The Silent Land

Belfast Evening Telegraph, Wednesday, February 20, 1907

XII -- Killead Burying-Ground.

The district about Killead has proved a very fertile field for operations of the antiquarian, and abounds with traces of all sorts of standing stones, ancient forts, caves, in short all these items of an active past which are of such interest to those who like to become acquainted with the methods of our forefathers. But the burying-ground at the church, although modern to a degree, possesses a history which carries the record away back to early in the seventeenth century, when a number of Scotch ministers, suffering persecution in their own country, came to Ireland, which, in the face of the uninterrupted bickering and quarrelling over here, seemed very much like leaving the frying pan for the fire. One of the first arrivals was Mr. James Glendinning who crossed about 1622, and was destined to become the first minister of Killead. He was first of all connected with Carrickfergus. However, Robert Blair, who was called"the cock of the conscience." And been a professor in Glasgow College, and resigned his chair because a pre-late principal was appointed, took up his abode at Bangor. He paid Mr. Glendinning a visit at Carrickfergus, and found in "not solid, but weak, and not fitted for a public place and among the English." Mr. Blair advised him to go into the country, whereupon the preacher chose Oldstone, near to Killead, and there he was the means of raising up a revival such as had not been known in the land since the days of the Apostles, and it resulted in the formation of Killead congregation. This was the first great event in the history of Irish Presbyterianism. Glendinning eventually was pronounced mad, but it was remarkable that he should have been used as the instrument for such good work. There is one wonderful conversion recorded in connection with his revival. A man who had been guilty of murder in Scotland, and had to fly the country, was touched by the preaching, and because an enthusiastic worker in the cause, though it does not mention that he at any time felt disposed to expiate his crime. Nowadays such a change would be regarded with suspicion. The succeeding ministers in Killead suffered in common with their brethren in many parts of the country, but they managed to survive the persecution, and the first clergyman with whom we have any immediate dealings with is the Rev. John M'Connell, in that his tombstone is still available. He was appointed in 1737, and the Communion service still in use is dated"Killead 1745." being procured during his term. He is buried in side the church, at the foot of the pulpit, and his memorial is, for the purpose of preservation, covered by the matting which is laid up the aisle. The inscription reads:--

Here lyeth the body of
Revd. John M'Connell
who was 34 years minister
of this congregation. He
departed this life the 8 of
June 1770 aged 63 years.

According to Dr. Killen, he died "leaving neither widow nor children," which is rather vague, to say the least of it.

When the rebellion broke out in 1798, many of the names now familiar in the neighbourhood were associated with the events of the time. A Campbell is said to have headed the Killead men at the Battle of Antrim, and of course the Montgomerys of the neighbouring Boltnaconnell were in the van. To this day the same names may be found, and the families are married and inter-married to such an extent that it would be difficult to speak to one of the old stock who is not related in some way to every other old family in the district. One family in particular possess records of having paid stipend to the church so far back as 1710.

The Cunningham Memorial
The Cunningham Memorial

And yet in the graveyard which surrounds the meeting house there are not many very old memorials. One which has fallen down from its six columns or supports is:--

"To the memory of James M'Keag and his wife. He was not unmindful of the poor who shall never cease out of the land, nor of the House in which he worshipped his God for among other liberal donations he bequeathed to the poor Presbyterian households of this congregation the sum of Twenty Pounds sterling and Five Pounds for liquidating the debt due on the house of worship."

He may have been imitating the widow who gave her mite, but his bequest would not go far under present conditions. A few yards from this is a rather elaborate erection carefully railed in and recently renewed, which leads to the opinion that philanthropists were more numerous in Killead than in many parishes where they were more needed. It is a square column, on one side of which is inscribed:--

Is dedicated
to the memory of
Saml. Cunningham, Esq.
a testimony
of the
affections of his
surviving relations
a tribute
of the
Gratitude and Esteem
of the people of
This Parish.

The second side records the following:-- "He was born at Crookedstone in this parish where he spent the early part of a blameless life. He acquired a knowledge of business in the Town of Belfast, which he afterwards successfully and honourably pursued for some years in the West Indies. Being desirous to re-visit his native country he was returning home in the Portland Packet when she was attacked by a French Privateer and in which engagement he was killed on the 18th October 1796, in the 28th year of his life, whilst bravely assisting the ship's company to maintain their liberty and the honour of the British Flag. His mortal remains are interred in the Island of Montserrat near which the action was fought."

The third side proclaims that he was of such a prudent nature that he settled his worldly affairs before leaving the West Indies, and that, among other bequests, he left "£100 to the Poor House of Belfast; also £200 British to the poor of the Parish, from which a handsome annual sum is secured to them in landed property for ever." That money is still regularly paid to the deserving poor, irrespective of creed, and according to the lists furnished by the clergymen of the different denominations to the present trustees of the fund. The Cunninghams have always been very practically associated with the parish, and the earlier records show that a member of the same family was one of two who presented the lands now belonging to the church. Their descendants are at present one of the foremost families in Belfast.

Another memorial is to the memory of Rev. Robert Orr, who was minister for 47 years, and died in October, 1833, aged 74. Dr. Henry Montgomery preached his first sermon from Killead pulpit during Mr. Orr's ministry, by whom he was betrayed. In a lecture on the subject delivered some time ago by Rev. W. J. Baird, he states that had Mr. Orr not resigned the year before the final separation of the non-subscribers from the Synod, this church would have been to-day in the hands of the Unitarians. Mr. Orr's wife was a Miss Swann, and there is a tablet close by his which records the ages of four of this family who lived long enough to be considered venerable.

The position which Killead has occupied in the history of Ulster makes the exploration of the graveyard more interesting, but it is unfortunate that the older memorials have not been preserved, for it is too much to assume that this parish was not as attentive in that respect as their neighbours when their active religious history is taken into consideration. There have been other old burial-grounds in the immediate neighbourhood, but none of the memorials remain.

<< prev | next >>


^ top of page