Ode to Seapatrick Parish Church
Oh ,lovely church!all who admire
The beautiful Baptismal Font,
Your granite walls and graceful spire,
Where parents in the church are wont
Find beauty greater far, in store
To promise for their children dear
Within your massive oaken door.
What they fulfil in later year.
Tread softly now, ‘tis hallowed ground
The Golden Eagle reading desk,
For Saints and Martyrs hover round,
With outstretched wings and burnished crest,
From lofty windows gazing down
A blaze of fiery splendour. Look!
With smile benign, or stately frown.
Upon his back, the open book.
And Knight in shining armour clad,
The graceful pulpit, where Divines
Looks steadfastly upon a lad
Illustrations have moved to tears;
In uniform all stained and torn,
Priests pass away, but still it stands
By all her latest martyrs worn.
Unchanged amid the changing years.
Their names are written on the scroll
And so we wander out again
Whose bright young lives have paid the toll
And pause to muse on mans desire
Of war and hate and lust and power;
To see the universe as plain
They saved us in our “darkest hour.”
As when propounded by his sire.
THE PARISH of SEAPATRICK
As with most parishes, the early
records of Seapatrick were either lost or destroyed during the various wars,
rebellions and troubles. This loss was aggravated by the disastrous fire in the
Public Record Office, Dublin, in 1922, which destroyed church building and
To help portray something of the influences on the church in those early days and to give a background to our present position, historical notes of major events affecting our Church and Parish, have been added and interwoven in chronological sequence. Of necessity in this historical record, the notes are very brief and selective but they may, at least, encourage those interested to read the history of those events.
Priority has usually been given to placing events in the correct time sequence rather than relating them to associated events. Although this makes the text more disjointed, it fulfils the aim of presenting a sequential record of the Church and Parish.
Whereas much in the following pages is about famous people and great events, it is on the faithful parishioners who support, work for, and worship in our two Churches through thick and thin, and through good times and bad that our Churches depend for their health, indeed their very existence. The regret is that only a few of the many who have given and continue to give such good service can be mentioned.
The extracts have been taken from books listed at the end, the Banbridge Chronicle and Vestry records. Where the word 'Parish' is used in the text in relation to people, it refers to the Church of Ireland parishioners, unless indicated otherwise.
Parish of Seapatrick
EARLY IRISH CHURCH
Seapatrick is in Irish, Suide Padruic, in Latin, Sessio Patricii. 'Suide' means a seat or sitting place and has the sense here, of a place or residence. Therefore the seat or place or house of Patrick. The 'd' in 'Suide' is silent and as it is pronounced as 'see', the transition to the present name is a simple one. In the Magennis patent (title) 1610, it is Sipatrick; in Harriss' map of Down 1743, Sea-Patrick; and in Williamson's map of Down 1810, Seapatrick. Some other variations found in records are, Sangpadrig and Soyge-Patrick.
"The name suggests the belief that the original Church was founded by St. Patrick, and as it is but a little off what would have been his direct route between Armagh and Saul, a journey which he must frequently have made, it is not at all improbable." So wrote E. D. Atkinson, a former curate in Seapatrick (1880) and later Archdeacon of Dromore. However, the earliest reference to the Parish name in its present form, found so far, is in the 16th century.The period of St. Patrick's mission to Ireland has been variously estimated but most recent opinion favours from about 432 to 461. Some Christians almost certainly visited Ireland before St. Patrick, perhaps as early as the second century, but, in general, a form of DRUIDISM existed. "Although Christianity was not propagated in Ireland by the blood of martyrs, there is no instance of any other nation that universally received it, in as short a space of time as the Irish did." The quick and peaceful change may have been helped by the druids and bards. With their belief in immortality and the mysticism of the trinity, it is said that they found the transition an easy one and soon became Christian priests and monks.
There will probably always be controversy about St. Patrick and it is unlikely that any new information will now emerge to separate fact from legend. The Celtic Church in Britain, from which he came, had been founded in the 2nd or 3rd century by missions from Rome or Gaul. But it retained certain traditional customs and philosophies, hence the popular descriptive title. One custom was to designate all its missionaries and teachers as 'saints' as an indication of high virtue but not necessarily of canonisation. St. Patrick was essentially a missionary, teaching from the Holy Scriptures. He died probably at the Church in Saul, which he had founded, knowing that his missionary work had been supremely successful. His efforts to establish a united Church of Ireland were later largely undone, but it was an impossible task in a country divided by fierce tribal loyalties and even different languages.
The death of St. Patrick brought no interruption to his mission. The struggle against Paganism still went on and by the end of the 6th century, most of Ireland had become Christian. But in England the coming of heathen Germanic tribes, notably the Angles and Saxons, in the 5th century, gradually pushed the Celtic inhabitants westward and northward to what we now call Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. The Celtic Church became cut off from the influence of the Church of Rome. Ireland also became isolated and its Celtic Church developed in independent fashion, becoming monastic and ascetic. Monastic jurisdiction in an all Christian community was safer and more suited to the tribal territories than the episcopal system. Many famous monastic establishments and schools of learning were founded, attracting students from all over Europe.
A few of those of particular interest are as follows. The See of Dromore owes its origin to St. Colman who, about the year 500, founded a monastic institution and church on the north bank of the River Lagan in the territory of Iveagh, of which he was the first abbot and bishop. The town of Dromore grew from this foundation. The present Cathedral Church of Dromore, which replaced the one destroyed in 1641, occupies the same site as St. Colman's Church. Through this Church, founded a few years after the death of St. Patrick, our Diocese has a direct link with the early Irish Church of St. Patrick. About the middle of the 6th century, St. Comgall founded the famous monastery of Bangor (Co. Down) and from there St. Columbanus and St. Gallus left to found abbeys in Burgundy and Switzerland. The monastery founded by St. Columba of Derry on the island of Iona about 563 was the most renowned on the Celtic fringes of Britain for three centuries. Born at Gartan in Donegal, the name of Columba has been revered for over one thousand years as that of the greatest Saint of the Celtic Church.
From the 6th to about the close of the 8th century, unlike Britain and much of Western Europe, Ireland was free from invasion and its Church continued to grow in learning and status. Missionaries from the Church spread the Gospel to Britain and most of the countries of Europe. Their missions were individual, resulting in the setting up of Christian communities rather than Provincial churches. They did much to restore Christianity in countries where Germanic marauders had wiped it out. It was from this golden age of the Celtic Church that Ireland came to be called the land of saints and scholars. We were then at the forefront of Christian education and thinking but all this was soon to change with the arrival of the Danes.In the latter half of the 8th century, ruthless hordes of pagan Northmen (Norsemen) - Danes and Scandinavians - began to make incursions into France, Britain and Ireland. Churches were plundered and demolished, books and manuscripts burnt and priests and monks slaughtered.
The monastery of Bangor was twice plundered by the Danes, in 810 and 822. Bishops and priests were killed and the shrine of St. Comgall broken open and his bones scattered, as he had predicted. Downpatrick was plundered in 825, also Armagh probably about 842, as it was to be on many other occasions. No doubt Iveagh would have been under Danish control from time to time for their ships were almost continually in Strangford Lough and other inlets. Many incursions were made inland and the Abbey at Dromore was frequently plundered in the early 10th century. Our Church would doubtless have suffered - if there was anything worth stealing. As late as 1187 a Danish force was defeated at Loughbrickland by the Irish.
