A History of Burt Presbyterian Church
by James McC. T. Buchanan
The Early Years
After the Plantation of Ulster the Presbyterians of Burt seem to have travelled to Derry where they worshipped with the people of the Derry area on the west bank where Episcopacy was established by law, but the services were conducted so as to meet the views of Presbyterians. Presbyterian Services were held in the Cathedral and St. Augustine’s. The Solemn League and Covenant was solemnly administered in the Cathedral in May 1644 by the Rev. John Weir and the Rev. William Adair from Scotland and the Sacrament was administered afterwards.
The Presbyterian Minister in Derry in 1661 was deposed for nonconformity, and thirteen from around the city had to fly to avoid prison. The Congregation in Derry was still vacant in 1670 when attempts were made to bring Scotsmen across. One man, William Hampton who had been brought over by Messrs John Campsie, Burnsyde and Early got into trouble for preaching in the “large meeting house which they built for their public assemblies within the walls of the City and within two or three doors of the Bishop’s mansion house”. On Sunday 1st September the Bishop decided to take action. Along with the Mayor, another justice, the Sheriff, with their officers they visited the Church where they found the Congregation with William Hampton “Praying and preaching openly, and not according to the established Liturgy and order of the Church of Ireland”. After a “riotous” confrontation and the arrest of the leaders, the Church was closed. At a Presbyterian meeting on August 21st the Derry Commissioners “asked for Hampton’s services until Rule arrived” Robert Rule of Kirkcaldy accepted a call to Derry and was installed in 1672.
Accordingly in 1763 and again in 1765 petitions were presented to the Irish House of Commons, Dublin, for aid towards the expense of carrying in into effect, but although favourably received nothing practical resulted. At this time the total expense of the creating of the canal was not expected to reach £8,000. The main idea was merely to cut a waterway from Derry to the sea near Burnfoot, a distance of about five Irish miles, based largely upon vague conjecture and without reliable engineering advice.
In 1807 Londonderry Corporation employed an engineer on the project, but although a survey and report was presented in the following year nothing practical resulted.
A revival of the proposal took place in 1831 when a noted engineer, Sir John Rennie prepared three alternative plans. The First required an embankment extending direct from high water mark near Burnfoot to “Foreland (commonly called Farland) Point”, and the Burt Mill Stream crossed by aqueduct, the total length of canal being seven miles three furlongs and expenditure estimated at £38,462. The second plan indicated the canal, eight miles in length, to proceed along the Burt shore at the base of Grianan Hill and thence to Farland Point, the cost being similar to the first plan. Under the third scheme, the first proposal was to be fulfilled as far as Trady Point with a channel dredged thence to the deep water at Farland Point at a cost of £36,962.
Evidently the cost shocked the promoters, because there followed five years of inactivity. Sir John Rennie’s labours had brought home to all concerned that something more durable and important than cutting a waterway from the Foyle side to the Burnfoot mid flats was essential. It was realised that protection from the rough tides of Lough Swilly would be required to permit the canal to function from high water mark to deep water over a couple of miles. Furthermore, the provision of an embankment would also necessitate an outer protective barrier against sea incursion particularly during strong tides.
Such an arrangement required an extent of land reclamation, and it became obvious that a larger and bolder scheme would prove not only more beneficial for the making of the canal but also produce attractive remunerative results by the creation of an expanse of rich alluvial soil for agricultural purposes.
Accordingly the project was revived in 1836 with the main object of land reclamation from the sea bed not only in Lough Swilly but also in Lough Foyle, and elaborate plans were drawn up by a celebrated engineering expert, Mr Dimsdale. Statutory authority was secured in 1838 by “An Act for draining and embanking certain lands in Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle in the counties of Donegal and Londonderry”
According to this Act the promoters of the scheme were:
John Gyllyatt Booth, Crouch End, Hornsey.
Thomas Isaac Dimsdale, Hanley Road, Upper Holloway.
Thomas Edge, Peter Street, Westminster.
John Robertson, Warnford Court, London.
Francis Stedman, Baron Street, Pentonville.
Francis William Staines, Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square.
James Whiskin, Ashby Street, Clerkenwell.
These gentlemen were stated to all belong to the County of Middlesex. It was stipulated in the Act of 1838 that the Sloblands of Lough Swilly became vested in the promoters, their heirs or assignees “for ever”, but any projected canal to connect Lough Swilly with Lough Foyle was to have free passage through the reclaimed lands.
The undertakers were required to begin the work within two years from the date of the passing of the Act (27th July, 1838), expend £3,000 on or before 31st December, 1841 and attain completion within ten years from the date of enactment.
The work of the Lough Swilly reclamation, as well as that on the Foyle, was carried out by William McCormick, an important Ulster contractor, and for some years M. P. for Londonderry City. Unlike the Foyle reclamation those on Lough Swilly were carried out in their entirety.
The Lough Swilly scheme required the erection of four main embankments. The first extends from near the old Tooban Junction on the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway for a distance of two and a half miles to Farland Point. It is usually styled “Trady Embankment” from the name of the former small island over which it passes. It was completed in 1850, is stated to have cost £80,000 and encloses over 2,000 acres, the major portion of the land reclaimed. The second embankment, which is a sea rampart, extended from Quigley’s Point on the mainland (near the old Inch Road Railway Station) to the Island of Inch. It is popularly called “Inch Embankment” and was completed in 1855 and along its side is the only public road connecting Inch Island with the mainland.
The third erection, also a sea embankment and usually termed “Farland Embankment” was completed in 1856 and connected the island of Inch with the former “Isle of Burt” near Farland Point. Both the Inch and Farland Embankments were estimated to have cost upwards of £60,000 each.
The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway service from Derry to Farland Point in Burt was opened in December 1863 operating on a standard gauge track. This connected with shipping services to Ramelton, Rathmullan and Portsalon.
Mr Charlton resigned his charge on 3rd November 1875 - the first minister of Burt to do so in over 200 years, and went to Scotland where he became minister of the Church of Scotland in Stranraer.
Rev. William Clarke
The Rev William Clarke of Ballygrainey was the next minister being installed on 27th July 1876 and after a very brief ministry accepted a call to 2nd Bangor (Trinity) and resigned his charge in Burt on 28th July 1879. It would appear that Mr Clarke had some differences with members of the congregation and this would account for his short stay in Burt. Mr Clarke was elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1889.
