Templecorran Church and Graveyard
The ruins of Templecorran Church and its ancient graveyard are located at the village of Ballycarry, half way between Larne and Carrickfergus in the Coúnty of Antrim. The site has over 1,000 years of Christian history and is believed to be the remains of the first Presbyterian church in Ulster.
“These ruins are situate near the little village of Ballycarry, in the parish of Kilroot, on the Antrim coast. Here, in the year 1611, the first Presbyterian congregation in Ireland was established; in the adjoining cemetery is the grave of the Rev Edward Brice, its first minister”Dublin Penny Journal 18th October 1834
The area has witnessed a long period of human habitation dating back to prehistoric times.
“The earliest phase, based on many flint artefacts recovered in situ, can be confidently dated to the late Neolithic period”Norman Crothers, Rescue Excavations at Templecorran, Ulster Journal of Archaeology Vol 59 2000
The original ecclesiastical building here was a Catholic monastery. There are no remains existing. However, a very old stone inscribed with a cross in the graveyard possibly came from this period.
The monastery was enclosed by a circular ditch 320m in diameter, which can still be discerned in the surrounding agricultural land. The monks probably used this land to grow their own produce, as was the custom at the time. There would also have been stores and workshops. This enclosure site is one of the largest in Ireland.
It is thought that the monastery was abandoned due to Viking attacks. Being so close to the coast it would have been very vulnerable to Norse raiders in the search of plunder.
The Second Church
The second church on the site is thought to have been the Catholic church of Laslaynan. The parish is recorded in the Papal taxation Records of 1306. It was valued at 2 marks.
This area was also known as Broadisland ‘Tuogh of Braden Iland’
“The name Lislanan is now obsolete, but it is preserved in the Ulster Inquisitions (1662) as belonging to a townland in Broad Island or Templecorran parish”William Reeves, Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore 1847
Templecorran and the Plantation
In the seventeenth century this region of County Antrim was flooded with Scots immigrants.
It was the policy of the English monarchy to ‘plant’ settlers of Protestant culture and displace the native Irish population.
These newcomers would then owe their lands and livelihoods to the crown, and this would ensure their loyalty to England.
“In the early seventeenth century the Ballycarry area was a favoured destination for Scottish settlers landing in east Antrim”Larne Historical Church Trail
Catholic churches were destroyed, or, as in this case, taken over by Protestant communities.
Templecorran – Rev Edward Brice
In 1613 Rev Edward Brice was appointed the first Presbyterian minister of Templecorran. He had been invited to come to Ireland by the Scottish landlord William Edmunstone.
Edmunstone was the laird of Duntreath in Stirlingshire, about 10 miles north of Glasgow. He had arrived in Ireland in 1609 and was described as the ‘right hand man’ of Hugh Montgomery (see Ballymacarret post). As well as being ‘granted’ lands in the Ards peninsular; on 28th May 1609, he obtained a perpetual lease for the lands at Templecorran.
Due to the large influx of Presbyterians now living on Irish soil, Edmunstone felt the need of a minister to see to their religious needs.
Edward Brice was born around 1569 in Aith, Stirlingshire. In Scottish records his name is spelt as Bryce.
He graduated from Edinburgh University on 12th August 1593 with a Masters degree. Having been admitted to Stirling presbytery in 1595, he served in the parishes of Bothkenner, Drymen and Dumbarton.
However, Brice ‘fell foul’ of church hierarchy by his opposition to the election of John Spottiswoode as moderator, at the synod of Glasgow. This is blamed for him having to leave Scotland and come to Ireland.
“…at the Synod of Glasgow in 1607 he opposed the appointment of an Archbishop [John Spotswood] against the recommendation of the king. His enemies accused him of immorality (adultery) and he was so persecuted that he sought refuge in Ulster”Ballymena Weekly Telegraph 15th August 1957
Arrival at Templecorran
The Rev Robert Echlin, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor, appointed Brice to Templecorran. Apparently, this was common policy at the time.
“it was not unusual for presbyterians of Scottish origin to hold Church of Ireland livings in the 1630’s. A pragmatic, or perhaps sympathetic, attitude by Bishops such as Echlin, combined with broad similarities in theological outlook and a shortage of ministers in Ulster, made such an accommodation possible”Excavations at Kilroot Report 36, Queens University Belfast
Rev Brice continued with his religious duties for the next 20 years. It is recorded that he preached at Templecorran, Ballykeel and Islandmagee.
In 1619 he was also given the ‘prebend’ (a stipend from a particular church) of Kilroot. However, the Ulster Visitation Book of 1622 records that the church at Kilroot was ‘decayed’ while Templecorran at Ballycarry had newly erected walls but no roof.
Rev Brice’s Death
In 1635 Rev Henry Leslie succeeded to the bishopric. He declared that all the clergy in his diocese subscribe to the 1634 canons of the Church of Ireland.