During the 11th century the Irish Norsemen were beginning to accept Christianity. Their defeat at the battle of Clontarf in 1014 by Brian Boru freed Ireland for ever from their power and paganism. Those Norsemen, or Ostmen (Men from the East) as they were sometimes called, who desired to live peaceably in their settlements were allowed to remain. Their bishops were more in accord with the Anglo-Roman Church in England, where Danish Kings now sat on the throne. This Church had converted the Germanic tribes and peacefully superseded the Celtic Order in most of Britain. By the end of the 11th century the Celtic Church in Ireland was in a very poor state. The wholesale destruction and plundering of churches and monastic institutions by the Danes, followed by that of the native chiefs, had made jurisdiction ineffective and the great schools had dwindled to extinction. All this, and the remoteness of Ireland, led to the Church moving from a leading position in the Christian world to that of a backwater. In a warring, disunited Ireland, there was need for authority in Church and Country.
Up to the 12th century the Celtic Church in Ireland had been largely independent. But in its now weakened state, abuses and corruption had penetrated all levels. About the beginning of the century, the Church was brought into closer contact with the Church in England and Church of Rome, through the efforts of the Bishops of the Ostmen colonies. There was a growing reform movement, and in particular the efforts of St. Malachi. Devoted to the Church of Rome, he saw conformity with it as the answer to the ill-discipline and abuses in the Celtic Church.
At the synod of Rath-Breasail, 1118, where a Papal legate presided for the first time in an Irish council, and later at the synod of Kells, 1152, Ireland was divided into dioceses. The final division was thirty-eight dioceses with Connor, Down and Dromore changed to separate Sees and Armagh acknowledged as the Primatial See. The Diocese of Dromore was modelled on the ancient Lordship of Iveagh, embracing the western half of the present County Down, that part of the County of Armagh east of the River Bann and later in 1546 the Parish of Aghalee in County Antrim. Meanwhile in England Henry II had been viewing with concern the growing power of the Anglo-Norman barons in Ireland, a country he wished to add to his dominion. In 1171 he landed in Ireland, with, it is said, the sanction of the Pope (Adrian IV, the only Englishman to occupy the Papal chair).
It was a bloodless victory, the country having been virtually conquered before hand by the Anglo-Norman barons. Henry's first act was to arrange for the synod of Cashel, 1172. This synod was to mark a turning point for the Church. The vitally important part was the final summary: 'Thus shall all sacred offices be henceforth performed everywhere in Ireland according to the usages of Holy Church as observed by the Church of England'.
Those in the Church who had welcomed the conquest for reasons of reform or benefit were soon to find that the power lay with Rome and England. By 1216 King John was directing that no Irishman be elected to a bishopric. The Celtic Church, now anglicized, had vanished. Not until some seven centuries later did the Church of Ireland become independent. Among other decrees was one directing that tithes should be paid to the clergy as in the Church of England. This was to cause great aggravation throughout the centuries and especially after the Reformation. Almost 700 years later, in 1824, our vestry was objecting to the payment. (Tithes were originally a tenth part of the value of produce and stock from land (parish) to support the church and later were divided into three sorts - praedial, of the fruits of the ground; personal, of the profits of labour; and mixed, of both sources.)
In the 13th century diocesan and parochial organisations were placed on a permanent basis, parish churches erected and cathedrals built or restored. The origin of our Parish, as distinct from the Church, probably dates from this period, if under a different name. In Neagh the family of Magennis had risen in prominence during the 12th century and eventually established themselves as Lords of Neagh. They were to play an important part in our Parish history up to the 17th century.
The history of Ireland in the 14th and 15th centuries is almost an unbroken record of anarchy and misrule. The Anglo-Norman conquest was never complete or lasting and therein, for many historians, lies the cause of our continuing troubles. The descendants of the Anglo-Normans, the 'Old English' or Anglo-Irish, were often to side with the native Irish against the English Government in Dublin. The abortive Bruce invasion, 1315-1318, supported by native chiefs, resulted in great hardship and plundering of churches in Ulster. But it marked the first united Gaelic rebellion since the coming of the Normans. It is regarded as a turning point in English influence which continued to decline in power until only the counties of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Louth were included within the English land or Pale, as it came to be called. In an attempt to keep at least part of Ireland, English in character, the Statutes of Kilkenny (1367) tried to separate the races. The segregation of English and Irish clergy was already of long standing - a great weakness in the Church - but in secular life the Statutes were not observed, especially by the Anglo-Irish.
The 1306 Taxation Roll of the Diocese of Down, Connor and Dromore does not mention Seapatrick. It is conjectured by Bishop William Reeves that Seapatrick is identified with the Church of Disertunde valued in the Taxation of 1306 at one mark and with the Manor of Dysertmoygh, the name of which is now obsolete. In Primat Swayne's Valuation, 1422, all the parishes of the diocese are listed except Drumgath, Seapatrick, Seagoe and Shankill. Bishop.Reeves thinks that Dysertmoygh, which is listed "must be referred to one of these. Seapatrick (Suide Padruic) is the most likely".
Our Church and Parish would have experienced very difficult conditions during the period from the 12th to the 15th century. There was a lack of episcopal control and the Celtic resurgence, which had virtually destroyed English authority, had substituted nothing in its place. We can form some idea of the situation from a report on the See of Dromore - "In the 15th century a great many bishops of the See lived in England and spent little or none of their time in the government of their flock, on account of the poverty of the See". In a letter to Henry VII, about 1487, the Primate wrote about the See - "the frutes, rents, and provenues, as well spiritual as temporal, extend not above the sum of £40 (40 marks) of the coin this land of Ireland, which is less in the third part than the coin sterling, --- the see is void and desolate and almost extinct, these 20 winters last past and more, insomuch as none will own the said Bishoprick or abide thereupon".
It was in this unhappy state, after some 400 years of 'conformity' that our Church and Parish entered the Reformation period. If ever reforms were needed in the Irish Church it was now.
The Reformation in Ireland, or more accurately, the failure of the Reformation in Ireland, had a profound and enduring effect on our history. But before looking at events in Ireland, a little about the Reformation movement in general. Martin Luther's protest in Germany in 1517 against the sale of indulgences, among other criticisms, is generally accepted as the act that launched the Reformation, but the Reformation period embodied a series of changes that took place between the 14th and 17th centuries. Most Reformation movements laid stress, not upon innovations, but upon return to a primitive excellence, as exemplified by the Early Irish Church.
In England the Reformation was only indirectly connected with that in Germany. John Wycliffe (1329-1334) led the protest against the doctrine, discipline and abuse of power of the Roman Church, preaching the gospel of the scriptures and shortly before he died, completed the first translation of the Latin Bible into English. His lead was followed by many others in the 15th and early 16th centuries, notably William Tyndale with his English translation from the Greek New Testament of Erasmus, printed in 1526, and Thomas Bilney, both martyrs. The Protestant Reformers relied on the Greek rather than the Latin translation of the Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church. The first complete English language version of the Bible (Miles Coverdale (Eng) ) was published in 1535.