Restoration of Grianan of Aileach
It was during the period from 1874 to 1878 that Dr Walter Bernard of Londonderry restored the Grianan of Aileach on Grainan hill just a short distance from Burt Presbyterian Church. Many of the local farmers provided carts and men to assist Dr Bernard in this work. The old ring fort had lain in ruins for many years.
Rev. R. W. Hamilton
Rev. Robert Wilson Hamilton who was a licentiate of the Derry Presbytery was ordained in Burt on 30th January 1880 succeeded Mr Clarke. Rev. Hamilton came from Trentagh near St. Johnston and his family had connections with the Edwards family of Drumgowan. He moved to Lisburn (Railway St) and was installed there on 8th October 1885 and was also called to the Chair of the General Assembly in 1924.
In January 1895 the plans were submitted to the Committee and Mr Barker said he would roughly estimate the cost at £1520. It was agreed that owing to the recent storm they should postpone seeking tenders for one month. On December 22nd 1894 Inishowen experienced its most destructive hurricane since the “Night of the Big Wind” on 5th January 1839. On 5th February 1894 it was agreed to advertise for tenders and on 2nd April 1895 these were opened. Three were received, one from R. Colhoun of Derry of £1533 for the church and the boundary wall for £165, one from Joseph Colhoun, Derry for £1469 and £185 for the wall and one from Matthew McClelland, Derry for £1600 and £205 for the wall. In each case it was understood that the old church and session house become the property of the contractor as specified. Mr McCandless proposed and Mr Peoples seconded that Joseph Colhoun’s tender for the church being the lowest should be accepted. This was agreed. No tender was accepted for the building of the boundary wall. It was decided that the Contractor be bound to have the house roofed in and covered and the outside of the walls finished and also the windows in by the 30th September, 1895 and the house ready for opening by 1st March, 1896.
The foundation stone was laid on 1st July 1895 by Mr Wm. Tillie D.L in presence of a large assembly of the congregation and members of the Derry Presbytery, the High Sheriff of County Derry, Mr John Cooke J P and many people form the surrounding district. The weather was generally favourable for the proceedings except for a short shower at the commencement.
Mr Joseph Colhoun the builder presented Mr Tillie with a chastely designed and suitably inscribed silver trowel with which to lay the foundation stone. A hermetically-sealed bottle was placed in the cavity of the stone containing copies of the Derry Standard, Derry Journal, Derry Sentinel, Northern Whig, Witness, Missionary Herald, Christian Banner, Photograph of the old church, various reports and some coins of the realm. Mr Hugh Kerr of Londonderry took photographs of the occasion. Luncheon was provided for the notables in the school room (the Lecture Hall), which was profusely decorated with flowers and plants. Mr Henry Thompson of Londonderry looked after the catering and the Rev. Dr. Rodgers presided. The top table included Mr Tillie, Mr John Cooke, Rev George Thompson, Professor Petticrew and Rev R W Ross.
The church was finished in early May 1896 and the opening services were arranged for Sunday, 3rd May to be conducted by the Moderator of the General Assembly Rev Dr G R Buick of Cullybackey and on May 10th by Rev. Wm. Colquhoun of Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast. The minister’s room and toilet together with the pulpit and choir platform were furnished by the generous gift of Mrs J B Mullin of Buncrana who was a sister of Rev. Ross and wife of Mr John Brice Mullan, Deputy Lieutenant of County Donegal. At the morning service on 3rd May there was a very large congregation, which included many friends from a distance and a considerable number of members of the city congregations. The Moderator preached from Revelations 21 v.5 “And he that sat upon the throne said behold I make all things new” The Moderator again conducted the evening service which also had a large attendance. His text was 1st Corinthians 2 v 9 “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him”. At both services the singing was most creditable, the local choir being augmented by some members of the city choirs who kindly attended on both occasions.
In 1907 Rev. Ross organised a very successful Sale of Work and Summer Fete which took place on the 11th, 12th and 13th July and was held in the Lecture Hall and in a marquee in the Church Grounds commencing at 3.30 p.m. each day. The sale was opened on 11th July by Mrs MacMaster of College Avenue, Derry and the Mayor of Derry Alderman J. P. Thompson presided. There was an Empire Work Stall, a Shamrock Work Stall, a Provision Stall, a Sweet Stall, a Children’s Stall and a Refreshment Stall. An Amusement Committee organised a large number of competitions as well as the Shooting Competitions. A Variety Concert was held in the Lecture Hall on the nights of 11th and 12th July. During the three days of this Sale, Neely’s sidecar operated a service from Bridgend Railway Station to the Church and return. The combined Rail and Admission ticket from Derry was 11d. There was a Special Train leaving Bridgend for Derry on all three nights at 10.30p.m. The object of the sale was to provide the necessary funds for the renovation and improvement of the Lecture Hall and other Church Buildings, for the painting of the Church Buildings and proper laying out of the grounds.
Rev. E. G. McKimmon
Rev. Eric George McKimmon minister of Tullyallen and Mountnorris was called and installed in the united charge on 22 March 1988.
On Saturday, 22nd April 1989 a most successful Grand Auction and Sale was held in Burt in aid of the Hall Renovation Fund and over £5,000.00 was raised.
On Sunday, 13th May, 1990 a Service of Praise and Dedication was held in Burt when the guest preacher was Rev. Prof. J. C. McCullough, BA BD PhD and the praise was led by the Laggan Choir conducted by Mrs Claire Crockett. Gifts dedicated were Pew Bibles from the members of the Congregation, a Lectern Bible in memory of Robert and Elizabeth Kincaid the gift of the Kincaid Family and Choir Hymn Books the gift of David and Janet Curry, Toronto.
Mr. McKimmon after a rather brief but very useful ministry accepted a call to St James Parish Church, Falkirk on 9 January 1992.
After Mr McKimmon’s departure Rev Maurice Bolton of Strand (2nd Derry) was appointed Convenor of the vacancy by the Presbytery of Derry and Strabane and he was fortunate to secure the services of Rev. R.W.W. Clarke a retired minister living at Eglinton outside Londonderry to supply the Sunday services. Mr Clarke who was formerly minister of Trinity, Omagh proved himself to be a very popular choice with the people of Burt.
