History of Rosemary Street Congregation
The following short history of this Congregation is extracted from a volume called "History of Congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland," with Introduction and Notes by Rev. W. D. Killen, D.D. Dr. Killen states that these notices were prepared chiefly by Rev. J. S. Reid, D.D., and were published, from time to time, in "M'Comb's Presbyterian Almanac." This notice brings the history of the Congregation up to the date of Mr. Park's installation.
THE first minister in Belfast, after the restoration of Presbytery in 1642, was Mr. Anthony Shaw. A session was first erected here in 1645, and Mr. Shaw was shortly afterwards ordained. He was much persecuted by Ormond's party in 1649, and by the Republicans in 1650, so that he fled to Scotland shortly afterwards, and never returned. The next minister was Mr. William Keyes, who was settled here in 1660. Mr. Keyes had at one time also charge of Carrickfergus, but of this he was relieved in 1672, when the people of Belfast undertook to pay him an annual stipend of £60. In July of the same year, he was sent to supply the congregation of Bull-Alley in Dublin, where he continued till December, when they presented him with a call. Belfast, however, opposed his removal, sending in January, 1673, William Muir, and Michael and John Briggart, as their commissioners to the Presbytery; but the committee of all the Presbyteries in April confirmed his removal to Dublin. On this the congregation sent Mr. Anderson and Mr. Chalmers, as their commissioners to the Presbytery, to object once more against it, but the matter having been issued by the committee, the Presbytery would not interfere. In May, Mr. Keyes himself applied to be permitted to remain here, stating "that Lady Donegall was dissatisfied at his removal, and likely to be prejudiced against the Presbytery on that account." At this time Lady Donegall appears to have been at least an occasional attendant on Presbyterian ordinances. Mr. Keyes was, however, obliged to remove to Dublin, and the Presbytery wrote vindicating their proceedings to Lady Donegall, and continued to supply the vacant congregation. In January, 1674, the Presbytery sent two of their members to wait on Lord and Lady Donegall to deal with them "for the people's liberty to choose whom they please, with the meeting's consent, according to principles owned by us." In the succeeding April, Messrs. Hall and Cunningham, the two brethren appointed to execute this commission, reported that they had conferred with the Countess of Donegall, who "promised she would be no hindrance to the settling of a godly minister in Belfast;" and, in the end of the same month, they obtained a favourable answer from Lord Donegall. In May, William Moore and Alexander Arthur are their commissioners to the Presbytery, and on July 7th they gave a call to Mr. Patrick Adair,* minister at Cairncastle, who, after the other Presbyteries had been consulted, was declared transported to Belfast, on October 13th, 1674. He remained in this charge till his death in the beginning of the year 1694. At the Synod in June, 1694, Mr. William Crawford, sovereign of Belfast, Mr. David Smith, burgess, and others, appeared as the commissioners from Belfast, requesting that Mr. John M'Bride, minister of Clare, should be transported to them, which was soon after granted, and he was accordingly installed here in October, 1694. In 1706 they called Mr. James Kirkpatrick, minister at Templepatrick, to become the assistant and successor of Mr. M'Bride, who was now absent in Scotland, but the Synod refused their request, though they granted supplies. Towards the end of the year 1706, Mr. Kirkpatrick was, however, settled in Belfast. In 1707, the Presbytery divided the congregation, and in 1708, Mr. Kirkpatrick took charge of the new erection. A committee of Synod met in Belfast, in September, 1708, to be present at the division of the congregation. The old congregation had complained of the conduct of the Presbytery in encouraging the division, and their commissioners to the Synod of 1708 were Mr. Andrew Maxwell, Mr. Henry Chads, and Mr. John Black, elders; with Edward Bryce, Esq., Dr. Peacock, Mr. Isaac Macartney, Mr. Robert Lennox, Mr. Richard Ashmore, Mr. Samuel Smith, Mr. John M'Munn, Mr. Gilbert Moore, and some others. In 1718, they called Mr. Abernethy, of Antrim, to be assistant and successor to Mr. M'Bride, but the Synod determined against his removal. Mr. M'Bride died July 21st, 1718. They then called Mr. Fleming, minister of Lurgan, but the Synod in 1719 determined against his transportation. They at last obtained Mr. Samuel Haliday, jun., who was installed here July 28th, 1720. At this time lax views began to make their appearance in the Synod of Ulster; and the ministers of Rosemary Street identified themselves with the New Light party. In consequence a large number of their hearers withdrew from their pastoral care, erected another place of worship in a tenement immediately adjoining, and called Mr. Charles Masterton, previously minister of Connor, to occupy the pulpit of their new meeting-house. Mr. Masterton was installed here towards the end of the year 1722. The commissioners of the congregation, Mr. Samuel Smith and Mr. Jo. Young complained to the Synod, in 1724, of several grievances from the tardiness of the two other congregations to grant dismissions to people wishing to join them. Mr. Masterton was at the Synod of 1745, but he appears to have resigned shortly afterwards, as in 1746 the people applied to the Synod for supplies of preaching. In 1747 the Synod sanctioned the removal of Mr. William Laird from Ray to Belfast on the promise of £70 per annum during Mr. Masterton's life, and at his death £80 and an assistant minister supported, or £100 if Mr. Laird undertook the whole charge. Mr. Laird was accordingly installed here by the Presbytery of Bangor, on the 16th of September, 1747. Mr. Masterton died July 15th, 1750. Mr. Laird becoming infirm, Mr. Sinclair Kelburne was ordained here by the Presbytery of Belfast on the 8th of February, 1780. Mr. Laird died on the 8th of December, 1791. He was the great-grandfather of Sir Thomas M'Clure, Bart. On the first Tuesday of November, 1799, Mr. Kelburne resigned this charge on account of the precarious state of his health and bodily infirmity; and was succeeded by Mr. Samuel Hanna, formerly minister of Drumbo, who was installed here on the 11th of December, 1799. Mr. Kelburne died March 31st, 1802. Mr. (afterwards Dr.), Hanna, in 1838, obtained leave for his congregation to choose an assistant and successor; and in 1840 Mr. (afterwards Dr.), Gibson was elected his assistant and successor. Dr. Gibson resigned this charge in 1847 on his appointment as Professor of Christian Ethics; and was succeeded by Mr. John Macnaughtan, formerly of Paisley, who was installed here on the 25th of October, 1849. Becoming infirm, Mr. Macnaughtan obtained as his assistant Mr. William Park, formerly minister of 1st Ballymena, who was installed here on the 2nd of September, 1873. Mr. Macnaughtan died on the 27th of May, 1884.
* Mr. Adair was the author of a work long preserved in manuscript, and not long since published under the title of "Adair's Narrative." He was married to the daughter of Sir Robert Adair, the proprietor of the Ballymena estate, and the ancestor of Lord Waveney.