The turning point for the Reformers in England came from Henry VIII. Not from any conversion on his part but because of continued Papal opposition to his proposed divorce from Catherine and his desire for national independence. This led to the Act of Supremacy, 1534, making the English Monarch head of the English Church, independent of Rome.
And so to Ireland. Unlike England there was no popular movement for reform. There were many reasons for this: the very low level of education and consequent isolation from outside opinion; the diverse communities more interested in loyalties to native chiefs, Anglo-Irish Lords and great families; the many nomadic people; and the priority of the struggle for survival, especially in Ulster, where there was near perpetual tribal war and famine. Henry's policy of Catholicism without the Pope met with little resistance. The native chiefs had no allegiance to a Papacy which had generally supported the English. But there was some opposition from the Anglo-Irish and with support from Rome this was to play an important part in the outcome.
As for the Church, there was initial opposition from the Primate and some of the bishops, but most conformed. Previous and later accounts testify to the need for reforms, especially in respect of the parish clergy. Wholesale misappropriation of church funds had led to their impoverishment, degradation and lack of education.
In our Diocese of Dromore the last bishop to be appointed prior to the changes which attended the Reformation was Arthur Magennis. He was apparently appointed by the Pope, as on 10th May, 1550, he received a pardon under the Great Seal for having received the Pope's Bull (edict) and for "other misdemeanours" and upon taking the Oath of Allegiance was confirmed by King Edward VI. Thus in our Diocese, the continuity of the Irish Church was maintained in the Church of Ireland. There was probably some concession to the Reformation in the Diocese as a result of the Bishop's decision.
But it is unlikely that the form of service in Seapatrick Church changed at this time (1550-1600). In the taxation of 1546, reference is made to the Vicarius de Soyge-Patrick, valued at 2 marks. The Soyge is probably a corruption of the Irish "Suide". This is the earliest reference to the Parish by its present name, as distinct from the Church, that has so far been found. During the 16th century the Magennis family provided a bishop for each of the dioceses of Down and Dromore and took a prominent part in church matters in Neagh.
The Reformation suffered a reversal during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558), a Roman Catholic, but it was during Elizabeth's reign 1558-1603 and that of James I, 1603-1625, that the future shape of religion in Ireland was decided. Unfortunately, for most of this time, the Church of Ireland changed little from the religious point of view, constrained as it was by Government action or the lack of it.
The Papal Bull in 1569 excommunicating Elizabeth and releasing her subjects from allegiance to her and the co-operation of the Pope with Spanish invasion plans (Spanish Armada 1588), influenced Government policy. There was a mistrust of Roman Catholics' allegiance and the priority was to prevent Papal jurisdiction. Little if anything was done for the spiritual needs of the people. Thus the abuses in the Church continued; the Bible was not issued in Irish until a hundred years later in 1658, nor was the Book of Common Prayer, although, in 1551, it became the first book to be printed in Ireland. Most important of all, dedicated, well-educated, Irish speaking, reformed clergy were, except in a few dioceses, simply not available.
In this fluid situation, the Roman Catholic Church fought back. It had now also introduced reforms from the Council of Trent, 1545-1563. These Tridentine decrees were helpful to the Jesuits and missionary priests from the Continent and the friars, in their counter-reformation missions in Ireland. They had support from the Anglo-Irish, other gentry and their followers. For those who saw the Reformation as a purely English attempt to change the Irish Church, Romanism became a political as well as a religious creed. As for the native chiefs and their followers, they, and especially O'Neill in Ulster, were bitterly opposing English authority and were certainly not going to help the established Church.
The well-educated, financed and devoted Papal missionaries were in marked contrast to most of the Church of Ireland parish clergy and especially to those in Ulster. Even before Elizabeth's death in 1603, duplicate (titular) Papal appointments from Primate to priests were competing with the established Church. This indicates the considerable religious toleration that existed, unusual for those troubled times. It was the policy of Elizabeth and of James I that people .were not punished for being Roman Catholics, but only for offences against allegiance.
It is little wonder from all this, that there was a secession of large numbers from the Church of Ireland, especially around the year 1600. Many towns such as Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick changed in religious outlook from. Protestant to Romanist, a process that was to continue during the reign of James I. Who can say what would have happened if some things had been done in a different way. It was always going to be a very difficult undertaking. For it was one thing for England to help establish the Church of Rome in a disrupted Ireland in 1172. But quite a different thing in the 16th century, to try to change that Church, with its attendant loyalties, when there was no movement for reform among the people. Moreover, during the bitter Elizabethan conquest, more of the people came to identify the reform with England and as such rejected it and the Established Church.
All the foregoing may seem confusing and is certainly open to various interpretations. So perhaps it is worth saying in the midst of all the dissent, that for one thousand years or so we were all members of one Church and since the Reformation the division has narrowed, not widened. The Church of Ireland continued with most of its churches but with vastly depleted membership in most areas. Our Country was to become unique in post Reformation Europe in having a State religion different to that of the majority of its people. This position was to be further complicated by the Plantations and Presbyterianism.
The 17th century was one of the most momentous in our history. It began in dramatic fashion. In 1603 Hugh O'Neill (Earl of Tyrone) surrendered to Lord Mountjoy. Later in 1607 he, O'Donnell and others fled the country in what became known as 'the flight of the Earls'. Thus Ulster, the last stronghold of the native chiefs, had fallen. Also, apart from a brief revival during the 1641 uprising, the ambitions and turbulent control of the O'Neills had been broken. Elizabeth I died a few days before the surrender. She had been successful where so many had failed but the price for Ireland was huge in lives and devastation.
The state of our Parish at that time would not have been dissimilar to those described by the Attorney-General, Sir John Davies, in 1607 when he visited Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan - "As for the vicarages, they are so poorly endowed, as ten of them being united will scarce suffice to maintain an honest minister. For the churches they are for the most part in ruins . . . but the incumbents, both parsons and vicars, did appear to be such poor, ragged, ignorant creatures, as we could not esteem any of them worthy of the meanest of those livings, albeit many of them are not worth above 40s. per annum".
James I, successor to Elizabeth, instituted a policy of colonization or plantations in the six counties declared forfeit by the flight of the Earls. Antrim and Down were not included in the confiscation but considerable parts of them had already been granted to English and Scottish settlers. The aim of the plantations was to bring stability and a civilising element into Ulster. The Church of Ireland was also to be helped by the restoration of church property and grants of land for church building and glebe (Church land to support the Vicar or Rector) but this was not accomplished for many years.
The plantations, with mostly Protestant settlers, began in 1609, the most substantial single enterprise being the planting of Londonderry by a group of London guilds. In general, the plantations were mishandled from the start. The allocations and later transfers were unfair to the native rural Irish and drove them into union with the pro-Romanist Irish and Anglo-Irish in the towns. It destroyed the last hope of winning this largely undecided group for the Church of Ireland. Even at that time it was estimated that about one third or quarter of the total population was still attached to the Church. The injustices were the seeds that developed into the 1641 Uprising.