Due to illness and advancing years Mrs. Emily Bryce retired as Secretary of the Congregation in February 1995 a position she had held for 34 years and in April 1995 was presented with a gold necklace and bracelet from the members of the Congregation by Rev. Maurice Bolton and Mr James Buchanan, Clerk of Session. Mrs Bryce, who moved to Burt from Co Cavan in 1939 as a National School teacher, was a member of the Church Choir for 65 years and a ruling elder since 1980.
Due to the continued illness of Mrs Bryce the Kirk Session decided to seek three new members of Session and following a vote by members of the Congregation the names of Robert J. Buchanan, Mrs Meta Ross Glenn and Mrs Mary F. McArthur were read to the Congregation on three Sundays and were declared elected. The new elders were ordained by a Commission of the Presbytery of Derry & Strabane at a service held in the church on Sunday, 17th September 1995.
Following the untimely death of Mrs Bryce on September 1995 the Kirk Session at its meeting on 9th October, 1995 recorded a minute paying tribute to her work in the Congregation since 1939, she was held in highest regard by the whole community regardless of creed and will be dearly missed by her family and by all who knew her.
To mark the Centenary of the opening of the present church building the Session and Committee organised a special Service on Sunday 5th May 1996 when the special preacher was Very Rev. Dr. John Dunlop former Moderator and Minister of Rosemary Congregation, Belfast. The united choirs of Burt and 2nd Derry under organist Miss Linda Kennedy led the praise.
In January 1996 following the retirement of Rev. M. Bolton the Rev. David Hillen of Magheramason was appointed Convenor of Claremont and Burt. A Manpower Committee of the Derry and Strabane Presbytery has been looking at the position of the two churches and it is now suggested that the Union with Claremont should be broken and that Burt should unite with 2nd Derry (Strand), which has been vacant since 31 December 1995 when Rev Bolton retired.
The congregation of Claremont reluctantly decided to close their church and the majority of the members expressed a wish to join with 1st Derry and this was agreed by Presbytery and the General Assembly. A final Service of Thanksgiving was held in Claremont Church on Sunday, 27th October 1996 and was conducted by the Moderator of the General Assembly Rt. Rev Dr. D H Allen MA BD.
The Union Commission after consulting with Burt and 2nd Derry (Strand) Session and Committee on 25 April 1996 confirmed the new Union and this took effect on 1st June 1996 under the Convenorship of Rev. Robert Davey of Ballyarnett and Knowhead.
The United Session then began the search for a new minister and after interviewing candidates decided to hear only one, the Rev. J. K. McCormick of Trinity, Letterkenny and Trentagh. A new manse was purchased by 2nd Derry using their Manse Fund at 24, Bridgewater, Londonderry. A call was issued to Mr. McCormick who was installed on Tuesday, 17th June, 1997 and is now settled into the two Congregations.
At a very difficult time the Rev J.K. McCormick took up the reins in 2nd Derry and Burt and reached out into the community, especially in his work in the White Oaks Rehabilitation centre, in the local university and hospice. During 2009 a combination of difficulties - an aging congregation in 2nd Derry and as the number of young Presbyterian families in the parish area dwindled, congregational finance problems due to the Presbyterian Mutual Society going into administration and the need to carry out extensive and expensive repairs to Strand Church property resulted in the congregational committee asking that an amalgamation with another congregation be pursued. At a congregational meeting on the 8th September 2009 this heart-breaking but courageous recommendation was approved. The General Assembly adopted a resolution at its meeting the following June to this effect and at meetings in June and July 2010 the terms of amalgamation with Carlisle Road to form Carlisle Road (incorporating Strand & Buncrana) were agreed by the congregations. To facilitate this process the Rev. J.K. McCormick retired on the 31st August 2010, the Union with Burt was dissolved and Rev J.K. McCormick was appointed by Presbytery as Stated Supply in Burt. At its meeting on the 14th September 2010 the Presbytery of Derry & Donegal agreed the amalgamation would proceed on the 10th October 2010.
In June 2008 and in June 2009 very successful Auctions and Cake Sales were organised by Gordon and Lily Elder and held in the Church Hall to raise funds for the Church repair fund.
During 2010 the Church Committee decided to tackle the dry rot probem at the front of the church and the Fahan, Inch and Burt FAS Community Employment Project under the supervision of Walter McGrory took on the necessary repairs which commenced with the closure of the church on 18 January 2010. The pews were removed to storage and the wooden floor was taken up, a new concrete sub floor installed, insulation and new wood floor laid. The building was rewired and a new sound system was installed and provision for projection was made. Sunday Services were held in the Church Hall during this period until 17th October when the church reopened for the Harvest Thanksgiving Service.
In October 2010 the name of Gordon Elder who was an elder in Fahan Congregation and transferred to Burt in 2007, was proposed for the Eldership, this was approved by Presbytery and he was installed on 28th November 2010.
On Sunday 10 April 2011 a Special Thanksgiving Service was held to dedicate the refurbishment of the church building which included new carpeting and pew cushions. The special preacher was Rev Dr. Ken Newell, Miniser Emeritus of Fitzroy and Former Moderator and the praise was led by the Presbytery Choir conducted by Mr Trevor Gamble.
Fundraising for this work continued with a very successful Cake Sale & Auction organised by Gordon and Lily Elder in the Church Hall on Saturday 11th June 2011.
Rev McCormick continued to act as Minister of Burt - officially he was Stated Supply - until he finally retired at the end of April 2013. His farewell service was a family Communion Service on Sunday 28th April 2013 when his many friends and relations joined with the members of the Congregation to say goodbye. The service was followed by a Congregational Lunch which was provided by the ladies in the Church Hall. At this presentations were made to Rev McCormick and his wife Rachel. Rev Dr. Robert Buick on behalf of the Presbytery of Derry & Donegal thanked Rev McCormick for his work in Burt and wished both a happy retirement. These sentiments were also echoed by Fr. Neil Carlin from White Oaks Centre.
Following Rev McCormick's departure the Presbytery appointed Rev Jim Lamont as Stated Supply of Burt and Inch. He had already been acting as Stated Supply of Inch since his retirement from Carrigart and Dunfanaghy.
