Book marks 150 years of Belville Presbyterian Church

Brian Cassells.
Brian Cassells.

BELVILLE Presbyterian Church, situated in the famous Montiaghs area of Lurgan, will shortly be celebrating its 150th anniversary, and a new book will be launched on Thursday, November 8 to mark the historic event, writes Brian Courtney.

The author, Brian Cassells is a leading authority on Ireland’s waterways, author of a book on Lough Neagh, co-author of another book on the River Bann, and past president of the Irish Inland Waterways Association.

Awarded the OBE in 2010 for his services to the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, Brian is retired headmaster of King’s Park Primary School, Lurgan. He is a proud native of the famous Montiaghs area, situated close to his beloved Lough Neagh, where the Lurgan man grew up and attended primary school.

He still worships at Bellville Presbyterian Church and has written a fascinating and informative history of the 150-year-old church. Brian dedicates this book to the memory of his late parents.

In a foreword Dr Frank McCorry, fellow historian and long-term friend writes, “Brian has drawn on his abiding affection and respect for Bellville and its people, to write a book that captures the singular identity of a small compact and committed religious grouping that is at the heart of Christian worship in the early 21st century,”

The church and the adjoining graveyard are situated on the left hand side of the B2 Lurgan to Bannfoot road. It is situated in an area known as the Montiaghs in the townland of Derrytagh North, and in early Presbyterian records was referred to as the Montiaghs church.

During the Ulster Plantation of 1610 the land was granted to an English family from Nottingham, the Brownlows.

Much of the bog land has been dug for peat known locally as turf. Oak and fir tree trunks were plentiful and found buried in the bog.

This provided a lucrative supplementary income and was sold as fuel in Lurgan and Portadown. Occasionally butter, once stored in the cold peat in either a wooden container or wrapped in cloth, was found and was known as bog butter.

There was always a track left through the bogs to transport the turf. These tracks were known as ramparts or locally referred to as ‘rampers’. Many remain and are now surfaced and have become public roads.

The building of Bellville church and manse were commenced in 1862 as a direct result of the 1859 revival, being funded by two members of First Lurgan Presbyterian Church.

Bellville church opened for public worship in June 1863. The Bells had originally been a Quaker family and were owners of a local Lurgan linen factory. They would have been heavily involved in the distribution of linen yarn to the local loom weavers.

The company of Thomas Bell and Company had a worldwide connection with offices in London, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

The connection with the Bell family still exists in the form of a bequest where a sum of money was invested and in the past the interest paid for the Sunday school prizes.

It would appear that the site for the church building and adjoining graveyard were donated by Lord Lurgan, and this was typical of his generosity to the building of places of worship of all faiths.

The Rev John Hutchinson was the first minister to serve the new Bellville church, and he was in charge from 1863 until 1901.

The Assembly twinned Bellville with Waringstown Presbyterian Church, and on July 1, 1967, the Rev Cecil Craig took on the dual note.

The attendances at Bellville had been dwindling, but there was a great revival in the fortunes of the church, and Armagh Presbytery allowed the congregation to call on the Rev William Harshaw back for a second term.

Interest in the church was revived, suddenly Sunday morning attendances dramatically increased, other outreach activities were organised, quizzes, talks and local gospel singer Mary McKee, with her band the Genesis came for a musical outreach.

The church grounds are maintained voluntarily, and the congregation faces the challenge of replacing the existing roof, and carrying out repairs to the floor.

The book contains fascinating stories about members of the congregation down the years, as well as reminiscences about Sunday School excursions, picnics, and outings, and the history of the Montiaghs area.

The book is priced at £10 and can be ordered from Mervyn King, 29 Ardmore Road, Derryadd, Lurgan, BT66 6QP, telephone 028 3834 0128. Copies are also available from Newell’s newsagents, 4 Queen Street, Lurgan and Castle Hardware, 7 Market Street, Portadown.