The advice given to the King to exclude Scots from the plantations, on the grounds that they would be more trouble than the Irish, was ignored. But, in any case, there was now a steady stream of Scottish settlers into Antrim and Down, accompanied by staunch Presbyterian ministers. All were unhappy with the episcopal policy of James I in Scotland, so the Ulster-Scots were markedly Presbyterian. However the introduction of another aspect of the Reformed faith did not help the Church of Ireland in its fight against Romanism. The Scots were generally hostile to bishops and many traditions but their Gaelic speakers soon intermarried with the Irish.
The settlers must have found life tough for in 1614 Sir John Davies wrote about Antrim and Down - "Seldom were famine, pestilence and the sword all absent at the same time. It is scarcely credible that a country which had been nominally owned by England since the time of Henry II should have remained so much in its condition of semi-barbarism. The utter insecurity of property naturally paralysed industry and enterprise". Iveagh was apparently more accessible than other areas with fewer bogs and woods. It was owned by Magennis "who was in friendly alliance with the English, yet his sister was married to O'Neill of Tyrone".
By this time the Book of Common Prayer was probably in use more or less throughout the Diocese but it was still only available in English. It is not known at what date it took the place of the Breviary and Missal in Seapatrick. There is hardly a doubt that up to 1605 and probably later, the Parish Church was used by the Roman Catholic clergy and people. It is interesting to see the map of Antrim and Down printed at this time (1610) by John Speede. He shows Seapatrick Parish Church with just the one word 'Patrick' beside it. The map is shown overleaf.
Despite the lack of any strong action in support of the reformed faith by James there were some hopeful developments for the Church of Ireland. Trinity College, founded in 1593 to counteract the attraction and influence of foreign seminaries, was already in its short life, producing clerics of the highest stature. (When we look at the biographical notes on our Parish Clergy at the end of this record we can see the dominant position T.C.D. continued to hold in their education.) The appointment of bishops was now in the hands of the King and their higher quality was restoring episcopal control, with a weeding out of the worst of the clergy. It is probable that the change in attitude owed much to the comparison of our clergy with the quality and enthusiasm of the Papal missions. At last the doctrinal reforms were taking effect and the spiritual needs of the people were being given some priority. It could be said that the competition induced by the Reformation had made the churches more alive to their responsibilities.
One of the last acts of James I before his death in 1625 was the appointment of James Ussher as Primate. A graduate of Trinity (1597) he was to become one of our greatest Primates. Samuel Johnson said of him, that he "was the great luminary of the Irish Church," adding "and a greater no Church could boast of; at least in modern times". His aim was to see that his clergy looked after the spiritual needs of their flocks and with his vast learning and writings he did much to enhance the standing of the Church. Although of a gentle nature - "too gentle for the rough work of reforming abuses" - this did not detract from his strong Calvinistic and anti Romanist policies. But he maintained a friendly attitude to all in the belief that this was "more conducive to the well being of the Christian religion in Ireland than forcible methods". Among the studies of his life is one by the Reverend Professor Buick Knox, former Minister of Ballydown Presbyterian Church and later appointed to a Chair at Cambridge University. It is interesting that during the 17th century the Book of Kells was successively held by James Ussher, his daughter, Cromwell's Army and the Crown before it finally was given to Trinity College by Charles II.
The remodelling of the Cathedral Chapter of Down, Connor and Dromore was undertaken but the appointment of incumbents to parishes was slow work. There is no record of Seapatrick being so favoured till the appointment of Thomas Fairfax in 1630. We can be certain that from this date our Church would have been run in accordance with the Reformed faith. Bishop Buckworth's return in 1622 shows that Aghaderg and Seapatrick were united at a chief rent of £13-3s-10d. At the convocation in 1634 it was decided that the Church of Ireland should accept the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England but retain her own canons as an assertion of the privileges of a national church.
In 1635, Sir William Brereton, a former distinguished Parliamentary General made a tour of Ireland. An extract about his journey from Lisnagarvey to Dromore
"Linsley Garvin is well seated, but neither the town , or country thereabouts well planted, being almost woods and moorish, until you come to DROMMOARE; this town belongs to lord CONOWAY, who hath there a good HAINSOME house, --- at the bottom of the hill runneth a pleasant river (the Lagan) which abounds with salmon, --- here we lodged at mr. Haven's house, which is directly opposite to the bishop of Drommoare his house, which is a little timber house of no great state nor receipt (reception). ---This (Haven's) is a very dear house; eightpence ordinary for ourselves, sixpence for our servants, and we were overcharged in BEERE. ---In this diocese, as Mr. Leigh, his chaplain, reported, is the worst part of the kingdome, and the poorest land and ground, yet the best church livings BEE; there are no impropriations".
On the next stage of their journey, they should have passed through our Parish but who knows where they got to, with or without the guide, who we hope didn't come from Seapatrick. "July 7th - WEE left Drommoare and went to THE NEWRIE, which is 16 miles; this is a most difficult way for a stranger to find out; herein WEE wander, and being lost fell among the Irish TOWNES. The Irish houses are the poorest cabins I have seen; erected in the middle of the fields and grounds, which they farm and rent. This is a wild country nott inhabited, planted, nor inclosed, YET ITT would BEE CORNE if ITT was husbanded. I gave an Irishman a GROATE to bring us into the way, who led us, like a villain, directly out of the way, and SOE left us; Soe as by this deviation it was three HOURS before WEE came to the NEWRIE."
This account is a reminder of the dramatic changes that have taken place in 350 years. Where we live now was then mostly bogs, open country or woods, with packs of wolves still in existence. But while the wolves will not be missed, we have unfortunately moved from being one of the heaviest wooded areas of the British Isles, to the other extreme of being one of the least.
In our Diocese the position of the Church was still difficult. Iveagh, apart from territory purchased from Magennis in 1615 by Sir Marmaduke Whitechurch, was under the ownership and control of the Magennis family, the head of which was strongly anti-Reformation. It is probably no coincidence that the 1622 visitation showed the high number of 110 ruined churches in Down and Connor. However, conditions for the clergy had improved, but now, just as the outlook was more promising, another setback was looming, with the 1641 Rebellion or Uprising.
As the clash between King and Parliament in England moved inevitably towards civil war the native Irish saw an opportunity to regain their lost territory and independence. The 23rd October, 1641, was fixed for the general rising (Great Rebellion) to overthrow the Government in Dublin. It was led by old Irish families, whose territories had been confiscated, and assisted in places by Anglo-Irish Roman Catholics. Sir Phelim O'Neill, now head of the family, was one of the leaders in Ulster. Information was received in time to foil the Dublin rising but on that night throughout the whole of Ulster, and gradually throughout Ireland, the Irish who lived amongst them, rose upon their unsuspecting English Protestant neighbours. When the Scots did not join in the rising they too were given the same savage treatment.
Many thousands of Protestants were said to have been killed or died from exposure and hardship during the following months. Those who could, fled to castles or other strongholds. There were numerous instances where they were given refuge and safe passage by Roman Catholics. The Magennis family had held the baronies of Iveagh and surrounding districts from time immemorial. They remained constantly loyal to Queen Elizabeth and retained their possessions, when other areas were declared forfeit and planted by James I. The head of the clan became Viscount Iveagh. But now, perhaps influenced by the 'Flight of the Earls' and marriage ties with the O'Neills, they changed sides with a vengeance.
The lately restored Cathedral in Dromore, the Bishop's new See house and the town were burnt. The Bishop, Theophilus Buckworth, brother-in-law of Primate James Ussher, escaped to England. Our ancient Parish Church of Seapatrick was also burnt. It was to be over fifty years before. a new one was built on the same site. A few other incidents. In January, 1642, Newry was captured by Sir Conn Magennis and some 24 prisoners sent to Downpatrick to be exchanged for Irish hostages. The prisoners included Mr. Judge, the perpetual curate of St. Patrick's, and Lieutenant Hugh Trevor - probably an ancestor of the Edward Trevor of Loughbrickland later buried in our Church. On the way, near Newcastle, they were hanged by a party commanded, according to the historian Harris, by Sir Conn himself. A bridge crossing a mountain stream near the spot is still known as the "Bloody Bridge". In 1642, Scottish troops under Robert Monroe fought skirmishes at Moira, Loughbrickland and Newry against the Irish and were defeated at Benburb. There were also numerous encounters at Scarva.
Major Daniel Monroe, younger brother of Major-General Robert Monroe also fought in the campaign. Later in 1666 he received a grant of 565 acres in Lenaderg and Drumnascamph in the Barony of Lower Neagh and adjacent lands. This was for services to the Crown and the land was part of that seized from Arthur Magennis. Daniel Monroe was the ancestor of the Monroes of Lenaderg and Magheralin. His son, Colonel Henry Monroe (Siege of Derry) and other Monroes are mentioned later.) Armagh Cathedral was burnt down by Sir Phelim O'Neill, later executed by the Commonwealth Government in 1653. Civil war broke out in England in 1642 and ended in 1648 with the final defeat of King Charles I - executed in 1649. A republican Commonwealth replaced the Monarchy but the real power lay with the Army and its General, the puritan Oliver Cromwell. In Ireland a peace had been concluded in 1649 giving the Roman Catholics religious freedom and retention of churches and property in their possession subject to later judgement. This was soon to be overturned by Cromwell.
Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1649 to win back the country for the Parliament and to inflict a final defeat on the Royalist cause, which had been supported by many of the Anglo-Irish families. The rebellion was put down with a savagery at least equal to that of the Irish rising. The Magennis country, practically the whole of the Diocese, was forfeited and amongst the list of manors, lands, etc. seized was the patronage of the Parish of Seapatrick. Thus West Down, which had escaped the plantations carried out by James I, changed owners. Previous owners, mostly landlords and tenants, were to be transplanted to Connaught and Clare but this operation was only partly completed.
The settlers who now entered the forfeited estates of the Magennis clan were, generally speaking, English. Many of them were officers and soldiers from Cromwell's array who accepted land in lieu of payment. These naturally settled down as members of the Church of Ireland and had an influence on the unreformed Gaelic population, in the midst of whom they were introduced. The result of this has been that in the Diocese of Dromore and immediate surrounding districts, the Church of Ireland has a larger proportion to the total population than perhaps in any other part of Ireland of the same extent. The havoc wrought by the Rebellion on the Church of Ireland was added to by Cromwell. The use of the Prayer Book was prohibited and the clergy who remained were silenced and dispossessed. At first, Presbyterian ministers and later Independent and Anabaptist preachers were intruded into the vacant parishes. One sad by-product of the Uprising was that Primate James Ussher, on a visit to England in 1640, never returned home. He died in 1656 and such was the regard in which he was held, even by Oliver Cromwell, that he was given a State funeral in Westminster Abbey, with the special dispensation of a Prayer Book service.
According to an inquisition taken on the eighth day of October, 1657, there was in the Diocese of Dromore "not one Church fit for use", most were "ruinous". "Seapatrick Parish, an ancient Rectory, made part of the Deanery of Dromore, out of which the Dean received all tithes and duties which in 1640 was worth £60. No incumbent, at present served by Mr. Andrew McCormick, a preacher. The Church is near the middle of the Parish, old walls and out of repair, having a glebe of 60 acres worth three pounds ten shillings." Andrew McCormick, probably the first minister of Magherally Presbyterian Church, was evidently one of the clergy appointed by the Cromwellian Commissioners. He was later ejected from the parish living by Bishop Jeremy Taylor in 1661 and was killed fighting against King Charles' troops in Scotland during the Pentland Rising 1666 at Rullion Green, where his name is inscribed on the monument.
Not until 1660 with the restoration of the King (Charles II) and constitution was the Church of Ireland restored from the position of a persecuted sect to that of the established Church. It was in Ulster that the revival of the Church's organisation met with the most opposition. The Presbyterian ministers - all covenanters - had taken possession of the parishes and were unwilling to resign them. None was allowed to hold benefice unless he received episcopal ordination and used the Book of Common Prayer. Some accepted, especially in Armagh, through the judicious action of the Primate but in the other Northern Dioceses, 59 refused and were ejected from the parish livings.
During this difficult period for the Church it was fortunate to have, in Jeremy Taylor, a cleric of outstanding character and learning. Born at Cambridge in 1613, he was a fellow of All Souls, Oxford (1636) and Chaplain to King Charles I (1642). His writings became classics of Church literature. After the defeat of Charles he was frequently imprisoned for short periods by the Commonwealth Government and with his future so in doubt he accepted an invitation to Ireland from Lord Conway and stayed at his Portmore residence in Ballinderry Parish. He held services in the small church at Lough Beg, gave lectures in Lisburn each week and continued his writings during what was for him, a very peaceful period.
In 1661 he became Vice-Chancellor of Dublin University which he reconstituted. On the 27th January, 1661, he was consecrated Bishop of Down and Connor, one of 12 'Restoration' bishops consecrated that day in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He also took over the administration of the vacant Dromore See, becoming in all respects its Bishop. Faced with the difficult situation of Presbyterian ministers occupying parish livings, he acted firmly in ejecting thirty-six, including Andrew McCormick from Seapatrick and two others from the Dromore Diocese. This lost him much sympathy in the Dioceses and caused him great unhappiness, leading to several unsuccessful requests for transfer to another diocese. In the seven years until his death in 1667, he did much to restore the established Church and the Diocese of Dromore, arranging at his own expense for the choir of the ruined Cathedral to be rebuilt. 'He was' said Sir James Ware 'so charitable to the poor that except for moderate portions to his daughters, he spent all his income on alms and public works.' In accordance with his last recorded words, "Bury me at Dromore", he is buried in a vault under the chancel in Dromore Cathedral. It is said that his first choice of a burial place was the (middle) Church at Ballinderry, which he had rebuilt in the Jacobean style, using some furnishings from the Lough Beg Church, but it had not yet been consecrated. This Church was carefully restored under the supervision of Sir Thomas Drew and reconsecrated in 1902. It is well worth a visit.
Seapatrick Church was reported ruinous in 1679. This appears to be at variance with one report that the Church was rebuilt in 1670 and points to 1698 as the likely date.