Another successful Cake Sale and Auction was held in the Church Hall on Saturday 8th June 2013 with the support of members of the Congregation. During July and August combined services were held in Burt and Inch on alternate Sundays.
The time of the morning service in Burt was altered to 9.45am from 1st September 2013 to facilitate Rev Lamont who also takes the service in Inch at 11am.
Old Burt Presbyterian Meeting House
Application was made to the Presbytery of Laggan in 1672 by Alderman John Craigie and Mr John Fisher, merchant, with Mr William Cunningham of Burt to divide the Parish of Templemore into two congregations. In May 1673 the Laggan Presbytery minutes record, “John Wark comsn, from the Landward of Templemore (Burt) comes desiring a visit & furder answer to what they gave in last to the Meeting.” This separation was effected in 1673 and the Rev. William Hampton a licentiate of the Presbytery of Dean in Scotland was ordained at Carnamaddy on the 15th October 1673.
It would appear that the original church building at Carnamaddy was a long, narrow, quadrangular building, with the pulpit in the sidewall. The roof was probably thatched, there was only an earthen floor and there were no pews, the congregation stood throughout the service, which could last for up to three hours.
At a meeting of the Presbytery of Laggan held in St. Johnston on October 14, 1673, “William Cunningham and James Donald came as Commissioners from Burt, Inch and Elagh in the parish of Templemore, and in their name do promise £30 yearly for Mr William Hampton’s maintenance and a convenient house when he calls for it”. At this time the congregation consisted of three divisions - Burt, Inch and Elagh. In November 1673 “Commissioners from Burt, Inch and Elagh come desiring to know what share of Mr. Hampton’s labors these of Inch shall have. They desire a third of his labours in the winter, and are content of less than the third Sabbaths preaching amongst them in the summer”. Two years later Mr Hampton is directed by the Presbytery “to visit those of the lower end of Elagh now & then as he can”.
The old Session minute book shows that on Sunday, 2nd April 1682 Mr Francis Mackemie founder of American Presbyterianism preached for Mr Hampton at Burt from Luke 13 v3 both morning and afternoon. Mr Hampton’s son John was a student under the care of the Laggan Presbytery who travelled to Maryland where he was minister of Snow Hill from 1705. He was one of the four Laggan ministers who attended the first meeting of the first Presbytery in America, which took place in the spring of 1706 in Philadelphia where the Rev. Francis Makemie was elected Moderator.
Mr William Hampton returned to Scotland when the Revolution broke out in 1688 so that in 1689 Burt had no minister. From the minutes we learn that Mr Andrew Ferguson who was licensed in Scotland in 1689 was ordained to the charge of Burt in 1690. Under him the congregation flourished, and in June 1691, the Presbytery of Laggan required the congregation to make an addition to the meetinghouse. It was probably at that time the house assumed its T shape, the addition consisting of the wing making the down stroke of the capital T, and where the main entrance was situated. In 1695 Mr Ferguson was called to Corboy (Longford) but the Synod ordered him to remain at Burt to carry on his work. In 1695 there was a dispute over parish boundaries with Derry. The people from Elagh, Coshquin and Ballynagalliagh refused to belong to Derry so in January, 1689 the Synod ordered “that the liberties of the City on that side the water wherein the City standeth should be the bounds of the Congregation” Burt was dissatisfied and appealed but the decision seems to have stood.
There is no reference in the records of the Laggan Presbytery to pews in any of its churches, until the last year of the 17th century. Until about this time, the only seating accommodation in them would be some rude forms or benches, and any who desired to make sure of a seat had to bring one with them. Any family desiring the luxury of possessing a pew had to erect it at their own expense, the session giving them so much space upon which to set it, the highest stipend payers getting the best positions. In 1699 Widow Ewing of Burt “claims the benefit of the common rules of payment in settling of her pew”. The location of their pews was evidently a frequent source of unpleasantness between members of the congregation as on 10th January 1699 “Will Porter, of the congregation of Burt, supplicates for a redress of an injury done him, as he supposes by Jo. Cunningham and Wm. Bratton in removing his pew out of its proper place in the meeting-house”.
Burt was at this time a very large Congregation, and, before Churches became so common, served a wide district and in the old church there were three galleries known as the Inch, Elagh, and Burt galleries respectively.
When Mr Ferguson grew infirm in 1724 his son Mr Andrew Ferguson Junior was appointed assistant and successor. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Derry on 16th February 1725. His father died on 18th July 1725. Mr Andrew Ferguson Junior was the great-grandfather of Sir Robert A. Ferguson, Bart, at one time Member of Parliament for the City of Derry, and whose monument stands at the entrance to Brooke Park in Londonderry - it previously stood at the top of Shipquay Street. When Mr Ferguson Junior became infirm Mr Hugh Brooke (licensed in Strabane) was ordained as assistant and successor on 5th November 1783.
Mr Ferguson who had ministered in Burt for 62 years died on January 30, 1787. His funeral sermon preached by Rev. Andrew Alexander of Urney and subsequently published, stated that “when he had numbered above eighty years he discerned the same ardour in reading, conversing, and writing on various subjects for which he was distinguished at an earlier period” and that “by Providence he was endowed with an ample fortune (not by the Congregation!), which he enjoyed with moderation, and employed as a means of virtue in kind offices to his friends, a decent hospitality, and acts of charity to the distressed.” The two Fergusons ministered in Burt for almost 100 years from 1690 to 1787, surely a record. The two Fergusons are buried in the old Grange Burying Ground in Burt where their tombstone is built into the inside of the wall of the old church there.
The Rev. Hugh Brooke ministered to the congregation for fifty years from 1783 to 1833. He was the father of Mr John Brooke, QC in his day the most eminent lawyer at the North West Bar. The Misses Brooke, his daughters, have distinguished themselves by their splendid contributions to the funds of the Irish Presbyterian Church and to many other charities including funds for the establishment of Brooke Park in Londonderry.
In 1831 the Presbyterians in Inch Island who had worshipped in Burt since 1673, were formed into a separate charge within the Derry Presbytery. The Inch people had to come over to Burt in boats and it is said that someone sat at a window in the gallery of the church with a view of the water and at the critical moment, when the tide was right, stood up and announced “The Inch folk may go now”.
