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Chapter two

The Evangelical Movement, 1800-1820


(Notes are given at the end. Links to the notes from the text are given in groups of five, 1 - 6 - 11 etc)



The most immediately striking thing about the period following the United Irish rising is the relative absence in Ulster Presbyterianism of controversial literature, and of practical initiatives in religious affairs. The main issues which agitated the General Synod during the period were, first, the government's method for distributing a substantially increased Regium Donum; then, about 1810, the right of William Steele Dickson, as a minister 'implicated' in the rebellion, to receive it; then, about 1816, the proposal that the Belfast Academical Institution (formed on an initiative from outside the Synod) should be used as a seminary for Presbyterian ministers against government opposition. The controversy over Regium Donum may have contributed to the expansion of both the Seceders and the Covenanters. The Covenanters formed a Synod in 1811. The Seceders, however, lost some support when they accepted Regium Donum in 1810 on the same terms as the General Synod. One minister, James Bryce, left with his congregation and later formed a separate connection on voluntary principles. Several other congregations left over a period of time for similar reasons, attaching themselves to the 'old light' Burgher and Antiburgher Synods in Scotland.

None of these events suggests much development of evangelical endeavour, or even of a theological readjustment to facilitate such endeavour, though Reid/Killen says that 'the election of Mr Hanna as professor of theology (in the Belfast Academical Institution in 1817 - PB) demonstrates the ascendancy of the evangelical party in the largest section of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.' Hanna was indeed evangelical in the broad sense that he supported missionary work and clerical initiatives towards social improvement, but in this he was still atypical (Killen is probably thinking chiefly of his orthodoxy). The Synod for the most part remained surprisingly aloof from the interest in social improvement - especially in the field of education - which was gaining ground in the Church of Ireland. (1)


The main impetus for this activity seems to have come from London and it was orientated towards the predominately Roman Catholic areas of Ireland. The Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge and Practise of the Christian Religion was founded in 1792 within the Church of Ireland. The London Missionary Society was formed in 1795 on a congregationalist and Scottish secession initiative. It was involved in establishing the shortlived Evangelical Society of Ulster. In 1798, as a direct response to the rebellion, the Irish Methodist Conference began a general mission to the Irish speaking population, which initiated the remarkable career of Gideon Ousely. The Hibernian Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge in Ireland (the 'London Hibernian Society') was founded in 1806 and, like the Association for Discountenancing Vice, soon concentrated on establishing schools. The Hibernian Bible Society was also formed in 1806 on the initiative of the Dublin Anglicans, B.W. Mathias and Joseph Singer, in imitation of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Hibernian Sunday School Society was formed in Dublin in 1809.

These organisations were quite consciously a reaction to the threat posed by the ideology of the French Revolution. The Fifth Report of the London Hibernian Society, for example, says:

'If but a fourth part of her (Ireland's - PB) lowest population - slaves as they are to a dark and ferocious bigotry, and imagining themselves to have no interest in preserving the present settlement of their country - were once organised under the standard of invasion and rebellion by a foe whose ability equals his malignance, the consequences are too obvious and too terrible to require detailment.' (2)

Irish Protestants had of course been living for a long time with the threat of violent disruption posed by the Whiteboys. But the French Revolution and the radical ferment it provoked throughout the British Isles - issuing in actual rebellion in Ireland - opened up the new possibility that 'the mob' could overthrow the existing social order on a more permanent basis, given the right leadership. Eighteenth century civilisation, with its almost neurotic concern for order, rationality, simplicity and enlightenment, was confined to a thin social layer, precariously stretched across a disorderly and 'unenlightened' mass with whom it had very little social contact.

In Catholic Ireland, the gulf between the civilised ruling elite and the great mass of the population was all the greater because of the religious difference and, in many cases, a difference in language. In addition, the prevailing form of social organisation (the landlord/ tenant relationship) had been imposed by conquest. The native form of social organisation, held together by clan loyalties, had continued unchanged in its major features for over a thousand years before being violently disrupted by outside forces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The removal of the clan leadership and the imposition of an alien culture, together with the penal legislation which prevented the Catholic church from providing an alternative leadership, rendered the population unable to effect any very permanent change in the new social order. Although the Whiteboys could achieve a temporary domination of parts of Ireland; and although they could exert sufficient pressure to prevent agricultural reform (with its consequent clearance of small peasants off the land), they could not produce a leadership capable of providing - or even of realistically proposing - alternative methods of government. (3)

The culture of the Irish peasantry in the eighteenth century was isolated not only from the English speaking and largely secularised culture of their landlords, but also from developments in the organisation of the main body of the Catholic Church in Europe. John Bossy has shown how the Counter Reformation in the seventeenth century was seen by the Catholic Old English as a means of 'civilising' the Old Irish, and how it was resisted as such after the 1620s, when the Old Irish regained control of the hierarchy. The failure of the Counter Reformation, followed by governmental repression, which was, of course, most effective in the upper tiers of the Church, meant that Irish Catholicism remained, in Bossy's phrase, 'a conglomerate of autonomous entities', with no uniform practise of mass attendance and no commonly recognised body of theological ideas. While recent historians have been at pains to point out that the penal laws did not of themselves constitute an effective obstacle to commercial development in the Catholic community, it would be difficult to exaggerate their effect on religious and cultural life - though the effect was more to prevent developments that had not yet occurred than to suppress developments that were already taking place. (4)

The result was that by the end of the eighteenth century the culture of the great mass of the population was hostile to that of the ruling class, not from the standpoint of a realisable alternative to it, but of a form of social organisation which could not be regained. The religious culture could, according to Miller, help deal with the anxieties of the agricultural year (seasonal festivals) and. Bossy suggests, with the anomy induced by death (wakes), but it was functional only for a society with a very limited number of options available to it. There was no scope for upward mobility into a culture which was both foreign and incomprehensible. (5)

This was the problem to which the evangelical agencies from the 1790s onwards had to address themselves. While the government set itself the task of suppressing or suborning the radical intelligentsia which could offer this disaffected mass a revolutionary leadership, the evangelical societies aimed to close the fearful gap between what they saw as the civilised world and the great mass of the society. Early nineteenth century Evangelical Christianity was remarkable for its - almost unprecedented - insistence that social problems were capable of solution. Important as the desire to save souls undoubtedly was, the emphasis on provision of education facilities (largely, though not exclusively, in the English language) rather than on the work of itinerant Irish speaking preachers such as Gideon Ousely, was a recognition of a social need - already registered within the community itself by the informal establishment of 'hedge schools' - which had to be met in the interests of social stability. As the Third Report of the Hibernian Sunday School Society declared:

'The public feeling has undergone an awful and powerful process in the events of the last thirty years. "In one country, and that the centre of Christendom, Revelation underwent a total eclipse; while atheism, performing on a darkened theatre its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age and sex in indiscriminate proscription and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its centre - that the imperishable memorial of these events might teach the last generation of mankind to consider religion as the pillar of society and the safeguard of the social order, which alone has power to curb the fury of the passions and secure to every one his rights; to the laborious the reward of their industry, to the rich the enjoyments of their wealth, to nobles the preservation of their honours, and to princes the stability of their thrones." The important lesson has not been wholly lost on these countries; our princes - our nobles - the great and wealthy of our land have associated for the purposes of conveying the blessing of education to the remotest quarters of the empire.' (6)

So far, I have used the term 'evangelical' in its broadest possible sense, without reference to distinct theological views. While the Association for Discountenancing Vice was distinctly Anglican, using the Church of England's catechism (which, however, was non-compulsory for Catholic children), the London Hibernian Society, the Hibernian Bible Society, and the Hibernian Sunday School Society tried to be non-sectarian with regard to both denominational and theological divisions within Protestantism: 'Their great and sole desire is to make proselytes to genuine, uncorrupted Christianity, as it appears on the pages of the New Testament, without any note or comment whatsoever.' This emphasis on the Bible (and particularly on the New Testament) alone as the religion of Protestants could be shared by latitudinarians. In 1814, the London Hibernian Society changed its name [TO WHAT?] to emphasise its educative function and its exclusive concern with the Bible, as opposed to 'religious knowledge' in general. It said that: 'the operations of the Society being thus simplified, all occasion of conscientious scruple is removed and Christians of every name, it is presumed, will cheerfully concur in promoting this labour of love.' While struggles with local priests were described in detail and the society boasted that every Catholic schoolmaster it employed 'immediately withdraws from his priest as to confession,' occasions on which cooperation with priests occurred were looked on with pride and, in 1815, they boasted that 'many of the school houses are Catholic chapels.' The rapid spread of the Society's schools (140 in 1814, 347 in 1817) indicates that it was answering a need felt in the community - presumably for basic literacy rather than for conversion to 'genuine, uncorrupted Christianity.' (7)

The period in which the London Hibernian Society changed its name and the emphasis of its work also saw the appearance of the most important of all the efforts to bring the Irish Catholic population into the ambit of British Protestant culture - the Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland, or 'Kildare Place Society'. Under government patronage, this grew rapidly from eight schools in 1816, to 1,621 in 1831. The government gave a grant of £6,000 in 1816 which, by 1831, had become £30,000 which, as Akenson points out, is all the more surprising in that the first parliamentary grant for education in England (£20,000) was made in 1833. It also used the Bible without note or comment, but it included Catholics, of whom Daniel O'Connell was one until 1819, on its Board of Managers. (8)

While these developments display an evangelical devotion to social improvement, they precluded on emphasis on saving grace, and the absence of dogmatic content in the education provided was indeed a condition of government aid (which was also given to the London Hibernian Society). Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs resulted in 1814 in the formation of the Irish Evangelical Society, again on an initiative from London. This initiative was mainly congregationalist and it eventually became a distinctly congregationalist body. It concentrated on preaching the Gospel rather than on providing social services and seems to have had little effect, though, together with the appearance within the Church of Ireland of the 'Irish Society' (the Society for Promoting the Education of the Native Irish through the Medium of their own Language) in 1816, it indicated a shift towards a more purely conversionary emphasis. The 'Irish Society' provided schools, but since the education was given in Irish, it was not so straightforwardly an attempt to bring Irish Catholics into the ambit of British culture. (9)


What is most remarkable for our present purpose is the lack of involvement or even interest shown in this activity by the northern Presbyterian connections. The most distinctly Presbyterian initiative, which seems to have been confined to a revivalism among Presbyterians themselves, was the Evangelical Society of Ulster, formed by a group of Burgher ministers in 1798 in the immediate aftermath of the Rebellion. It adopted a policy of interdenominational co-operation to promote basic Salvationist doctrine without emphasising the peculiar tenets of each connection, and it promoted the idea of itinerant preaching. It found supporters both among the Antiburghers and in the Synod of Ulster, and it applied to the London Missionary Society for itinerant preachers. (10)

In June 1799, however, Rev Thomas Campbell of Ahorey was criticised in the Antiburgher Synod for sitting on its committee, and the Synod resolved that, while recognising the Society's good intentions, 'the principles of the Constitution are entirely latitudinarian, whereby the truth of the Gospel is in danger of being destroyed and the practice of godliness overthrown where they have been established in the providence of God.' Campbell was nonetheless allowed to continue as a subscriber, but in 1800, the Synod resolved that 'persons belonging to our communion should be admonished to withdraw from private religious societies not under our inspection and join with those under our inspection.' (11)

The Burghers, after initially approving the Society, passed a resolution in 1800 against lay preachers not commissioned by ordained preachers, preachers interfering with the congregations of their colleagues, and 'promiscuous communion in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.' A minority felt that these resolutions did not go far enough, and thought that members of the ESU were following a schismatic course. (12)

The Society was not formally condemned by the Synod of Ulster, but in 1804 the principle of itinerant preaching was condemned in a motion 'that no man not a member of this body or a licentiate under its care (the Presbytery of Antrim and the Southern Association excepted) shall be permitted to officiate for us in our congregations, until he shall first submit his credentials to the Presbytery in whose bounds he wishes to preach and until he shall be approved by the Presbytery." It is not clear if this was an attack on the Evangelical Society, which was probably defunct by this time, but Alexander Carson of Tobermore gave it as one of his reasons for leaving the Synod in the same year: "Shall I then submit to be cooped up in a corner and restrained by human fetters from lending a hand to rescue my brethren from the pit of destruction?' (13)

In 1805, the rule was amended to add the Church of Scotland to the Presbytery of Antrim and Southern Association as exceptions and in 1806 it was explained that the resolution didn't exclude any regularly ordained and zealous minister of any other Protestant church from occasionally using the Synod's pulpits. This probably represents more of a concession to interdenominational moderatism than to interdenominational evangelicalism of the kind being promoted by the ESU. (14)

Of the Burghers involved in the ESU, George Hamilton of Armagh and John Gibson of Richill went Independent in 1802 and 1803 respectively, taking their congregations with them. Gibson's former congregation in Sligo also went Independent. William Gunn joined them at about the same time, though his congregation at Smithborough rejoined the Burgher Synod in 1812. The Antiburgher, Thomas Campbell, left the Synod in 1806, but this seems more related to doubts about the New Testimony of the Scottish Synod than to his membership of the ESU, which he had left in 1800. He emigrated to America, where he became a leader in a new movement, which eventually gave birth to the 'Disciples of Christ' on evangelical but non-subscribing principles. Carson became a non-subscribing Independent in 1804. An Independent congregation was established at about the same time, which built a church in Donegall Street in 1804 with money provided by Robert Haldane. (15)

Carson's Reasons for Separating from the Synod of Ulster indicate a wide gulf between the Congregationalist emphasis on an individual experience of conversion and the Presbyterian emphasis on membership of a disciplined church. He opposed subscription to creeds and confessions - even impeccably orthodox ones - on the grounds that mere profession of faith was meaningless without a new birth. He believed in what he saw as a closed communion, confined to those who could give evidence of new birth. But his closed communion would certainly have looked to the Burgher Synod like 'promiscuous communion', since he was indifferent about the denomination to which his communicant belonged. He praised the Congregationalist system because it was so impractical from the point of view of human organisation that it required the presence of God for its survival: 'a Presbyterian court can proceed as independent of God as a court of civil justice". Soon after his conversion, he followed the Haldanes further and became a Baptist. (16)

Carson was the most substantial of the Society's converts to Congregationalism but the threat posed by interdenominational Salvationist preaching in this period does not appear to have been great, especially when compared with the success of the Haldanes in Scotland. There, a substantial Congregationalist and Baptist cause was established. The 1834 Report of the Committee of Public Instruction, however, lists only eleven Independent churches and six Baptist churches in the whole of Ulster. The Antiburgher Synod's strong condemnation of the Society - and the less strong condemnation by the Burghers - was probably due to concern at developments in Scotland. The Narrative and Testimony published by the Scottish Antiburghers in 1804 condemns Haldane's 'Tabernacle people' in terms reminiscent of those in which the Irish Antiburghers condemned the Evangelical Society:

'In fine, this scheme has a tendency to spread independency and latitudinarianism more widely in this country, to discredit the office of the ministry and the ordinance of preaching, and to throw open a wide door to anarchy and confusion in the church.' (17)

The Evangelical Society is probably best seen as a 'spilling over' of an essentially Scottish phenomenon into Ulster. The Synod of Ulster's resolution to guard against itinerant preaching follows a more strongly worded resolution by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1799. Carson had completed his studies in Glasgow in 1798 and had been associated with Ralph Wardlaw, who became a Congregationalist under the Haldanes' influence in 1800. It wasn't until 1810 that a reply was made to his 'Reasons' and even then its author, Andrew Stevens, was a layman. It consists of a rather arid collection of New Testament quotations in support of Presbyterian principles of church government. Stevens himself is critical of the failure of ministers to reply and accuses them of failing in their duty to counsel an erring brother. Although there was a bitter law suit over the possession of Carson's church in Tobermore, it does not seem that the Synod felt itself to be greatly threatened by the ideas Carson was very ably expounding. (18)


The most prominent 'evangelicals' in the Synod in this period were Benjamin McDowell, minister since 1778 of Mary's Abbey in Dublin, whom we have already seen defending subscription and orthodox Calvinism against John Cameron, and Samuel Hanna, from 1799 minister of the Third Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast, where he succeeded Rev Sinclair Kelburn, who was in prison on suspicion of involvement in the United Irish rising. As far back as 1787, McDowell had been involved in an apparently shortlived General Evangelical Society and in 1797, he appears as one of the directors of the London Missionary Society. His primary interest thus seems to have been more in the Salvationist side of evangelical endeavour than in social improvement. He was and felt himself to be, untypical of the Synod. He was raised in New Jersey, by Reformed Presbyterian parents, and studied at Princeton before being received into the Church of Scotland. We have seen how he failed to impress on the Synod the necessity of subscription. During his controversy with Cameron, he suggested, in 1775, that orthodox ministers might have to secede, and his withdrawal to Dublin in 1778 to a congregation of only six families was a physical separation which gave him freedom to develop in ways significantly different from those of the rest of the Synod. He created a substantial orthodox Presbyterian cause in Dublin. In 1804, he opposed the Synod's resolution restricting the right of ministers of other denominations to use their pulpits and in 1807, he published a very critical Letter to the Ministers of the Synod of Ulster under the pseudonym, 'Amicus'. (19)

