Robert Blair of Bangor

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXII

In Ireland there were few learned men in the Established Church, and even Usher seems to have been painfully indifferent to the necessity of superior education, as well as regular ordination, for his clergy. In 1623 Dr. Blair was invited to Ireland by Lord Clannaboy, to take the living of Bangor, vacated by the death of the Rev. John Gibson, "sence Reformacione from Popary the first Deane of Down." Dr. Blair objected both to episcopal government and to use the English Liturgy; yet he "procured a free and safe entry to the holy ministry," which, according to his own account, was accomplished thus. His patron, Lord Clannaboy, informed "the Bishop Echlin how opposite I was to episcopacy and their liturgy, and had the influence to procure my admission on easy and honorable terms." At his interview with the Bishop, it was arranged that Dr. Blair was to receive ordination from Mr. Cunningham and the neighbouring clergy, and the Bishop was "to come in among them in no other relation than a presbyter." These are the Bishop's own words; and his reason for ordaining at all was; " I must ordain you, else neither I nor you can answer the law nor brook the land."

In 1627 Blair had an interview with Archbishop Usher, and he says "they were not so far from agreeing as he feared." "He admitted that all those things [episcopacy and a form of prayer] ought to have been removed, but the constitution and laws of the place and time would not permit that to be done." A few years later Mr. John Livingstone thus relates his experience on similar subjects. He had been appointed also by Lord Clannaboy to the parish of Killinchy; and, "because it was needful that he should be ordained to the ministry, and the Bishop of Down, in whose diocese Killinchy was, being a corrupt and timorous man, and would require some engagement, therefore my Lord Clannaboy sent some with me, and wrote to Mr. Andrew Knox, Bishop of Raphoe, who told me he knew my errand, and that I came to him because I had scruples against episcopacy and ceremonies, according as Mr. Josiah Welsh and some others had done before; and that he thought his old age was prolonged for little other purpose than to perform such ceremonies." It was then arranged that he should be ordained as Dr. Blair and others had been. The Bishop gave him the book of ordination, and said, "though he durst not answer it to the State," that he might draw a line over anything he did not approve of, and that it should not be read. "But," concludes Mr. Livingstone, "I found that it had been so marked by some others before, that I needed not mark anything; so the Lord was pleased to carry that business far beyond anything that I have thought, or almost ever desired."[7]

Such facts as these were well known to the people; and we can scarcely be surprised that they increased their reverence for the old clergy, who made such sacrifices for the attainment of the learning necessary for their ministry, and who could not minister, even if they would, without having received the office and authority of a priest by the sacrament of orders.


[7] Desired.—See the Hamilton Manuscripts, Ulster Arch. Jour. vol. iii. pp. 145-147. Blair complains also that his patron "would receive the sacrament kneeling."