The Rev. Robert Gray formerly minister of Scriggan, near Dungiven was installed as Assistant and Successor to Mr Brooke on 15th October 1833. Mr Brooke died on 17th June 1839. Mr Gray was a distinguished preacher, a famous platform orator, and for many years one of the leaders of the Assembly. Mr Gray also served as Clerk of the Derry Presbytery for many years. He had a splendid voice, and there is a tradition of how far he could be heard outside the church on a summer day when the doors were all open and he was “in his high majesty”. A conversation between two members of Burt some years later give some idea of the regard in which he was held by some of the people of the neighbourhood. One said “There never was, and there never will be, a man in Burt like Mr Gray.” The other ventured to suggest that his immediate successor was as good a man as Mr Gray and could speak as well. “Well” said the old man “maybe he could speak as lang, but not as lafty”. In Mr Gray’s time in 1836 the old church was unseated and the aisles flagged. Previous to that there was only an earthen floor and no heating. In 1846 the church was re-roofed and a ceiling installed. Previous to that time the roof was very bad, and there was practically no ceiling so that it was not uncommon for the rain to beat down on the heads of the people gathered inside. Mr Gray seems to have been as well known as a farmer as he was a minister, he lived at Elagh Hall near Derry where his excellent style of agriculture was a pattern to the farmers of the surrounding district.
In 1834 the Parish of Burt had 2,288 Presbyterians, 320 Churchmen and 1,443 Roman Catholics.
Mr Gray died on 19th October 1857 after a ministry of 24 years. The circumstances of his death were very striking. On Sabbath, 18th October, 1857 he preached, to quote the words of the Session minute-book “with his usual energy and ability, and apparently in his usual health” his text being, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” Subsequently he presided at a meeting of the session, and made arrangements for the Communion on the following Lord’s Day. During that night he was seized with a sudden illness, and in a few brief hours passed away to another communion and to “where beyond these voices there is peace”.
On the 19th October 1858 the Rev. Harcourt Peter Charlton formerly minister of Tassagh in the Presbytery of Armagh was installed. The minutes show that Mr Charlton also resided at Elagh and during his ministry the manse at Lisfannon about half a mile from the church was built. It was during the period 1850 to 1856 that the Sloblands of Lough Swilly were reclaimed by building banks to hold back the seawater and these added over 2000 acres to the Parish of Burt and connected the island of Inch to the mainland.
The Sloblands of Lough Swilly
It may be difficult for anyone now to visualise the tidal waters of Lough Swilly rolling inwards past Burnfoot village across to the base of Grianan Hill, and encircling the “Isle of Burt” (Carrowen, Drumgowan, Ballymoney and Grange). Yet such was the position over 150 years ago until the existing embankments were created to connect Inch Island with the mainland on both sides.
The reclamation project originated about the middle of the 18th century by leading merchants of Londonderry and important persons in County Donegal being desirous to establish a canal or waterway to connect Lough Swilly with Lough Foyle, and thus more directly facilitate local coastal trade by shortening the shipping route.
The famous Grainan of Aileach on top of Grainan Hill in Burt
Rev R. W. Ross
Mr Robert William Ross a licentiate of Derry Presbytery was ordained in Burt on 24th December 1885 to begin a long and fruitful ministry in Burt.
The New Church
During Mr Ross’s ministry the question of repairs to the church building came up and the Committee asked Mr William Barker the Architect to supply estimates for renovations to the old church and cost of a plain new church. The estimates were as follows: Renovations £890 and New Church £1120. At a meeting of committee on 5 February 1894 it was decided by the casting vote of Rev. Ross to abandon the renovation scheme and put the idea of building a new church to a Congregational meeting. This meeting was held on 19 February 1894 and Mr McCandless proposed that a new church should be built in 1895 if the congregation would subscribe £200 more than had already been promised. This was carried without any dissent. Lord Templemore subscribed £200. Further collections were made throughout the district as well as in Londonderry, Newtowncunningham, Crossroads, St. Johnston and Carrigans. Collections were also made in Manorcunningham, Raphoe and Strabane as well as Knowhead, Fahan and Inch. Mr Ross reported that he had raised £120 in Belfast and Lisburn. The architect, Mr Barker was asked to prepare plans for a house to seat about 400 people, to have a plain roof, double windows, buttressed walls finished with cement dashing, buttresses and windows with cement plaster. The pews were to be pitch pine with walnut top-rails. It was decided to erect the new church on the old ground in the upper corner with the entrance door fronting the present gateway and about in a line with the front entrance of the old church. Two Porrett stoves sunk in each aisle were to provide the heating.
Laying Foundation Stone of new Burt Presbyterian Church 1st July 1895
Rev R W Ross Minister 1885 - 1931
and Clerk of Presbytery of Derry for over 30 years
In August 1919 the Committee proposed to obtain an organ as a War Memorial and to place a Memorial Tablet in the vestibule of the Church in memory of those who had given their lives and served in the Great War and in October it was reported that £182 had been collected for the organ and tablet fund. This memorial was unveiled on Sunday 11th January 1920 by Mrs Bowen wife of Col William Bowen DSO, the preacher was Captain Rev. W P Hall. A Guard of Honour from Ebrington Barracks was in attendance by kind permission of Col Hannay DSO.
Following the First World War and partition of Ireland in 1921 many of the working class families connected with the Congregation moved in to the City of Derry and other areas of N. Ireland. Also, many of those who served in the War did not return to the area as jobs were hard to find at that time. The drop in numbers is clearly shown in the Communion Roll Book from 1914 to 1922.
Death of Rev. R. W. Ross
Rev Ross having spent some time in hospital resigned from the active duty of Minister on 7th July 1931 and died in the City and County Infirmary in Londonderry on Sunday 19th July after a long illness. The Session and Committee met after the service that day and paid tribute to the long and diligent service given to the congregation by Mr. Ross. A deputation from the Congregation was due to travel to Belfast the next day to meet the Union Commission, this meeting having been arranged at a Committee meeting on 15th July. It was felt that the deputation should go ahead with their plans, as there would be no further meeting of the Commission for at least two months. At this time the Union Commission thought that Burt and Newtowncunningham should be amalgamated under one minister and directed the North West Committee to confer with both congregations but the Session and Committee of Burt vehemently objected to any union.
