400th anniversary for Carrickfergus church

The 400th anniversary of First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest congregations in the Irish Presbyterian Church, takes place this year.

Saturday, 10th April 2021, 7:00 am
Rev Cecil Grant

The First Carrickfergus congregation had planned a number of events for its quadricentennial anniversary but these had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

However, Presbyterian Moderator, the Rev Dr David Bruce, last month joined the First Carrickfergus congregation for an online Sunday service to mark the milestone.

The Rev Dr Cecil Grant, the congregation’s 22nd minister since 1641, said: “400 years ago, life in the province of Ulster and in the town of Carrickfergus was both turbulent and unsettled. The policy of the Ulster-Scots Plantation was still having significant effects with people coming and going from the mainland. And so it was that in 1621 a minister called the Rev John Hubbard, together with some members of his congregation, arrived in Carrickfergus from London.

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“They had been forced to leave London because of religious persecution and came to Carrickfergus hoping for a more tolerant environment in which to worship. The arrival of this group of Protestant dissenters provides the notional date for the beginning of a Presbyterian congregation in Carrickfergus, but it is likely that Presbyterian worship was practised for much longer among army chaplains from Scotland based at the town’s castle.”

Carrickfergus has a rich history. It was there that King William 111 arrived with his army in June, 1690 before making his way to the Battle of the Boyne. The seventh President of the United States Andrew Jackson had direct family connections to Carrickfergus - his parents Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson emigrated from the town to America in 1765. Carrick’s history as an inhabited town began during the Norman invasion of Ulster in around 1177, when Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy arrived in the area after invading Ulster with his army, in an attempt to gain his own earldom. De Courcy built the castle.

First Carrickfergus Presbyterian congregation has been based at North Street since 1829 and over the next 150 years the Presbyterian family in the town had grown to an extent that an additional three churches opened. The second was established by First Carrick at Joymount in 1851, with a further two congregations following, Woodlands, formed in 1977, and most recently Downshire, which was established through the initiative of Joymount church in 1985.

Dr Grant said: “At different times, First Carrickfergus congregation has considered moving from the centre of the town, but on each occasion the feeling has been that we have been placed where we are to be a witness at the heart of the community, and, Lord willing, that’s what we will continue to be.

“When the time is right, and things are more normal and safe to do so, we will be able to celebrate our 400th birthday properly; giving thanks for God’s faithfulness over the centuries.

“It may be that we will be celebrating our 400-plus-one anniversary in 2022, but we can wait.”

Dr Grant said First Carrickfergus congregation co-operates in a body called ‘Mission Carrick’, which brings many Christians together at different times for worship and witness.”