James II, a Roman Catholic, became King in 1685. He soon began to institute measures against the Protestants and the Reformed Church. These policies led to the landing of William III of Orange in England in 1688 and the flight of King James to France. In Ireland, his Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Tyrconnel, increased the size of the Irish Army and began a systematic oppression of the Protestants. Bishop Capel Wiseman from our Diocese and seven other bishops took refuge across the Channel and the clergy lost their tithes. Part of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin was used as a stable by the Army and many churches were seized.
Counter measures were taken in Ulster. The gates of Londonderry were closed by the 13 apprentice boys in the face of a regiment supporting James and the Ulster gentry raised regiments from their tenants. A force of about 7,000 was sent north, by the Lord Lieutenant, to quell the resistance. This force would have marched through our Parish on the way to Dromore, where it drove back the locally raised regiments (Break of Dromore) to Coleraine and eventually to Londonderry. During the fifteen week siege, Christophilus Jenny, a former Vicar of Seapatrick (1673) was Chaplain to Colonel Monroe's regiment and later was one of the envoys sent out to meet the relieving force. (Colonel Henry Monroe gave distinguished service during the siege and later returned to Roe's Hill, near Lenaderg, where the family home was called Roe's Hall. He died in 1727 and was interred in a vault in the old Seapatrick graveyard. J. Harris Rea.) Meanwhile James had arrived in Ireland in March 1689, at a time when only Londonderry and Enniskillen were in Protestant hands. He was hoping, with French support, to use Ireland as a base to recover his Kingdom.
The next advancing army which marched through our Parish was that of King William. It crossed the Bann between Huntly Ford, where our Parish Church lay in ruins, and Ballydown on the 11th June, 1690. After camping at Loughbrickland the army moved on to the Boyne and battle on July 1st with the French and Irish troops of James. The victory of King William established a Protestant domination of Ireland which was to last through the 18th century.
The establishment of King William on the throne marked the final downfall of the great Magennis family. During King James the seconds brief reign in Ireland, they had been restored to their former position and possessions in Neagh. Viscount Neagh and other members of the family had commanded regiments in James' army and they followed him into exile. The title became extinct until revived in the person of Edward Cecil Guinness, Viscount Iveagh, later Earl of Iveagh Their support for James and fear of the political influence of the Papacy were factors behind the 1695 Penal Laws against Roman Catholics and their clergy in Ireland. Although rarely fully enforced they caused great bitterness. Provision was made for parish priests to register subject to an oath of allegiance and many carried on their services in modest chapels or in the open air at Mass rocks, some of which still exist in our Diocese.
These laws were bound to be ineffective. Roman Catholicism had become too well established with the mass of the people, during the reign of James I, to be repressed. Not until more than a century later was the principle of full toleration of religious convictions understood even by the reformed Church. The Northern Presbyterians were also victims of religious discriminations and their creed was not recognised by the State. It wasn't, for example, until 1844 that an Act of Parliament, after over 100 years of controversy and restrictions, gave full rights to perform marriages to Presbyterian ministers.
The Parish Church was rebuilt about 1698, some say by order of King William when he passed this way in 1690. It stood in the townland of Kilpike (perhaps a corruption of Kilpipe "Church of the Bishop" or Coill-a-phice "The Church in the Wood of the Pike" or from Cill Padruic "The Church of Patrick"). It was erected on the site of the ancient edifice destroyed in the 1641 rebellion. No evidence has so far been found to indicate the age of the "ancient edifice" but it does support the belief that the Church is of early Christian origin. This Church was very plain, in length 69 feet 6 inches and in breadth 27 feet 6 inches and with seating for 300 persons, 'though not enough for the attendance'.
Another event which was to have great significance for our Parish took place in 1698. At Lisnagarvey, Louis Crommelin, a French Protestant refugee (Hugenot), invited by King William to undertake the establishment of the linen trade, set up operations. Although linen had been produced in Ireland from the earliest ages, the judgement of Crommelin was "that the people were entirely ignorant of the 'misteries' relating to its manufacture". He recruited a small colony of Hugenots, imported from Holland one thousand looms and spinning wheels and until his death in 1727 advised on all aspects of the trade from the growing of flax to the finishing of the cloth at the bleach-field. Other refugees established manufacturing colonies in the south of Ireland, notably the lace and glove trade at Limerick, but the big expansion occurred in Down and Antrim where the refugees found themselves amongst people of their own religion.
So ended the 17th century, one of the most disruptive in Ulster's history. Our Parish must have been in more or less constant turmoil with new settlers coming and going, the Uprising, transplantations, Cromwell's campaign and the movement of armies before the Battle of the Boyne. Good pack-horses must have been at a premium.
In our Parish and along the River Bann, the linen trade was then a domestic industry. The growing, retting, scutching, spinning and weaving of the flax was a supplement to the main business of farming. Even the bleaching was carried out at home but gradually this process was taken over by merchants or drapers as they were called. It was during this period that a new stone bridge was built in 1712 over the River Bann in Ballyvally. The first authentic record of the name Banbridge dates from this time. The first half of the 18th century was an especially difficult period for the Ulster settlers. High rents and tithes and a series of bad harvests, with consequent high food prices, led to much under-nourishment and hunger. In these conditions epidemics of typhus, small pox and consumption took a heavy toll.
Little wonder therefore that in the circumstances, many felt driven to face the risks of a long, hazardous voyage and unknown country. The trickle of emigrants to North America in the early 1700's became a flood. In 1735 the first considerable contingent from Seapatrick and Banbridge left but the greatest exodus was between 1770 and 1775 when increases in rents coincided with a crisis in the linen industry. By 1776 the Protestant Irish were estimated to form more than one sixth of the population of the infant United States. This mainly Protestant and Nonconformist emigration took away many of the most enterprising in search of a better life, in a country with cheap land and no religious discrimination. They later played an important part in the American War of Independence (36 Ulstermen signed the Declaration of Independence) and in political life in the U.S.A.
The emigration must have had a noticeable effect on church numbers but comparable figures are not available. A visitation return, 1721 - 1722, states "The Rectory is part of the Corps of the Deanery and there is a Vicar endowed. There is a new church in this Parish in good repair but 'tis not quite finished. There is a glebe of 66 acres Irish, belonging to the Vicar. There is no vicarage house, the Vicar lives in Loughbrickland and serves this church on Sundays, in the afternoon only, at which time he constantly performs divine service, preaches and catechizes the children except that at sometimes when the sacrament is administered, he officiates in the morning. He has twenty communicants here. John Robinson, parish clerk and schoolmaster, licensed, and does his duty well, has about 20 boys". The Vicar, Oliver Gardiner, also held Aghaderg and Donoughmore, indicative of the small income then available from parishes.