On 21 March 1932 the head rent of the Manse at Lisfannon, which amounted to £1.10s yearly, was purchased from Lord Templemore for the sum of £27. His Lordship having agreed to donate £25 to church funds.
Rev. William Boyd
Rev. Wm. Boyd, who was licensed in Bailieborough on 22 April 1931, was ordained as the tenth minister of Burt on Tuesday, 24th May 1932 at 2.30pm.
At their meeting of June 1932 the Committee looked at the possibility of some suitable memorial to the late Rev. R W Ross and were to make enquiries about the price of a memorial tablet and a stained glass window. At this meeting the new minister Rev. W. Boyd was appointed as manager of Carrowreagh School. At the January 1933 meeting of the Committee it was agreed that the Church Committee should help the Carrowreagh School Committee in any way they can with the erection of a new school. In February 1934 Mr Haslett submitted sketches of a Memorial Tablet and at the March meeting his tender for the tablet was accepted and it was agreed that Mrs. Ross be asked to unveil it and that Very Rev. Dr R W Hamilton DD be asked to conduct the service. At the April 1934 meeting of Committee it was decided to fix the date of the service for Sunday 24th June 1934.
In October 1933 the Session decided to elect 6 new elders as Mr Watson was no longer able to attend leaving only two – Messrs J. S Edwards and S C Logan. After the election in March 1934 there was almost a unanimous vote for seven members and Rev. Boyd was asked to find out who of the seven would accept the office of the eldership. It was also decided to ask Mr John McDowell to be installed from Inch Church. After consulting with the seven members Rev. Boyd reported that four were prepared to accept and these were Messrs Andrew McCay, Robert Walsh, George McNutt and George Thompson. These gentlemen were ordained and Mr John McDowell was installed on 25th March 1934 when a Commission of the Presbytery of Derry met in the Church.
The memorial tablet to Rev. Ross was unveiled by his widow on Sunday, 24th June 1934. The sermon was preached by Very Rev. Dr. R W Hamilton of Lisburn a former minister of Burt who took as his text, “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him (147th Psalm 11th verse). Very Rev. Dr. George Thompson, Longfield who was a former minister of Newtowncunningham, offered the dedicatory prayer.
Members of Kirk Session and Committee 1932
Sam Logan, Andy McCay, George McNutt and Robert Walsh in 1932
Rev Wm Boyd with members of the choir 1932
Children's Day 1933
It is interesting to note that in October 1934 a total of 18 young people were presented to the Session for first Communion. The names of Margaret Beattie, Bessie Hall, Mary Hatrick, Rene Evans, Tillie Ramsey, Lolie Peoples, Gretta Ramsey, Mary Robinson, Victor Glenn, Jim Bryce, Robert Beattie, Frank Johnston, Bertie Fairman, Howard Edwards, David Given, Samuel Neely and William Stewart were added to the Communion Roll.
During 1935 a new school building was opened at Carrowreagh and in April of that year Mr George Thompson of Hillhead was appointed Clerk of Session.
In May 1935 the Committee had a discussion about lighting of the church and Lecture Hall and it was decided that Rev. Boyd, Mr Samuel Buchanan and Mr George McNutt should find out what a lighting set would cost and report back. In November 1935 an electric generating plant was purchased for £80 by Rev. W Boyd and Mr Samuel Buchanan from 1st Letterkenny Presbyterian Church and this was installed by Mr McCready and was switched on by Mrs J Maxwell of Sharon at a Special Service on Sunday, 19th January, 1936 when the address was given by Rev. Prof. R. S. Marshall, MA LL D. In February it was reported to the Committee that the proceeds from a Jumble Sale and the Special Services proved very satisfactory in meeting the cost of the lighting.
The large numbers of young people in the congregation at this time is again evident from the numbers going forward for first Communion. In April 1936 the names of Joan Evans, Molly Beattie, May Wright, Eileen Barber, Joseph Hall, John Millar, Andrew Peoples, Norman Boyd and Gordon Edwards were presented for admission to full Communion and their names were added to the Communion Roll. In April 1937 the names of Jack Glenn, John Foster, Samuel Hall, Samuel Peoples, Samuel Walsh, Samuel Ramsey, Colin Edwards, James Robinson, Frances Peoples, Eileen Bryce, Joan Hatrick, Sam Fairman and Bobbie Campbell were added.
Mr Boyd resigned on 31 May 1939 on receiving a call to the Mall Church, Armagh. On 5 September 1939 Mr Boyd returned to his old church when he was married to Miss Meta Glenn of Lisfannon who was a member of Burt Congregation. After Mr Boyd’s departure the Union Commission tried to affect a Union of Fahan and Buncrana as well as Burt and Inch but again the congregations held out. In 1967 Rev. William Boyd was chosen to be Moderator of the General Assembly.
Marriage in Burt Presbyterian Church of Rev Wm Boyd and Miss Meta Glenn 5th Sept 1939
Installation of Rev Wm Boyd in the Mall Church, Armagh 1939
Rev. R J Wray
The next and last minister of Burt as a single charge was Robert J. Wray (Licensed Raphoe) who was ordained on 9 November 1939 by the Derry Presbytery.
The names of those going forward for first Communion in April 1940 were Eileen Buchanan, John E Smyth and Phyllis Wright and in October 1940 those added to the Communion Roll were Myrtle Buchanan, Annie Foster, May Peoples, Betty Peoples and Matilda Ramsey.
On Sunday 20th April 1941 a Memorial Organ was dedicated in memory of the members of Burt who gave their lives and others who served in the Great War. The preacher was Rev. F G Bell of Waterside Church, Londonderry and the organist was Mr George McNee of Londonderry.
Burt Presbyterian Church Choir 1941
In October 1941 the names of Robert Clarke, Tom Barber and Samuel Robinson were added to the Communion Roll and in April 1942 the names of Margaret Hall, Isabella McDowell, Joan Peoples, Mary Jane Ramsey and Isobel Ramsey were added. In October 1943 the Session received Samuel Campbell, Olive Campbell, Thomas Foster, John Stewart and Gretta Millar and in April 1944 the name of William Buchanan was added. In April 1945 the names of Andrew Foster, Victor Peoples and Thomas Hetherington were added and a transfer certificate for Mrs Colin Edwards was accepted.