Five ministers, including Brice, refused. Even after negotiations the men would still not comply. This resulted in Leslie issuing a sentence of ‘perpetual silence’, presumably meaning they were forbidden to preach.
At any rate, Brice was to pass away quite soon afterwards at the age of 47. He left behind two sons Robert and Edward, and two daughters. His wife’s name and that of his daughters are not recorded.
“He returned from the visitation at Belfast, oppressed with thoughts of being compelled to resign the beloved exercise of his ministry; and before any steps could be taken by Leslie to carry his sentence into effect, this venerable minister resigned both life and office into the hands of the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls”James Seaton Reid, History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1867
Rev Brice’s headstone can be seen within the church ruins, at the spot where the pulpit was positioned near the window.
Another notable minister at Kilroot was the author Jonathan Swift (see the Waring Street post for more on Jonathan Swift and the local inspirations for ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘).
Swift was appointed to the prebendry in 1694. He would have had to preach in the various widespread churches in the area, including the by now ruinous church at Templecorran.
He actually described one sermon as “calculated for a church without company or a roof”, probably Templecorran! However, Swift did not settle in this quiet, rural and parish and returned to England in a year.
“Kilroot was a run-down parish that Swift would have found soul-destroying on account of its poverty and implacable Presbyterianism”Gordon Lucy 2020
The existing ruins of Templecorran Church show us that it was built in a Greek Cross shape with each ‘arm’ of the building of the same length. This was typical of Scottish churches. It is thought the builders redesigned the existing Catholic church rather than construct anew.
“There is not any record or tradition concerning this building but it is certain that it was erected long before the Presbyterians came to this country”James Boyle, Ordnance Survey Memoir 1835
The church measured 63ft by 23ft with a door on the north and south walls. There were 6 windows, 2 on each side wall and 1 large one on each gable. There was also an arch in the northern transept spanning 10ft with an iron gate.
“The walls of the church are in tolerably good repair and, except a little of the summits of its gables and in the mutilation of the doorways and windows, have been by the hand of man but little interfered with”Ordnance Survey Memoirs Vol 26 1839
The church walls also display 12 loops, narrow openings for muskets. This suggests that the congregation still felt under threat from the local Irish whom they had dispossessed from their lands.
By 1679 the records describe the church at Templecorran as in ruins.
The attached cemetery at Templecorran contains may old graves.
“The graveyard in ancient times was much more extensive than it is at present, as graves are found in the adjoining fields at a considerable distance from the present graveyard.
The foundations of several extensive buildings, which had very broad walls, have been found in the graveyard and adjoining fields.
Stone-lined graves, formed of slabs of white limestone, have also been found; these indicate a form of interment coeval with the introduction of Christianity”Rev James O’Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor 1884
In the nineteenth century the graveyard measured 176ft square. It was enclosed with a double fence and iron gate and a row of trees.
Many of the headstones reflect family names from the area, as well as 7 admirals and the dead from two world wars. One of the most notable is the final resting place of United Irishman and ‘weaver-poet’, James Orr.
James Orr was born in 1770 in the townland of South West Ballycarry. His father was a weaver and James was brought up in the same trade.
It is said that his parents were middle-aged when James, their only child, was born. He was home-schooled and showed a remarkable ability in literacy and a love of reading.
The author George Pepper claimed that James was a relation of William Orr executed in Carrickfergus for allegedly administering the oath of the United Irishmen, and James spent a good deal of his childhood in his uncle’s home.
The young Orr certainly held the radical ideals of the Society. He believed passionately in the abolition of slavery and in Catholic emancipation.
Conflict at Donegore and the ‘Battle of Antrim’
As a United Irishman James Orr took part in the fighting at Donegore and in the Battle of Antrim.
Given that Presbyterians too suffered restrictions for not being members of the established church, religious freedom was an important goal in this area. Most of the inhabitants of Ballycarry were fervent republicans who sought to rid Ireland of English rule and recognise a state of equality no matter a man’s creed.
After the defeat at the Battle of Antrim, with many of his compatriots Orr fled to America to escape government reprisals. However, James couldn’t settle there and returned to Ballycarry ‘under pardon’ and carried on life as a weaver.
The Bard of Ballycarry
Orr composed many poems about county life and wrote letters on such subjects as morality and education. These were often published in the Belfast newspapers under the pseudonym ‘Censor, Ballycarry’.
Hail, hoary structure! wrapt I trace
The grass-crown’d wall, the weedy pew,
And arches tott’ring to their base,
And doors on high, that none pass thro’;
Craz’d are the cape-stones, once so true,
Th’unglaz’d, dark holes appal my eye:
The loose pile nods o’er heaps that strew
Their graves, perhaps, that pil’d them high
(from ‘Elegy Written in the Church-Yard of Templecorran’ by James Orr)
The Bard of Ballycarry, as he is known, died at the age of 46, on 24th April 1816 at his home on the Manse Road.
