A Very Short History of Portglenone Parish Church
Located on the corner of the Townhill Road and Cullybackey Road, Portglenone Church of Ireland is one of the oldest churches in the area. It was consecrated in the 1730s by Bishop Francis Hutchinson. This parish, which is within the Diocese of Connor, also includes St Colmanell’s Church of Ireland in Ahoghill. The Ahoghill church opened in August 1865.
There are reports that the original seceders in Portglenone worshipped, for a time around 1821, in the court building in the market square area of the village.
The church received official parish status in 1840.
During the 1900s, there were several renovation projects.
On the 13th February 1912, a service of dedication was held for the newly constructed church porch.
In 1929, the church was made higher (among other things) and had a new roof installed. The extensive renovation work took six months to complete. During that time, Mr. James Brady allowed the church to hold it’s services in the village’s Town Hall.
In April 1929, the Northern Whig reported that:
Where Does the Time Go To?
I was only once inside this beautiful old church. It is a very vague memory from 1972, 73 or 4. It was a church service that the children of nearby Portglenone Primary School attended. We were escorted the few hundred yards, by our teachers. Would it have been a pre Christmas service? Maybe a fellow Portglenone Primary School student, of this early 1970s era, can help me out.
Here I was, back in June 2019, nearly 50 years later. Two hours were spent, in the fading summer light, taking several hundred photos. I did return, in the subsequent week, when the sun would briefly show it’s face, and took additional photos of the church itself (which you can see above and below).
The Oldest Headstones
There is a very old gravestone that is nearly impossible to read, from what seems to be from a July in the early 1700s (maybe 1717) of someone called John O’Hamil or maybe O’Hara. It’s hard to determine the surname.
The Bishop of Down and Connor, Francis Hutchinson, who died in 1939, lies in a vault with family members below the communion table (more on him a little later).
The two oldest gravestones in the churchyard, that I could find, were that of 70 year old Henry Keenan who died on March 15th 1784; and John Hill who died in June 1784.
The next oldest appears to be that of 17 year old Elizabeth Fowler (see the photo on the right), who died on the 3rd September 1792.
There is also a gravestone “to the glory of God and in memory of the Lyttle and Hogg families who are interred in this churchyard from the year 1796.”
Around the turn of the century, we see the graves of a Ballinafie family – 60 year old Agnes Dick who died in October 1798 and her husband 70 year old James Dick, who died in March 1802. Their son Andrew Dick died in February 1819.
Margaret Boyd, 56 years old, was buried here in January 1818. Her husband Thomas Boyd lies beside her, having died in October 1827. He was 71 years old.
Grace Glass was 76 when she passed on in October 1824.
Probably the saddest grave that I encountered was that of the McAteer family. Alexander McAteer, from Gortfad, was only 33 years old, when he died on the 8th January 1841. His wife Mary McAteer (nee Bell) was also 33 years old when she died 17 days later, on the 25th January 1841. Their five children had died in infancy.
Dr. Francis Hutchinson, Bishop of Down and Connor
Dr. Francis Hutchinson, Bishop of Down and Connor, who consecrated the Portglenone church when it opened in the 1730s, is interred in a vault under the church’s communion table. He was 80 years old when he died in June 1739 and according to his inscription, the church was built mainly at his expense. Born in Derbyshire, England, he preached in earlier times at St James in St Edmundsbury. His widow Anne is also buried beside him. She survived him by 19 years.
Hutchinson’s great-grandson, John Hamilton O’Hara (1757 to 1822) of Portglenone and Crebilly, is interred in the same vault, along with several other members of the family.
Reverend Edward Hudson & Reverend Thomas Dysart
The Rev. Edward Hudson, Rector of Ahoghill, died in May, 1804, aged 62. He was buried in the aisle of the Portglenone church. Beside him lies the remains of his wife Elizabeth, who died in October 1835, aged 93.
The Rev. Thomas M Dysart lies in the graveyard. He was reared in the local townland of Bracknamuckley. Dysart was ordained in First Newton Hamilton on the 14th December 1875; resigned that role on the 5th July 1887; then installed in Mallow on the 11th July 1887. He retired on the 21st June 1913; and died at 77 years of age, on the 19th May 1927.
A local Justice of the Peace (JP) is buried in the graveyard. Thomas Madden was 62 when he died on the 12th December 1947.
Alexander Family of Portglenone
The Alexander name is very prominent in the history of Portglenone. In the graveyard, and inside the church, the name appears frequently.
There are references to the most Reverend Nathaniel Alexander D.D.P.C., Lord Bishop of Meath (born 17 June 1788, died 25 July 1840); also his eldest son, the Ven. Robert Alexander, Archdeacon of Hillsborough and of Portglenone House.
Robert Alexander I.C.S. died at Portglenone House in June 1896 and his wife Louisa passed away in January 1902. Their son, also named Robert Alexander, and who also resided at Portglenone House, contributed a window to the church, with had the inscription “This window is erected by their son Robert Arthur Alexander. “So he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.”” His youngest daughter, Clare Florinda, who was the wife of the Lieutenant Commander R A Cassidi R.N., is also buried in the churchyard (born 8th February 1896 – died 30th March 1925).
I will return to this section at a later date, because there are several more Alexanders to add (including one who served as an MP at Westminster in the 1840s).
American Connections (plus one Australian)
There is a reference to an Adam Bell (died 1920) and his wife Ann Bell (died 1913) of Gortfad. Their daughter Mary J. Bell died in the USA on the 11th September 1916.
Stewart Cairns (died in 1930, aged 93 years) of Lisnagarron put up a headstone in memory of his young 20 year old wife Nancy Cairns (died August 1861). It also references his daughter Jane who died in Baltimore USA on the 6th July 1894, aged 33 years; and also his daughter Mary J who died at Baltimore USA 8th February 1920, aged 51 years.
John Crosset, of Portglenone, makes mention on his headstone to his grandson George Booth who died at 65 years of age, in Buffalo, USA, on the 24th October 1938.
A San Francisco man, H. C. Hamilton, erected a headstone for his parents, Patrick Hamilton (died 24th April 1891, aged 78 years) and Mary (died 13th November 1896, aged 81 years).
I did find a small stone (see below) which said “In Loving Memory of sister Elizabeth McClure. From Mae and Dan McClure, U.S.A.”. However I wasn’t able to decipher the larger headstone above (and possibly related to the smaller stone).
James Crawford (who died 25th June 1897, aged 78 years) and his wife Betty Hilton (who died 7th January 1911, aged 89 years) of Lisrodden had a son, James Crawford, who died in Melbourne, Australia, 18th November 1908, aged 53 years.
Killed in Belfast Blitz
John Miller (54 years old) and his wife Mary Jane Miller (49 years old) are buried in the graveyard. They were natives of Portglenone and had many family and friends in the area. They had moved to Belfast and lived at 24 Hogarth Street, in the Tigers Bay area of the city. Along with many others, they were killed when the nazis bombed Belfast on a late night air raid on the 15th April 1941 (and into the early hours of the 16th).
On that night, nearly two-hundred Luftwaffe bombers participated in the second, and largest, of four raids on Belfast. Over nine-hundred people were killed during that hellish night – and some 1500 were injured. The death toll was the biggest loss of life in any nazi night raid outside London.
The Millers were brought home and buried in Portglenone. The death notice in the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter said: