Second Congregation of Protestant Dissenters, Belfast



(a) The Organ.

"Mute, mute the harp; for ever lost the art
Which roused to rapture each Milesian heart;
Cold, cold the hands whose thrilling touch sublime
Caught the rapt ear, and stayed the flight of time."
                   -- The Giant's Causeway.[1]

The Organ of the Second Congregation is one of the most interesting in the North of Ireland, and forms one of those ancient landmarks which too often succumb to the very latest and most improved. For upwards of go years it stood in the Meeting-house, Rosemary Street, where it occupied the unique position of being the earliest Organ used in public worship by the Protestant Dissenters of the North, and being second in Belfast only to that of the Parish Church.

A halo of uncertainty enshrouds its early history, and there is an interesting tradition of its being formerly erected in St. George's Church, Windsor, where the immortal Handel drew forth such exquisite melody from its time-worn keys. Be that as it may, we know as an acknowledged fact that it was erected in Rosemary Street under the personal supervision of Edward Bunting, whose name will ever be intimately associated with the revival of Irish music.

It was opened on Sunday, 7th September, 1806, when the tune selected was suited to the simplicity of Presbyterian worship -- viz., "The Old Hundred." The opportunity was embraced of assisting the Belfast Charities, in which good work the Second Congregation has ever distinguished itself, and the sum of 137 19s 7d was handed over to the Fever Hospital and Dispensary as the result of the day's collection.

The introduction of an Organ seems to have been viewed with some amount of trepidation by the First Congregation, who feared "that it may disturb worship in this house," and consequently a proposal was made to change the hours of worship, which proposal, however, was not acted on. The old prejudices against instrumental music are fast fading away, and those happy effects and influences which music is calculated to produce upon the mind in the Service of God are becoming every day more generally acknowledged. The squabblings and bickerings of the General Assembly over the introduction of an Organ into the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have now passed into the domain of history, and the outcome of the lengthened controversy has been that several Congregations have followed our example, while in the course of a few years we may expect to see instrumental music in every place of worship.

In 1837 the Committee decided that "in order to secure the greatest possible improvement in the musical department the Organ should be repaired," and Messrs. Bewsher & Fleetwood, Liverpool, were entrusted with the work at the sum of ^^40. It was again repaired by Messrs. Bevington, London, in 1854, and on the occasion of it being re-opened (12th January, 1855) the Classical Harmonists kindly assisted.

In April, 1857, it was decided to make very considerable alterations and improvements, and the Organ was sent to the factory of Messrs. Robson, London. The compass of the Great and Choir Manuals was changed from GG to F (the lower octave wanting GG sharp) to the modern compass of CC to F. The compass of Swell Organ was extended from Tenor F down to Tenor C, and a new Cornopean and Fifteenth were added. The eight lower notes of Open Diapason of Great Organ were made new of metal (CC and CC sharp were previously of wood). A complete set of new open Diapason Wood pipes from CCC, 16 feet, to F,30 notes, was supplied. The draw-stop action of Great and Choir Organs was re-arranged, all the stops of Choir Organ being made to draw at the one side. The draw-stop action of Swell Organ was entirely new, and brass plates were attached to distinguish the stops of the various Organs. The stops in Swell Organ were re-arranged, the smaller of the two open Diapasons being changed into a Double by being shifted up an octave, and continued down with stopped wood pipes. The bellows were enlarged, and a new blowing action was attached. A separate wind Trunk was fitted so as to supply Great Organ with wind direct from the bellows instead of being supplied through wind chest. The Choir sound-board was lowered to give height for a new swell-box. Three new sets of keys were supplied, and brought out beyond the line of case about 7 inches; new Pedals, Pedal action, Brass Roller Board, new Manual action, and new Draw-stop knobs; new Couplers, Great Organ to Pedals and Choir Organ to Pedals, both shifting on and off. The action of Swell Coupler was changed so as to draw beside the other Couplers. All the pipes in the Organ were cleaned and re-voiced to a weightier pressure of wind -- viz., 27/8 inches. The total expense was 210.

The Organ was re-opened on 22nd November, 1857, and on the following Tuesday evening a Sacred Concert was held in the Meeting-house. The following were the programmes of music:--

Sunday, 22nd November, 1857.
Voluntary Prelude in C A. Hesse.
7th Psalm "New Greenwich" --
9th Psalm "Denmark" --
Voluntary "Agnus Dei" Mozart.
160th Psalm "Exeter" --
Voluntary "Hallelujah Chorus" Handel.
Tuesday, 24th November, 1857.
Chorus "Sing unto God" Handel.
Organ "Andante Movement" (Op. 34) Mozart.
Organ "Prelude and Fugue" Bach.
Organ "Agnus Dei" Mozart.
Concerto ... ... Handel.
Motett "Splendente te Deus" Mozart.
Trio "Most beautiful appear" Haydn.
Chorus "The waters overwhelmed their enemies" Handel.
Air "If with all your hearts" Mendelssohn.
Chorus "Hallelujah"
MR. J. R. EDISON, Organist.

In 1870 the Organ was again overhauled, and the following alterations were effected:-- In the Great Organ the Twelfth was removed and replaced with a new Viol di Gamba of 4 feet pitch. In the Choir Organ the Fifteenth was removed and the Principal put on its slide down to Tenor C, the lower octave being done away with. A new Cone Gamba of 8 feet pitch, down to Tenor C, was put on Principal slide. The draw-stop knobs of the Great and Choir Organs were altered to suit the above changes, the Treble part of Stopped Diapason being called Metal Flute. The whole Organ was tuned and regulated throughout. One front pipe of Great Open Diapason (Fid. G sharp) replaced with a new one.

In 1891 the Congregational Committee voted to the Music Committee the sum of 13 18s 4d, which was lodged in the bank as the nucleus of a fund for renovating the Organ. On 3rd March, 1892, Professor Henry Morley delivered two lectures in the Meeting-house in aid of same fund, which realized 12 nett. Various contributions were given to the fund, and in 1898 it amounted to 60.

When the Congregation removed to All Souls' Church it was found inadvisable to erect the Organ in a new building, as the damp might have a very serious effect upon it, and for two years the organist had to use a vocalion, kindly lent by Mrs. A. M. Carlisle. At the annual meeting of 1898 the question of removing the Organ from Rosemary Street or purchasing a new one came up for consideration, and after a lengthened discussion it was unanimously decided not to part with an old friend. The work of removing was entrusted to Mr. J. Field of Belfast, who, in addition to thoroughly cleaning it, made the following alterations -- viz., Divided Pallets were added, and also four Composition Pedals, two to Great Organ and two to Swell Organ. The opening Services were held on 30th October, 1898, on which occasion the "Old Hundred" was sung -- the tune with which it was originally opened in 1806 under Edward Bunting. To the members of the Second Congregation it is a connecting link with past generations who raised their voices in unison with its chords in the public worship of Almighty God.

Description of Organ

As it at present stands in All Souls' Church.
GREAT ORGAN, CC to F, 54 Notes.
1. Open Diapason, 8 feet metal 54 Pipes.
2. Stopped Diapason, 8 feet metal, with chimney from Mid C,wood, Bass 54 "
3. Principal, 4 feet metal 54 "
4. Viol di Gamba, 4 feet metal 54 "
5. Fifteenth, 2 feet metal 54 "
6. Sesquialtra, metal three ranks 162 "
Total 432 Pipes.
CHOIR ORGAN, CC to F, 54 Notes.
1. Cone Gamba, 8 feet metal, Tenor C 42 Pipes.
2. Dulciana, 8 feet metal, Tenor C 42 "
3. Stopped Diapason, 8 feet wood, Bass 12 "
4. Metal Flute, 8 feet metal, with chimney to Mid C, wood 42 "
5. Principal, 4 feet metal, Tenor C 42 "
6. Flute, 4 feet metal, with chimney to Tenor C, wood, Bass 54 "
7. Clarionet (Cremona), 8 feet metal spotted, Mid C 30 "
Total 264 Pipes.
SWELL ORGAN, Tenor C to F, 42 Notes, Keys to CC. Acting in Choir.
1. Double Diapason, 16 feet metal, open (2 upper octaves wood, Bass) 42 Pipes.
2. Open Diapason, 8 feet metal 42 "
3. Stopped Diapason, 8 feet metal, closed from Mid C, wood, Bass 42 "
4. Principal, 4 feet metal 42 "
5. Flute, 4 feet wood, stopped 42 "
6. Fifteenth, 2 feet metal 42 "
7. Cornopean, 8 feet metal 42 "
8. Oboe, 8 feet metal 42 "
Total 336 Pipes.
PEDAL ORGAN, CCC to F, 30 Notes.
1. Open Diapason, 16 feet, wood 30 Pipes.
1. Swell Organ to Great Organ.
2. Great Organ to Pedal Organ.
3. Choir Organ to Pedal Organ.
Great Organ 6 Stops. 432 Pipes.
Choir Organ 7 " 264 "
Swell Organ 8" 336 "
Pedal Organ 1" 30 "
Couplers 3 "
---- ----
25 Stops, 1,062 Pipes.


