The Treatment of the Presbyterians in Ireland

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IX...continued

The treatment of the Presbyterians of Ireland supplies at once a proof and illustration of this fact. The ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland had been among the first to declare for the Prince of Orange, and they had all more or less suffered for his cause. The civil war in Ireland had driven many of them from the country, and had brought upon those who remained either poverty or death. Those who survived, had not, like their Episcopal neighbours, a legal maintenance provided by the State, on which they could retire; and, owing to the general impoverishment produced by the war, few of their people were able to give them a support. The grant of £1200 a year made them by King William, after he landed in Ireland in 1690, supplied each of them with an annual income of ten or twelve pounds, but was mainly valuable as a token of the kind disposition of the monarch, and as an evidence of what he would have done for them, had his means and circumstances allowed. But the same party who set themselves in England to restrict the generosity of the King, used their endeavours in Ireland to deprive the Presbyterians of their little endowment; and this grant of ten or twelve pounds a-piece was a standing grievance, which Archbishop King and the Irish prelates bitterly complained of, as a premium given to what they called schism, and a blow to the Episcopal Church; and most certainly they would have succeeded in having the wretched pittance entirely taken away, had not Queen Anne died too soon, and the accession of the House of Hanover disconcerted all their schemes.

The Irish House of Lords, led by the Protestant bishops, and the Convocation of the Episcopal Clergy in 1711, both forwarded an Address to the Queen, in which they asked for the abolition of the annual grant to the Presbyterian ministers, because it had encouraged the growth of Presbyterianism, or, as they chose to express it, "hath been applied to the considerable increase of the number of fanatical and dissenting teachers, and to the support and promoting of faction and schism among us."[17] It was thus that the prelates and their party spoke of the men by whom Derry was saved.

King William knew well who were his true friends, and while he lived was always a dead weight on every High Church scheme of bigotry and intolerance. Toryism often hampered his measures and curtailed his generosity, but it could not throw dust in his eyes. But he was scarcely in his grave till, in 1704, through the influence of the same party, the Irish Test Act was passed, making it essential that every person holding any office, whether civil or military, under the Crown, should qualify by taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the parish church. This odious test it was notorious that no intelligent and honest Presbyterian could take with a safe conscience. Its obvious design was to exclude from every office of honour and emolument any man who was not an Episcopalian, or who would refuse to become one, and thus to degrade, if not to extinguish, Presbyterianism throughout the kingdom; and, in order to effect this low and sectarian object, an ordinance instituted originally by the Son of God, for the edification of the members of His body, was subjected every day to desecration of the grossest and most repulsive kind.

For a man who was already an Episcopalian to accept the rite in the Church of his choice, was of course an unexceptionable act; but no Presbyterian could partake of the ordinance from the hands of the minister of another Church, as a qualification for secular office, without doing an act as mean and unprincipled as it was impious. Some conformed out of love to this world and its rewards; but throughout the kingdom, every Presbyterian who filled any office under the Crown, and who set less value on gain than on a good conscience, allowed his office to lapse, rather than do an act which he sincerely believed to be an act of sin and apostasy. In Belfast, the whole Corporation was changed in consequence. In Derry, ten aldermen and fourteen burgesses, out of a Corporation of thirty-eight, chose to lose office rather than to hold it by taking their sacrament in the Cathedral. The names of these honest men, who were brave enough to act in accordance with the claims of truth and honour, deserve to be held in everlasting remembrance. They were—

Alexander Lecky. (e)


James Lennox. (e)


Henry Long. (e)

had filled

Horace Kennedy, (e)

the office

Edward Brooks. (e)



Robert Shannon.


William Mackie. (e)

These had

John Cowan. (e)

filled the office

Hugh Davey. (e)

of Sheriff.

William Smyth. (e)[18]

Alexander Skipton.

Joseph Davey.


John Harvey. (e)


Robert Harvey. (e)

Robert Gamble. (e)

John Dixon.


Francis Neville.

John Rankin.

Joseph Morrison. (e)

Archibald Coningham. (e)

James Anderson. (e)

David Cairns.

John Cunningham.

James Strong.[19]

The names marked thus (e) were Elders in the Presbyterian Church of the city.

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[17] Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church, ch. xxiii. See also Froude's English in Ireland, book ii., chap, iii., sec. 3.

[18] Mr. Smyth was a native of Ayr, and he left, by deed, dated 13th August, 1702, to his native town, and to Derry, where he made his wealth, the sum of a hundred pounds each, the interest of which was to be distributed annually to the poor. In Derry, eight pounds to eight poor widows was paid down till 1742, when, like so many benefactions of a similar nature everywhere, the fund vanished, and has been heard of no more.—MS. Account of the Smyth Charity Fund.

[19] Reid's History, ch. xxii., note 37.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.