extreme measures of the Bishops

A curious anomaly was the granting by King Charles II in 1672 , of the "Regium Donum " [ the King`s Gift ] of 1200 ( later reduced to 600 as that was all which was available). This came about through the intervention of Sir Arthur Forbes who had suggested the matter to the King. It  was a recognition of the church and its work, yet at the same time the Bishops continued to make life as difficult as they could.  The Regium Donum was raised to 1200 by King William III. This endowment was enjoyed by the Irish Presbyterian church, with some breaks, until 1869.   The Presbyterian Church of Ireland today has about 300,000 members in some 560 congregations. Their web site is at

The Separation of the Covenanters

There were still ministers who preached the strict adherence to the Covenant, one of whom was Rev David Houston, who became a thorn in the side of several Presbyteries. Born in Glasgow in 1633 he came to Ulster in 1660. He was several times admonished for his Covenanting principles and was formally suspended by the Route Presbytery in 1672. However, he continued in his ways both in Ulster and in Scotland and he was formally deposed in 1687 by which time he was firmly committed to the Scottish Covenanting Societies. In 1689 Houston was living in Newtownards and latterly at Armoy, Co Antrim where he died in 1696. His contribution to the Reformed Presbyterianism was significant in the early years of his ministry, although he suffered ill health in later years. Nevertheless through his work he helped to unite the many disparate Societies into a cohesive fellowship.

Apart from Houston there were others who wished to retain their attachment to the Covenant and they began to hold separate meetings for fellowship - apart from both the established Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church. To these separatists there came the likes of Alexander Peden who preached to them at Kells and Glenwherry in Co Antrim in 1679 and 1681. These separatists formed themselves into Societies and corresponded with the Covenanting Societies of Scotland who followed Richard Cameron and James Renwick. By doing so they perpetuated the testimony of the Covenant in Ireland and were the seed from which the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland grew.

Before then however, the Presbyterian Dissenters took their lead from Scotland with correspondence and the exchange of delegates to meetings. In 1712 a major event was the renewal of the Covenants of 1638 and 1643 by the Rev John MacMillan at which they were represented. Thus the Societies continued to meet for fellowship and worship, and while they had no pastor in the accepted sense elders and occasional visitors helped to keep the ministry alive until they could be brought fully into the fold consequent to the First Reformed Presbytery that was set up in Scotland in 1743. From 1744 the Irish Covenanters at last had a link with an organised body of church government to guide them. Two missionaries from Scotland arrived in Ulster  in 1752 but the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in Ireland was the Rev Matthew Lynd, from Larne, who was inducted into the pastorate of Vow, near Rasharkin, in 1761. The first Reformed Presbytery in Ireland was formed in 1763 and the Synod in 1811. Today there are some 37 congregations with a membership of about 2,500. Their web site is at .

James II and William III

Persecution returned again in strength after Charles died in 1685 when the Catholic James II came to the throne and with it wholesale changes in government and all positions of power both in England and Ireland. The King`s loyalties were soon explicit in the appointment of `Lying Dick` Talbot ` , the Earl of Tyrconnel, as Lord Lieutenant. Protestant ; Judges were ousted from office, and the Privy Council, municipal and magistrates `Romanised`. The Army too was `cleansed`. James II and his overt attempt to revert his Kingdom to Papal submission did not last long and soon revolution in England was under way.  King James left London on 18th December 1688 and, by invitation, the Protestant King William III and wife Queen Mary took his place.

Encouraged by promises of French support, King James chose to oppose King William in Ireland, seeing it as springboard to the recovery of his throne in England. This gave rise to more turmoil in Ireland and the events that led to the slamming of the Ferryquay Gate, Londonderry, by the Apprentice Boys. This action in the face of the Earl of Antrim`s soldiers (who were literally on the causeway)  was  in defiance of the demand of the Episcopalian Bishop, Ezekiel Hopkins, that they submit to their sovereign.  Much has been written about the events  and the later siege but suffice it to say that the thirteen boys, who are revered for their action, were:

Henry Campsie,  William Crookshanks. Robert Sherrard,  Daniel Sherrard, Alexander Irwin , James Steward Robert Morrison,  Alexander Cunningham, Samuel Hunt , James Spike  John Cunningham  William Cairns, and Samuel Harvey.