List of Organists

1806--1817       Edward Bunting.
1818--1836       Joseph Hart.
1836--1837       ------ Robinson.
1838--1840       ------ May.
Organ discontinued.
1843--1847       Mrs. Lennon.
1847--1854       John Carroll.
May--June, 1854       ------ Grantz.
1854--1857       Albert Dawes.
1857--1864       J. R. Edison.
186--1866       H. Taylor.
1866--1867       Alfred Cellier.
1867--1873       J. S. Keeling.
1873       Herbert Darbishire (Honorary).
1874--1878       W. B. E. Atkinson.
1878--1882       R. T. Allen.
1882--1887       Thomas Gordon.
1887--1888       W. J. Crowe, Jr.
1888--1890       A. E. J. M'Creary.
1890       Ernest Worth.

(b) The Choir.

The introduction of the Organ was only a means to an end -- viz., to provide the best music which it was possible to secure. The services of Mr. Bunting were employed to train the Choir, and a system was adopted of binding boys from the Poorhouse to the Organist, in trust for the Congregation, and they were allowed a guinea a year each "as an encouragement to learn."

In the year 1813 a series of sacred concerts was given in the Meeting-house for the benefit of the Incorporated Charitable Society, when Edward Bunting presided at the Organ. In addition to the Organ there was a band of 50 performers, and the attempt to produce the finest classical music drew forth a large attendance. The following were the programmes:--

20th October, 1813.
Chorus "He gave them hailstones" Israel in Egypt.
Trio "Disdainful of Danger" Judas Maccabceus.
Solo "Angels ever bright" Handel.
Chorus "The Horse and his Rider" Israel in Egypt.
Overture "Saul" Handel.
Chorus "We Come" Judas Maccabceus.
Solo "Total Eclipse" Samson.
Chorus "First Created Beam" Samson.
Air "What is Man?" Handel.
Aria "The Bright Seraphim"
Trumpet Obligato by Mr. Willman.
Chorus "Let Their Celestial Concerts" Samson.
Violin Solo "Concerto"
Mr. T. Cooke.
Chorus "Coronation Anthem" Handel.
21st October, 1813.
Haydn's Creation.
22nd October, 1813.
Handel's Messiah.

In 1821 the Organist wore a black gown, and the Choir boys were supplied with linen gowns, but there is no record how long this custom continued. The Organist also held the position of Clerk or leader of the vocal department, and the Choir consisted of four boys (trebles), a counter-tenor, a tenor, and a bass, all of whom were paid. The dual office of Organist and Clerk ceased to exist in 1832, and henceforth the leader of the Choir was distinct from the Organist. The leader's duties, in addition to singing in the Choir, included the holding of practice meetings at least three times a week, and two general practices with the Organist. Fines were inflicted on the members who were late, and "no excuse will be admitted for absence but bad health, or a written permission previously obtained from the leader."

"The Sub-Committee appointed for the management of the Choir and the Musical Department of the Congregation for the year 1838 feel warranted in assuming that a very decided improvement has taken place in this interesting portion of our Service, and they are confident that by judicious management and attention on the part of those to whom its future care shall be entrusted a much greater improvement may still be made.

"Many of our very finest hymns, which were never before sung in our house, and which former Organists alleged could not be got up, are now arranged and executed in a very creditable manner. Your Sub-Committee refer with satisfaction to one only ("Vital Spark") in proof of their assertion.

"The Choir in its present construction cannot be supported under a sum of 136 a year, of which the funds of the Congregation contribute a sum of 90, leaving a sum of 46 to 50 to be provided by other means.

"During the past year the Choir introduced the custom of singing Sanctuses and Doxologies at the conclusion of the last hymn of the afternoon service; but as one or two members expressed their dissatisfaction with the arrangement, it was immediately abandoned until the opinion of the seatholders at large could be ascertained on the subject. Your Committee would now recommend that the practice should be resumed, and take leave to express their opinion that, if the words to be sung were printed in such a form that they could be inserted in the psalm-books and announced by the clergyman, all scruples would be removed. Should a precedent be required, it may be mentioned that this custom exists in the first Presbyterian houses in Edinburgh, and in most of the country congregations in Scotland where choirs exist.

"With these convictions on their minds, the Sub- Committee pledge themselves that if the Congregation shall, in a spirit of liberality becoming the name and character of the Second Congregation of Belfast, provide the necessary means for supporting and still further improving the Choir, they will, if continued in the office of Musical Sub-Committee under the Committee for the current year, devote themselves zealously to the discharge of their duty, with a view to the attainment of the greatest improvement and perfection of which the Choir may be capable.

