Blue plaque for liberal Presbyterian minister at Dunmurry

Rev Dr Henry Montgomery (I788-I865).
Rev Dr Henry Montgomery (I788-I865).
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A nineteenth century Presbyterian minister who promoted Catholic emancipation has been honoured with an Ulster History Circle blue plaque.

Henry Montgomery was born in Killead, Co Antrim in 1788, attended Crumlin Academy, and was ordained in 1809.

The preacher, teacher and reformer had a long association with the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) church in Dunmurry, and the plaque in his honour was unveiled on the Glebe Road building on Friday.

Rev Montgomery became English master at Belfast Academical Institution in 1817.

He would later have a Doctorate of Laws conferred upon him by Glasgow University, and was also elected Moderator of the General Synod of Ulster.

However, he had a fierce rivalry with one of the most influential Presbyterians of the time, who was also one of the great public figures of Belfast.

Henry Cooke - in modern times referred to as the ‘Black Man’ because of his statue outside Royal Belfast Academical Institution in College Square East - was often referred to as the “Presbyterian Pope” due to the powers he exercised over the church.

Montgomery’s differences with Cooke are well-documented, and Montgomery was instrumental in the formation of the breakaway Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church.

In the years that followed, he published pamphlets and edited The Bible Christian. Montgomery was also an outspoken advocate of Catholic emancipation, but a strong opponent of nationalist attempts to have the 1800 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland repealed.

At Strabane in 1827, Montgomery was reported to have “made a deep impression” with a powerful speech in favour of religious liberty.

The plaque unveiling ceremony was carried out by the Very Reverend William McMillan MBE, minister emeritus of the church.

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle said: “Henry Montgomery, minister, teacher, reformer, is renowned as the champion of the non-subscribing Presbyterians and had a long association with the Glebe Road church at Dunmurry.

“The Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate this distinguished minister at his church, on the 150th anniversary of his death in 1865.”

Mr Spurr added: “The Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards the plaque.”