Some extracts from "A Terrier of the Glebe and Vicarial Tithes of the Parish of Seapatrick" in 1743:
"The Vicar of said Parish is endowed with a third part of all the great or Predial Tithes, also by a custom immemorial in said Parish, a Modus of nine pence is paid for every Milchcow, for every stripper four pence half-penny, for every fole six pence, for every sheep and lamb one penny, for every Turfstack six pence, of which the Vicar receives a third part. The Vicar also receives four pence for an Easter offering from every family in said Parish, one penny for every garden, two and sixpence for every marriage, one shilling and eightpence for every Christening and one shilling for every corpse buried in the churchyard and for every corpse buried in the church six shillings and eightpence; the whole Vicarial Tithes of said Parish are let to a Tithe-farmer by the present Vicar for fifty nine pounds yearly.
"There is a glebe in said Parish the entire property of the Vicar, containing sixty-six plantation Acres and twenty-one perches whereof five acres are Meadow two acres Turf Bog and the rest arable. The present Vicar has built on said Glebe a dwelling house of 45 feet long and 26 and a half wide from out to out with stone and lime, 3 storeys high, roofed with Norway Firr and covered with slates, well finished and now in good repair. Said house cost 200 pound of which 100 pound was granted to him as a premium out of the fund of First Fruits and not chargeable on the Successors --- said Glebe is worth 24 pounds yearly.
Given under my hand August 25th 1740: WILL. ROWAN, Vicr. of Seapatrick."
The Rector of a parish was entitled to all the tithes but if he was not the incumbent, he, or whoever appropriated the tithes, was obliged to provide a cleric, usually a vicar. He was then endowed with a share of the tithes and usually a portion of the glebe. It was common at that time for a Rector or Vicar to hold several parishes. In his Parliamentary return in 1766, Vicar James Dickson reported that the Protestant households in the Parish numbered 481 with a total of 2,509 Protestants. The number of Papists was 276 there being neither "Popish Priest nor Friar in this Parish but the Papists here go to Mass in a neighbouring parish".
The American War of Independence (1775-1783) and later the French Revolution (1789-1794) raised aspirations for liberty and equality in Ireland. With England debilitated by the War in America and Ireland bereft of its troops, there was a danger of invasion from the dominant French Fleet. Armed Volunteer units of Protestants were formed in 1778 by local leading gentry in Ulster and later throughout Ireland. When the danger of invasion had passed, the Volunteers turned their attention to equality in trading with Britain and Parliamentary Reform. They were instrumental in obtaining in 1782, legislative independence from England for the Irish Parliament. But although they supported the repeal of Penal Laws against Roman Catholics many of which were already a dead letter - they were sharply divided on the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliament. This division eroded their political influence and the introduction of the Militia took away their military role. They gradually faded away but had set a precedent for para-military organisations in later situations. The Banbridge Volunteers Flag is held in a Belfast Military Museum.
Lord Hillsborough, afterwards Marquis of Downshire, was the head of a family which, over many years, were generous benefactors to our Church and to Banbridge. In 1793, he introduced the Irish Militia Act in the Irish Parliament in Dublin to provide troops primarily for home service. He also raised in 1793 the Militia of Down, later the Royal Downshire Militia. This was divided in 1800 into the Royal South Down Militia and the Royal North Down Militia. The South Down Militia recruited many men from our Parish and is chiefly remembered through the epic, composed from an earlier version, by its most celebrated Colonel, Robert Hugh Wallace. As well as all their notable engagements, including the 1798 Insurrection and the re-taking of Killala after the French landing in County Mayo, their historian deemed it worthy of note to record the following :- "We find the Regiment on the march from Bangor to Sligo on the 28th September, 1815. Following that long march Captain Frew (on foot inspection) discovered that militiaman, Henry Darragh, of Banbridge, had six toes on each of his feet, which had escaped notice until then." What a life Henry must have lived afterwards!
The French Revolution added impetus to the formation of the first society of United Irishmen by Wolfe Tone in Belfast in 1791. Its radical aims included a union of power of all religions, Parliamentary reform and later, independence from Great Britain. Government opposition forced it to become a secret society and it grew more revolutionary. But divergent views on such matters as Protestant power in an independent Ireland, weakened its unity (plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose). When their rebellion broke out in 1798, despite help from France, defeat was inevitable. The militia and yeomanry planned a part in that defeat. Two of the leaders in Ulster, Henry Joy McCracken and Henry Monroe (Munro), were executed and Wolfe Tone committed suicide while in captivity. Henry Monroe, a great grandson of Colonel Henry Monroe and a previous member of the Volunteers, was the leader of the rebellion at Ballynahinch. (It is perhaps coincidental that his hiding place after defeat was with a William Holmes and his wife, who disclosed it and as the gravestone in Seapatrick shows, a Samuel Holmes was in 1796 living at Rosehall (Roe's Hall), Lenaderg.) Both his grandfather, Hector, and great grandfather, Henry, were buried in Seapatrick graveyard and we have another link with the Monroe family through our former organist and Church member, William de Pauley, whose mother was a Monroe. It is an interesting family 'double' that in America, James Monroe, later President of the U.S.A., was fighting the British in the War of Independence and during the same period, his kinsman in Ireland, Henry Monroe, was fighting the British for Irish independence. Unfortunately for Henry the coincidence did not stretch to success for him. One of the factors leading to his defeat was the formation of the Orange Society which had helped to destroy the unity of the United Irishmen.
At Loughgall in 1795, Orangeism was first formalised in Ulster for the defence of local Protestants. From that small beginning the Institution grew rapidly. Though the course of events and passage of time have changed its character and organisation, the aim remains the same. That aim is given in this extract from an article by the Reverend Dr. M. W. Dewar, remembered with gratitude locally for his ministry at Scarva, Magherally and Annaclone. But first he gives the background to the name, with the arrival of Prince William of Orange in England
"Marching to Exeter, known to the Stuarts as the "Loyal City", William soon found himself presiding in the Cathedral over what must have been the first "Orange" meeting on record. The date was November 12th, 1688, a week after the landing . This Orange Association was an "engagement of the Nobles, Knights, and Gentlemen of Exeter to assist the Prince in the defence of the Protestant Religion." . It was a far cry from Exeter Cathedral to the Diamond and Loughgall, from 1688 to 1795, but already the twin foundations of Protestantism and Liberty were being laid to form the Orange Institution of today." "Thus we may say that the Orange Institution is a voluntary association of English-speaking Protestants, having its origins in the British Isles, but now organised throughout the World in defence of Civil and Religious Liberty." A consequence of the unrest in Ireland was the parliamentary union in 1801 of Ireland with Great Britain, in the United Imperial Parliament. Also, the Church of England and the Church of Ireland became a single Established Church. In 1829 the Catholic Relief Act gave Roman Catholics equal rights in the Parliament. It also meant that if the Union was ever repealed, the Irish Protestants, who formed part of the religious majority in the United Kingdom, would become a minority in an independent Ireland
Dean James Dickson, Vicar since 1745 died suddenly in Church during Divine service on 8th April, 1787. He was a son of John Dickson of Rathfriland and a favourite of the then powerful Hillsborough family, but evidently not a man of placid disposition. In a letter-book in Hillsborough Castle is a letter from Samuel Smith to the Earl of Hillsborough, dated Dec. 31, 1771:
"Went to pay a visit to Dean Dickson, with Mrs. Smith, were very politely recd. and as kindly treated, during our stay there for 4 days. Yet I can't say I am sorry we live at a distance. His passions make him the greatest self-tormentor I ever saw, and lead him to oppress every creature in his power. His son-in-law, tho' not married above 10 days, was near being turned out or turning himself out of doors. If he is to be a Bishop we all wish him a Southern Bishopric". To this Lord Hillsborough replied "I can only repeat of him what you. have often heard me say, that I think him an estimable man . . . . . I believe his passions are strong, but nemo nostrum non perent. I know not that he will ever be a Bishop, tho' I should be glad of it".