“He was remarkable for his kind and unassuming demeanour, and was with all classes exceedingly popular. His neighbours have testified respect for and grateful remembrance of him by erecting a handsome monument (at a cost of between 80 pounds and 90 pounds) over his remains, which are interred in Ballycarry graveyard”Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1839
Also in the cemetery is the headstone of 16-year-old William Nelson.
During the 1798 Rebellion, with neighbours from Ballycarry, he raided a local landlord’s house in search of arms. He then rode to Islandmagee to muster the rebels there before joining his fellow republicans at Donegore Hill.
“At the village of Ballycarry, four miles from Carrickfergus, the insurgents assembled on the morning of the 7th, in considerable force, a party of whom were immediately despatched to Redhall, to secure some fire-arms known to be in the mansion. This service being soon effected, the entire body proceeded for Larne, for the purpose of forming a junction with their friends in that town”Samuel McSkimmin, History of the Irish Rebellion, 1853
After the rising, English troops rounded up all those suspected of taking part. Among them were the Nelson brothers John, Samuel and William.
The prisoners were taken to Carrickfergus Castle. Perhaps being so young, the authorities thought William would be the easiest to threaten. He was offered his life in return for the names of the other villagers who had participated in the rebellion. William refused. Despite pleas for mercy, he was taken back to Ballycarry and hung from a tree outside his house in front of his stricken mother.
English soldiers surrounded his cottage to prevent anyone attending the wake. His brothers were transported to the West Indies. Samuel died during the journey. William is rightfully remembered for his bravery and his loyalty and is known as ‘the Ballycarry Martyr‘.
“The story of William Nelson spoke to me of a many layered past in the community. It is a place where history merges with the present; the ruins of Templecorran Church are a constant reminder of early Presbyterianism, mediaeval and early Christianity in this village overlooking the North channel and the Scottish coast. It is a past which is sometimes complicated, often nuanced and always interesting”David Hume, Ballycarry – A Place in History, 2019
After first publication of this article we were contacted by a reader, George McDonald, who highlighted additional information on the lives of Samuel and John Nelson after their exile. A very interesting postscript to the Ballycarry story. See the link in the Related Posts below to an article on what happened next to the two brothers.
Thank you George for this information.The Authors, PandP
The Village of Ballycarry
The village of Ballycarry is situated about a mile from Larne Lough and overlooks Islandmagee. The name comes from the Gaelic Baile Caridh meaning ‘settlement on the weir’. It is described by Samuel Lewis –
“It comprises about 50 houses, and the inhabitants are partly employed in spinning yarn and weaving linen cloth, and partly in agriculture. There is a penny post to Carrickfergus and Larne; and fairs are held on June 21st, August 19th and October 31st”Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
From the Tithe Applotment Books of 1833 we can see the most common surnames were Ker, Hoy, McKee, Beggs and McKinstry. These records were compiled to assess the tithes due to the established church. All occupiers of land over 1 acre were expected to pay a tenth of their earning to the Church of Ireland. Naturally enough, this was very much resented by Catholics and Presbyterians and other Dissenters.
By the late 1830’s it was reported that there were 11, 2-storey houses in Ballycarry, the rest stone cabins. It consisted of one main street, 248 yards long and 30ft wide, running north-south. There were two religious establishments – Presbyterian and Unitarian Meeting Houses.
Weaving in individual cottages was no longer a viable business as industrialisation took over. The main crops were potatoes, flax and oats.
“There is only one landowner of the Roman Catholic persuasion in this parish; any other Roman Catholic in it, and they are very few, are either poor cottiers or farmer’s servants. There are a few Episcopalians and the population is almost entirely Presbyterian”Ordnance Survey Memoirs Vol 26 1839
The same author describes the inhabitants of Ballycarry as “very amenable to the laws unless when under the influence of whiskey” and “charitable and humane towards objects of compassion and are rather hospitable” (J Bleakly Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1839)
In 1847 an Anglican church, St John’s, was constructed beside the old Templecorran graveyard.
In the 1901 Census there are 48 houses, including some that are still thatched. The village of 175 residents is almost exclusively Presbyterian or Unitarian. Most of the people are farmers or agricultural labourers. However, other occupations are also represented
- John and Boyd Hawkins were boot and shoemakers
- Eliza Ann McGriffin was a dressmaker
- James Hamilton was a tea and spirit merchant
- Ann McIlwaine was an embroiderer
- Margaret Mckee was a publican and grocer
- Francis McConnell was the postmaster
Templecorran, Ballyclare – An Insight into History
For such a small village, Ballycarry offers a fascinating glimpse into history. The Church at Templecorran, long in ruins, has such a story to tell!
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