To these must be added the the name of the Rev James Gordon, minister at Glendermot, who was in Londonderry at the time and gave the advice " Shut the gates and keep them out ".

On 18 April 1689 King James was refused entry to Londonderry and there followed the 105 day siege of Derry.  The stand of the Enniskillen men - where the Presbyterian minister, the Rev Robert Kelso, was a key leader, ended in the defeat of the Jacobite Viscount Mountcashel  at Newtownbutler. In August 1689 General Schomberg and his soldiers landed at Bangor, and a Danish army under the Duke of Wurtenburg , joined him at Belfast in March 1690. These combined forces cleared the way for  William to land on 14 June 1690 at Carrickfergus to start his campaign that would settle matters once and for all.  William wasted no time and rapidly moved southwards to destiny at the river Boyne where the decisive battle took place on 1 July 1690. A defeated James fled to Dublin and soon after to France. The war continued for a while but the Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691 finally ended the matter and recognised William III as King of Ireland.

The Test Act

The supremacy of King William following the battle of the Boyne in 1690 was not as advantageous to the Presbyterians as it might have been because, as a constitutional monarch, he could not do all that he wished for them. Thus until his death in 1702 William was able only to influence existing law while the Irish Bishops, who represented about half of the membership of the Irish House of Lords , continued their vindictive actions against Presbyterians. 

In October 1692 the Bishops used their position to secure  a vote in the Irish House of Lords providing that there should be no toleration conceded to Presbyterians and others unless the English Test Act was brought into play. King William refused the request. The Bishops continued their vindictive ways including the summons of the Rev John McBride of Belfast in 1698, by Walkington, the Bishop of Down and Connor. McBride was charged that he had preached the right of the Church Courts to meet without the permission of the magistrates, and had the temerity to call himself `minister of Belfast`.  These incredibly petty complaints were rightly thrown out by the Lord Justices. In another instance in 1701 at Cookstown the Presbyterian Church was pulled down on the order of an intolerant rector. Despite this ongoing backbiting and persecution, by 1702 there were nine Presbyteries - Belfast, Down, Antrim, Coleraine, Armagh, Tyrone (also called Cookstown), Monaghan ( aka Stonebridge), Derry  and Convoy. These were superintended by three sub synods of Belfast, Monaghan and Lagan.

Yet again there was trouble in store as in 1704 the Test Act was introduced, not this time an oath, but a requirement for all appointees to public office to take the Communion in an Episcopal church within three months or lose their position. It is possible that the government thought that they could obtain converts to Episcopacy by this act but it was not to be. In Londonderry 10 of the 12 Aldermen were Presbyterians and lost their office; while 14 of the 24 burgesses were expelled. In Belfast 9 of 13 burgesses lost their seats. Over the country generally public office holders such as magistrates postmaster and town councilors were ejected for their faith. There was too a positive discrimination with landlords encouraged to charge Presbyterians higher rents; they were banned from being school teachers, the leases for church lands prohibited letting to a Presbyterian tenant or building of a Presbyterian church; and even in some parts the doors of the churches were nailed shut to prevent services being held.

There were a number of grievances which culminated in the exodus to America. In the period 1717 and 1718  tenant farmers suffered large increases in rents.  In later years, the linen industry was in decline, especially from 1770; while famines in 1727 and 1740 made life even more difficult. It was thus a combination of  economic, political, social  and religious factors that  pushed these people into becoming "God`s Frontiersmen".

Toleration Act

This persecution continued throughout the reign of Queen Anne who died in 1714. Under King George I things began to improve and a Toleration Act was passed that exempted the ministers from penalties to which they had been liable for celebration of their worship. But the Test Act remained in force until 1780.

Next:  And so to America 

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