                   "SAMUEL ARCHER, }
                   JOHN MARSHALL, } Musical Sub-Committee"
                   JAMES ANDREWS, JUN., }

The Sub-Committee for the year 1839 draw attention to the "almost total silence which prevails on the part of the Congregation at the time when they should join in the elevating service of singing to the praise of their Creator." Formerly the Congregation sat during the singing, and it was now suggested that they should stand; but this suggestion was not acted on "until the Congregation be better prepared to join in the same." As an encouragement to the Congregation to join in the singing, "plain and simple Psalm tunes" were chosen.

The first Music Committee to take charge of the Choir was appointed on 7th October, 1855, and on the following 6th January they reported --

"That, as it is the wish of both Committees that the Psalmody should become Congregational, Mr. Porter be requested to invite all the young members who are gifted with voices to attend the practices, so as to enable them to lend their assistance to that important part of Divine worship."

The new Committee set about forming an amateur Choir from the members of the Congregation, and on the 6th April, 1856, the new Choir sang for the first time, the following being present: --

Mrs. Coleman. Miss Clara Mulligan. Miss Eliza M'Caw.
Miss Jane Dunn. Miss Fanny Caughey. Miss Sarah Hutton.
Miss Rowan. Miss Minnie Caughey. Mr. Mulligan.
Miss Annie Davidson. Miss Cameron. Mr. William Spackman.
Miss Maria Davidson. Miss Grace Moore. Mr. James Davidson, Jun.
Miss Jane Porter. Miss Annie Moore. Mr. William Baxter.
Miss Victoria Porter. Miss Mary Stevelly. Mr. Fred. Thompson.
Miss Torbitt. Miss Anne Stevelly. Mr. John Dunn, jun.
Miss Matilda Mulligan.    

The new Choir gave entire satisfaction, and at the Annual Meeting of 1859 it was unanimously resolved to present each member of the Choir with a copy of an address, which was to be suitably framed and hung up in the vestry, acknowledging the deep sense of obligation of the Congregation for their gratuitous services. The following is a copy: --

"We, the Members of the Second Presbyterian Congregation, Rosemary Street, being duly sensible of the great exertions that have been made and the valuable services which have been rendered by the Amateur Music Choir since its formation, desire to record our sense of obligation, and to express to the members individually and collectively our warm appreciation of the benefits which we have derived. We recognise with grateful appreciation the progressive advancement of the Choir in efficiency, and we are fully sensible of the great and substantial advantages which have been conferred upon this Church by those who so generously undertook to supply from their own resources the musical services required for our public worship. A very important saving has thus been effected in the annual Congregational expenditure; but although this is a benefit which can neither be overlooked nor lightly regarded, there is another and higher cause of satisfaction to the Congregation in the fact that the members of the Choir have evinced such an amount of interest and zeal in the welfare of the Church as to have voluntarily assumed the conduct of one of its most important departments.

"We feel, and on the present most public occasion in the year most thankfully acknowledge, that our best thanks are due to the Choir and to the gentleman under whose able superintendence they have attained to their present degree of efficiency."

                   C. B. GRIMSHAW, Chairman.

Mr. Herbert Darbishire was appointed Hon. Secretary to the Music Committee in 1873, and for a period of 14 years discharged the duties in a very efficient manner. He did much to improve the Church Music, and often presided at the Organ. On the 21st October, 1883, he was the recipient of the following letter from the Members of the Music Committee:--


We hasten to express to you our warm thanks for the books of manuscript music, which we received last evening, for our use as members of the Choir.

We shall value the books, not only for their intrinsic worth, but also because of the great labour so lovingly bestowed upon them by you. They will always serve to remind us of your deep interest in the music of the Church, and in the welfare of the members of the Choir.

We shall always be glad when you can take your place amongst us at the Organ. At all such times we shall be able to show you how careful we have been in protecting the fine collection of music which you have copied for us.

Again heartily thanking you, We remain,

                   Yours very sincerely, (Signed)

Dr. M'Caw, who succeeded Mr. Darbishire as Hon. Secretary, contributed many of his own compositions, and in 1888 presented the Music Committee with a complete set of books of manuscript music of his own composition, as responses to the Ten Services.

The Choir continue to uphold the traditions of the past, and since the opening of All Souls' Church have held many Musical Services, all of which have been largely attended.




  1. It is interesting to note that Dr. Drummond first published "The Giant's Causeway" by reading it before the Belfast Literary Society on 2nd March, 1807, about six months after the Organ was opened in his church.


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