In April 1946 the names of those goring forward for First Communion were: Margaret McDowell, Annie Ramsey, Isobel Ramsey, Violet Williamson, James Hetherington and John Buchanan and in October 1946 they were followed by George McDowell, Douglas McArthur, William McArthur and Robert Ramsey. In October 1947 the names of George and Florence Peoples of Greenforth were added to the roll and in April 1948 disjunction certificates were presented from Inch Church on behalf of Messrs Tom and John McDowell and Mrs Tom McDowell and they were received into the fellowship of Burt Church and their names added to the Communion Roll. In October 1948 it was unanimously agreed by the Session to co-opt Mr Thomas McDowell of Baylett, Inch Island who had been an elder in Inch and who had been received into membership of Burt Church by disjunction certificate. On 5th December 1948 Mr McDowell was installed as a member of Session having subscribed to the requirements of the Code.
In December 1947 the Organist Mr William Greer tendered his resignation to the Committee and they reluctantly accepted it and decided to advertise the position in the Derry Standard and the Londonderry Sentinel. In January 1948 two applications were received and Miss Frances Barr of Burndennett, Strabane was appointed on the recommendation of the Choir and the Committee agreed that a cheque for £15 should be presented to Mr William Greer at the forthcoming Congregational Social as a token of the Congregation’s appreciation of his faithful and most acceptable services. It was also decided to raise the Organist’s salary to £30 per annum.
In October 1949 the names of Elaine McDowell, Isobel Clarke, Mabel Ramsey, Elizabeth McElhinney and Dorothy McClean were added to the Communion Roll.
At the meeting of Session in November 1949 a minute was inserted recording the loss suffered by the Congregation through the death of Mr Andrew McCay of Castlecooley who had been a member of Session since March 1934 and a member of Committee since 1917.
On 16th April 1950 Mr James Speer who had moved to Boniemaine was installed as a member of the Session in Burt he having subscribed to the requirements of the Code.
Rev. Wray resigned on 31 October 1950 when he emigrated to Australia. After Mr Wray’s departure when Buncrana was also vacant the Union Commission suggested a Union and this time the congregations agreed and for the first time Burt was to share a minister. The Minister would reside in the Manse at Lisfannan, Burt and the time of the service in Burt would now be 12.30pm to allow the minister time to get from Buncrana service at 11.00am.
Rev. Kenneth Smyth
The two congregations made a unanimous call to Mr Kenneth Smyth (licensed Belfast) and he was ordained to the joint charge on 17 January 1952.
On 24th April 1952 the Session added the names of Robert McElhinney, Annie Clarke and John Speer to the Communion Roll.
On Tuesday, 31st March 1953 the Derry Presbytery Choral Festival was held in Burt when the Massed Choirs of the Presbytery led the Praise. The Moderator of the Presbytery Rev. W A Montgomery M A (Strand) conducted the Service and the Conductor was Mr George McNee and the Organist Mr Gordon Douglas.
Mr. Smyth received a unanimous call to Glastry and resigned on 29 June 1955.
Rev. W. G. McConkey
Mr William George McConkey was ordained on 1 December 1955 and carried out a very acceptable ministry over the next five years.
The Badminton Club held a very successful Sports Day in Sam McArthur’s field below the main road opposite the Church gates in 1956.
In May 1956 the names of Noel Buchanan, James Clarke, Isobel Speer, Noelle Speer, Joan McArthur and William James Canning were added to the Communion Roll and in May 1957 Norman Canning, Thomas McNutt, Ronald McNutt, Jean Gamble and Sarah Ramsey were added.
The Presbytery of Derry visited the Congregation of Burt on 6th May 1958.
In May 1959 the names of Heather Bryce, Dorothy Edwards and James Buchanan were added to the Communion Roll.
At a meeting of Session in October 1960 it was decided to proceed with the election of three new elders in view of the impending departure of Mr Robert Walsh. Following the election five names got a very high proportion of the votes and it was arranged that Rev. McConkey would ascertain their willingness to act. At the Session Meeting in November 1960 Rev. McConkey reported that only two members were willing to act, namely Mr William S. Buchanan of Inch Level and Mr Joseph Hall of Rockfield, and these gentlemen were ordained by a Commission of the Derry Presbytery in Burt on the evening of 11 December 1960. At a Session Meeting after the morning service that same day Mr Robert Walsh tendered his resignation form the Session due to his impending departure to Greysteel and transfer to Faughanvale Presbyterian Church. The Moderator Rev. McConkey said it was much regret that we must accept Mr Walsh’s resignation as no man could have been a more faithful member of Session or a greater help to a Minister than he had been. Mr George McNutt also expressed regret and said that Robert went with the good wishes of the entire Congregation for many happy years in his new home.
During this period the Presbyterian population of Donegal dwindled and many of the working class moved to Londonderry and other towns in N. Ireland. A number of farms at Inch Level owned by members of the congregation were sold at this time to Dr. Daniel McDonald who established a farming estate of about 2000 acres. The farmers who sold, Mr Robert Walsh and his son Samuel, Mr Joe Hall and Mr Samuel Hall left the district and moved to N. Ireland and the congregation suffered as a result.
In May 1961 the following candidates were received and admitted to full membership of the Church: Evelyn Williamson, Averil Speer, David Canning, Stanley Edwards, Stewart Buchanan, Ian McArthur, Scott McArthur and Victor Gamble.
At the 5 May 1961 Session meeting Rev. McConkey said that as he had already intimated to the Congregation, he had received a unanimous call to the congregation Ballycarry and would be resigning from the oversight of the congregation of Burt on 31 May 1961. He thanked the Session for their co-operation and encouragement during the five years, which he had spent as their Minister. Various members of Session expressed regret that the happy relationship between Minister and people should come to an end son soon and wished Mr McConkey every happiness in his new charge.
Rev. J R Watt
Rev. John Roberts Watt of Tartaraghan was called and installed as minister of Burt and Buncrana on 4 October 1961. In May 1962 it was decided to hold a full attendance Sunday during June and disjunction certificates were issued to Mr and Mrs Joseph Hall and Mr Samuel Hall who had now joined the Congregation of Glendermott.