James never did become a bishop but it is remarkable, that of his two sons, William Dickson, Bishop of Down and Connor (1783-1804) was his father's Bishop and the other, John, Archdeacon of Down a member of his Chapter. The ill-used son-in-law, the Reverend Edward Trotter LL.D., married to daughter Mary, was Prebendary of St. Andrew's, Diocese of Down. The Dean is said to have been interred at the east end of the Church. No monument exists to his memory.
He was succeeded as Vicar by Chancellor William Sturrock and we then had the only known father, son succession in the Parish when James Trail Sturrock took over from his father in 1797. An extract from a letter to James Sturrock on his appointment gives an insight to the troubled times then existing and the role the Vicar often carried as Magistrate, a combination that would now arouse strong disapproval. The letter is from Bishop Thomas Percy, one of the most notable Bishops of Dromore. A well known literary figure and antiquary, he resided constantly in the Diocese during his 29 years as Bishop from 1782 to 1811 and was well loved for his benevolence, piety and care of the poor. During the short-lived 1798 Rebellion by the United Irishmen, he helped form a Yeomanry Corps which kept the neighbourhood quiet. He and Mrs. Percy are buried in a vault in the Cathedral Church and there is a tablet in the Church and on the Lagan bridge to his memory.
February, 28, 1797. Dear James,
I have pleasure to inform you that I have procured for you the reversion to Seapatrick, when your father shall resign it. It has been a business with so much difficulty, in consequence of the numerous applications to, and engagements of the Lord Lieut . . . . However I obtained an audience of His Excellency this day, and at length by dint of uncommon importunity I finally prevailed and he promised you should succeed your father. But I was obliged to use one argument in which I shall expect your hearty concurrence. I urged the distracted state of your Vicarage and that my having given Benefices to two young clergymen in adjacent parishes it was absolutely necessary for the peace and security of the country that I should have you there in the Commission of the Peace to act with them and thus fill up the chasm between them, and that thus, you 3 together with Holt Waring, would make a line of circumvallation round me for the security of that part of the See wherein I resided. To this argument and this alone His Excellency yielded . . .
(The adjacent parishes referred to were Garvachy and Tullylish.)
According to a grandson of James Sturrock (Mr. J. T. Reade), "My grandfather seems to have been a good boxer for he gave a good licking to the terror of the country - one known as 'Bully McClelland'. His reverence was highly esteemed after this!" (Some might say that in fighting the Vicar and local magistrate, McClelland was in a 'no win' situation.) "Some time in 1803 he (James Sturrock) went for his last ride on a fiery horse which he was going to sell. The horse bolted and threw my grandfather and a foot having been caught in one of the stirrups he was dragged along and killed. . . "A memorial was erected by his widow over the grave in the old churchyard at Seapatrick and a tablet in memory of father and son placed in Holy Trinity Church in 1906. Two verses from a ballad, written at the time, in local parlance:
It galloped like a thunder-bolt
All by the two-mile mill;
But his honour found he was growing weak
When he reached unto Bell's Hill,
His foot flew from the stirrup,
His head came to the ground,
His skull in pieces it was broke
That night when he was found . . .
We've lost the flower of the North,
Since Sturrock he is gone;
He was a bold Freemason,
Far better Orangeman
We laid him in Seapatrick,
Where his love and he did dwell;
Many's the sermon there he preached
And his hearers loved him well.
Existing Vestry records began in 1806. At that time the Vestry discharged several of the functions later belonging to the County Council, Rural Council and Board of Guardians such as building bridges, burying the poor and providing for orphans. There was a simple plan for poor relief. Those entitled were given badges known as "Beggars Badges" entitling them to seek alms in their own parish. Vestrymen were also appointed to collect tithes in the various townlands. Since the Vestry was also a form of local Government, their decisions had to reflect the democratic wishes of the whole parish, so members of all denominations attended the meetings and were apparently appointed Church wardens. At a meeting in 1806 it was resolved that "the parishioners be authorised to build a school-house of what dimensions they please on the ground to be added to the churchyard".
One aspect of the Vestry's responsibility - Sabbath observance - seems odd in the light of what happens today. Even then the rules were obviously being transgressed for at an 1809 Vestry meeting the following resolution was passed "Resolved unanimously that Mr. W. H. Hayes, Mr. Robert Adair, Mr. Henry Weir and Mr. Andrew McClelland be appointed to assist the Church wardens in enforcing the observance of the Sabbath". Seven years later advertisements were put forth "for the purpose of stopping car men travelling on the Sabbath Day". These cars were the horse-drawn variety.
Another duty of the Vestry was to raise its quota of recruits for the militia and at a meeting also in 1809 "It was resolved that a pole tax be laid on and levied off each person in the parish whose name has been returned by the Constables as liable to serve in the Militia". This was during the time of the Napoleonic wars. The pole tax varied from one shilling and threepence for a labourer to five shillings for a shopkeeper. There was also a cess (tax) of fourpence per acre. These were large amounts for those days. (The Constables mentioned were appointed by the Vestry, usually one per townland, to serve summonses, collect cess, convey foundlings etc. and protect life and property.)
In 1813 the Vicar, the Reverend Francis Burrowes, offered one or two acres of his glebe in perpetuity to build a school-house. The school was built in 1815 and in 1817 the proposal to build an addition to the school-house for instructing children in weaving and spinning, brought technical education to Banbridge. The Vestry expressed the gratitude of the inhabitants at large of the Parish to Mr. Wm. Hayes "for the liberality and exertions evinced by him in building said school-house". There is this entry in the marriage register in 1814, "Hamilton Megary and the agreeable Miss Sarah Shannon". A humorist, methinks. But Francis Burrowes must have felt outraged when in 1822, the latter-day equivalent of the Danes robbed the Church. The then large sum of £50 was offered for their apprehension and a gown and tippet ordered for the Vicar to replace his stolen ones, the gown costing £10.
One of the Vicar's church wardens from 1820 to 1821 was Captain John Scriven, Retd., Royal Marines, of Ballymoney Lodge. He was one of the vestrymen appointed to arrange the building of a foot-bridge over the Bann for worshippers at the old Church but the family is, of course, best remembered through a son, Joseph Scriven. Born in 1819, and baptised in the old Church, Jospeh took a B.A. degree at Trinity College, Dublin, and later emigrated to Canada where he wrote the hymn "What a Friend we have in Jesus". According to a contemporary newspaper report, his life was one of Christian service, giving all he had to the poor and living as a labourer. There are four memorials to Joseph Scriven in Canada, a plaque on the wall of his birthplace, Ballymoney Lodge, and a memorial under construction at the Civic Building.