The History of First Kilraughts

First Kilraughts is a bedrock of Presbyterianism in Ulster. It is testament to the determination of its people that it has remained firm throughout several turbulent episodes in its history.

Sweet Adversity book cover Prominent local historian S. Alex Blair has documented the full story in Kilraughts: A Kirk and its People (1973), available in local libraries. It is a fascinating and accessible account of the fortunes of one of Ulster's pioneering Presbyterian congregations.

A second volume has been published recently. Sweet Adversity: The Story of First Kilraughts Presbyterian Church 1971-2010 (Impact Press: 2010) describes the development of the new building in the aftermath of the 1971 fire, and documents the decisions and activities which have come to define First Kilraughts both as a traditional meeting-house for Presbyterian worship and a contemporary centre for community life. Click here for further details.

The People

A number of notable figures, on both a local and international scale, have come from the Kilraughts kirk. Read about them here.

The Lord's Song in a Strange Land

First Kilraughts is one of the old congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It dates back to the Scottish Plantation of the early 17th century when Presbyterians first settled in the district. They worshipped in the Parish Church, which had been repaired for their use, but they worshipped not as Anglicans but as Presbyterians. This was acceptable for times were tolerant but tolerance stopped in 1661. The minister, whom the Kilraughts Presbyterians had brought over from Scotland to preach to them, the Rev. William Cuming, had to either accept Episcopacy and the Prayer Book or get out. He decided to leave and he took the people with him.

Taking to the hills

They left the Parish Church in what is now Kilraughts Old Graveyard and went to the hill of Carnageeragh, in the shadow of which in the 1690s they built their first primitive meetinghouse, in a corner of what is now the church car park. Here the Rev. Robert Neilson was ordained as second minister of the congregation in 1698.

It was during the ministry of Mr Neilson's successor, the Rev. John Cochrane (1716-1748) who later became Clerk and Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, that a more substantial church was built on the other side of the Moor Road. This has remained the church site ever since.

The 'Killen' fields

During the 1798 Rebellion the United Irishmen camped on Carnageeragh hill, behind the church, and many members joined them. Some years later (1819-20) the church was rebuilt during the ministry of the Rev. Matthew Elder. When he died in 1827 a serious dispute broke out in the congregation over one of the candidates who preached for the vacancy, the Rev. W. D. Killen. It wrecked the congregation, many members leaving to boost the numbers of the small Covenanting or Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kilraughts, the young congregation of Ballyweaney and eventually another newly-established congregation at Dunloy.

The Missionary

A Committee of the Church Synod took charge of what remained of First Kilraughts and chose the Rev. Thomas Leslie as the next minister. In 1835 he went to Jamaica and became "the first Christian Missionary to the heathen from the Synod of Ulster". Tragically, he died a few months after his arrival in Jamaica.

The Ministry of Love

It was a son of the congregation, the Rev. Robert Love, who became the next minister in 1836. What was called "the park around the church" was used as a graveyard for the first time during his ministry.

Worthy deeds

Mr Love's successor, the Rev. Samuel Finlay, was the tenant of a farm at Pinehill and he played a leading part, with many of his congregation, in the Tenant Right Campaign which eventually enabled tenant farmers to become the owners of their farms. Greatly beloved, nearly every family had a son named Samuel Finlay. When Mr. Finlay died in 1887 he left his farm to the congregation as a manse. It was used as such for a short time but was later purchased by Kilraughts Reformed Presbyterian Church, becoming the manse of that congregation.

Changing Rooms

In 1892 a major rebuilding of the church took place, with the pulpit being changed from the side to the sable wall and many improvements made. The minister then was the Rev. John McCammon. About that same time two sisters of the Rev. Robert Love left their farm at Breckagh to the congregation as a manse and Mr. McCammon redesigned the house, giving it a new impressive front, and moved in. It is still the manse of the congregation and a residence of considerable charm.

The Robinson Hall

When the Rev. F. A. Robinson was ordained in First Kilraughts in 1930 he decided the congregation needed to expand its social activities and embarked on the building of a Church Hall, opened in 1933. On the 60th anniversary of his ordination it was named the Robinson Hall in honour of him and his wife. During his ministry an organ was introduced and hymns were sung for the first time.

The Phoenix from the Flames

Just after Mr Robinson's retirement, the church was burned on 4th April 1971 in an accidental fire due to an electrical fault. A new modern church, with beautiful stained glass windows, was built during the ministry of the Rev. Robin Bell, who led the project with much energy and expertise. It was opened and dedicated on 31st May 1975. After the retirement of Mr. Bell, Rev. David Thompson was installed and after a short ministry moved back to Belfast.

The present minister of the congregation is the Rev. Noel McClean.