At a meeting of Session on 10 February 1963 tributes were paid to the late Mr George Thompson of Hillhead who died on 27th January. Mr Thompson had been Session Clerk since April 1935 and he was ordained an elder of the congregation in March 1934. Mr George McNutt speaking on behalf of the Session said he would like to extend deepest sympathy to the Thompson Family and he said George was always a loyal member of Session and will be much missed in the work of the Church in which he took a great interest. At that meeting Mr George McNutt was appointed to be the new Clerk of Session.
In May 1963 the following candidates were received and admitted to full membership of the Church: Mildred Bryce, David Bryce, Florence Canning, Olive Edwards, Charlotte Edwards, Margaret Fairman, Alice Gamble, Robert Kincaid and Percy Robinson.
On 24 October 1963 the congregations of Burt and Buncrana presented Pulpit Robes to Rev. Watt at a social evening in Burt Lecture Hall.
At a Session meeting on 30 October 1964 Mr James Robinson tendered his resignation as Sabbath School Superintendent. In April 1965 eight candidates were received and admitted to full membership of the Church. They were, Wray Canning, John Edwards, Elizabeth Fairman, Betty Gamble, Dorothy Glenn, William Kincaid, Adeline Ramsey and Janet Watt. At a meeting of Session on 5 November 1966 Mr James Buchanan of Bridgetown was appointed Sabbath School Superintendent.
Again we see that there were a large number of young people in the Congregation at this time as on 2nd May 1968 the following candidates were received and admitted to full membership of the Church: John Glenn, William Robinson, Joyce Fairman and Gladys Ramsey and on November 1969 Robert Barber, David Buchanan, Robert Fairman, Alison Glenn, Lorna Peoples, Brian Peoples, Ruby Poole, Iris Ramsey and Carole Watt went forward for First Communion.
Mr Watt accepted a call from Badoney, Corrick and Glenelly on 22 September 1970.
Rev. G. S. Dickson
He was followed by Rev. George Shegog Dickson an Ulsterman who had been ordained in the Presbyterian Church of England (Bristol Presbytery) and who was installed on 17 June 1971.
In November 1971 Robert Buchanan was received by the Session and admitted to full membership of the Church and in December the Session agreed to elect two additional elders. The election was held in February 1972 and two names headed the list and after consulting with Miss May Peoples of Garden City and Mr James Buchanan of Bridgetown, Rev Dickson confirmed that they were willing to accept office. A Commission of the Derry Presbytery met in the Church on the evening of Sunday 5th March 1972 and ordained the new elders they having subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith.
In May 1972 Elizabeth Glenn, Isa Smith and Iris Wylie were received by the Session and admitted to the Lord’s Table and similarly in May 1973, David Edwards, George Barber and Hazel Buchanan were admitted.
After a rather short ministry Rev. George Dickson was called to Aughnacloy and Ballymagrane on 18 March 1973. During Mr Dickson’s ministry Fahan, Inch, Buncrana and Burt became a united group in January 1973 but shortly after these four churches became stated supply charges of First Derry, Strand, Gt. James St. and Claremont.
The Tercentenary of Burt Congregation was celebrated on June 1973 and the Very Rev. Dr. William Boyd returned as special preacher and dedicated a new electric organ, the guest organist was Mr Douglas Armstrong of Belfast and the Church Choir under Mrs Myrtle Glenn led the praise.
At a meeting of Session on Sunday 11 June 1975 Rev J D Young of First Derry presided and made reference to the loss sustained by the Congregation in the death of the Clerk of Session Mr George McNutt of Ballymoney who died on Friday 23rd May 1975. Mr McNutt was a member of Session for over 41 years and was Clerk for 12 years. He gave himself fully in the service of the Church, enriching its fellowship with his genial friendliness and humour.
Rev. R. S. Tosh
Rev. Robert Samuel Tosh who had been Assistant in Stormont Presbyterian Church, was installed as minister of Claremont and Stated Supply of Burt on 26 June 1975.
At this point the time of the Service in Burt was changed to 10.00am to allow Mr Tosh to get to Claremont for their service at 11.30am. The Sunday School would now meet after the service at 11.00am.
At a meeting of Session on 2 November 1975 Mr James Buchanan was appointed Clerk of Session to succeed the late Mr George McNutt and a transfer certificate was received from Mr and Mrs W. Mills from Gt. James Street in Londonderry and they were received into the fellowship of the Church.
As the manse at Lisfannon was now redundant - Rev. Tosh now residing in a new manse provided by Claremont in the Kilfennan area of Londonderry - the Education Board of the Derry Presbytery agreed to its sale and the sum of £29,800 was realised. The Education Board invested this money and a formula was agreed with the Union Commission for distribution of the interest.
Following the death of Mr James Speer of Coshquin on 12th January 1979 the Session recorded a tribute to his faithful service to the Burt Session since April 1950 when he transferred from Crossroads and tendered sympathy to his wife and family.
Dr William Boyd returned again to his old church on 4th November 1979 when Memorials and Gifts were dedicated after renovations to the choir area of the church. These gifts included a Communion Table in memory of William Buchanan of Bridgetown, Ministers Chair, Table Lectern, Rose Bowl, Praise Boards, Choir Chairs and a Church Noticeboard. The Band of Foyle and Londonderry College led the praise.
On Sunday 24th February 1980 the Presbytery of Derry ordained Sarah Emily Bryce of Elaghbeg and James Moore Robinson of Toulette as Elders following their election by the members of the Congregation.
A series of commemoration events were held throughout Donegal during September 1981 to mark the Tercentenary of Rev. Francis MacKemie and a service was held in Burt on Sunday, 19th September when Rev. Tosh preached on the Psalms and the Donegal Presbytery Choir led a service of Psalmody.
After a very successful ministry in Burt and Claremont Rev. Dr. Tosh resigned on 2 June 1984 to take up an appointment as a producer of Religious Broadcasting with the B B C.
Rev. E. J. Coughlan
Rev. Edward J Coughlan who had been Assistant in Duncairn Presbyterian Church was installed as minister of Claremont and stated supply of Burt on 11 April 1985 but resigned to join the Baptist Church on 31 December 1986. At this point it was suggested that Claremont and Burt form a united charge instead of a Stated Supply and the Union Commission agreed this on 16 June 1987.
Rev Dr Wm Boyd returns to Burt as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1967
Rev R J Wray.
Rev. J. R. Watt BA