McDowell's coadjutor in Dublin from 1791 was James Horner, who joined him in trying to revive lapsed Presbyterian causes in the South and West of Ireland. In 1813, McDowell's duties were taker over by James Carlile, who was one of the first secretaries of the Irish Evangelical Society. Like McDowell, Carlile's formative experience had taken place outside the ambit of the Synod, since he had been raised in Scotland and licensed in the Church of Scotland. (20)

Brought up inside the Synod of Ulster and minister first in Drumbo, then in Belfast, Hanna was more centrally placed than McDowell, Horner or Carlile. Like them, he had connections with the London Missionary Society, and preached a sermon before them on the importance of belief in the Trinity, though, like Carlile, he was later to oppose Henry Cooke in his efforts both to purge the Belfast Academical Institution of its heterodox elements and to drive the Arians out of the Synod. In 1807, he was appointed on to a committee to raise money to provide Bibles for the Presbyterian poor. Though his commission only covered the Presbyterian population, the Bibles were provided at reduced prices by the Anglican Association for Discountenancing Vice, and free copies were also obtained through McDowell from the British and Foreign Bible Society (though they proved unsatisfactory since they didn't include the Psalms).

The support for this venture does indicate the emergence of a distinct body of opinion in the Synod characterised by a combination of trinitarianism and application to the practical job of making the Bible more easily available. Of the fourteen members of the proto-Unitarian Remonstrant Synod who had been ordained at the time of the Bible Committee, only John Mitchell subscribed (£19.12s.Od.) to the fund. By contrast, of the seventeen ministers who signed a protest against the reinstatement of Josiah Kerr to the Synod after his avowal of Arian views in 1811, only four did not contribute. Of these, one was ordained in 1811, the year in which the scheme came to an end, and two (Horner and McEwen) were from Dublin. No Dublin ministers appear on the list (including McDowell, despite negotiations with the BFBS) which implies that Dublin was not included in the scheme. The protest signatories include some of the most impressive contributors - Hanna (£76.12s.Od., in addition to £58.12s. lid. from his congregation); Samuel Dill (£81.13s.6d.); James Elder (£59.7s.2dhalfpenny.); James Gowdy (£57.5s.3d.) and John Thompson (£45.14s.Od.). I should add, however, that the list includes several members listed in the Fasti as 'non-evangelical', including the disgruntled William Steele Dickson (£7.13s.7d). His principal antagonist, Robert Black - also very much a 'non-evangelical' - gave a derisory £1. 2s. Od. 'for self). (21)

In 1811, the Committee suggested 'that the formation of different branches of the Hibernian Bible Society in this province has in a great measure superseded the necessity of their labours. The purposes for which your Bible Committee was appointed will now be accomplished by your recommending it to the ministers of this Synod to encourage the formation of branches of the Hibernian Bible Society in such places as may be established in their respective neighbourhoods.' This invitation to interdenominational co-operation was approved by the Synod, apparently without any difficulty.' (22)

The Hibernian Bible Society was opposed within the Church of Ireland for its interdenominationalism. The Primates, Stuart and Beresford, who had initially sponsored it, withdrew their support since 'in becoming Bible distributors some have forgotten they were churchmen' - a controversy similar to that which surrounded the BFBS in London. It was promoted most energetically by the evangelical party in the Church of Ireland, including Archbishop Trench of Tuam, who became its President. It was at meetings of auxiliary Bible Societies of the kind recommended by the Synod that the controversies associated with the 'New Reformation' movement in the 1820s began. (23)

Nonetheless, before 1820, the emphasis still seems - like that of the education societies - to have been on a non-dogmatic promotion of the Bible (Trench supported the Society before his own conversion), certainly with the intention of converting Catholics to Protestantism, but not necessarily to a Salvationist Protestantism. The Ulster Register gives an account of an anniversary meeting of the Bible Society in Hanna's meeting place in April 1817, chaired by Hanna, in the absence of the Bishop of Down and Connor. This was addressed by William Bruce of the non-subscribing Presbytery of Antrim, who was already known as a Unitarian, and who said that the aim of the British and Foreign Bible Society was 'the diffusion of pure and undefiled Christianity' (Hanna called it 'the greatest human institution ever established on earth'). He hoped 'that the existing differences between the Catholic Church in Ireland and the See and the Court of Rome, aided by the dissemination of the scriptures may produce a renovation of true religion among that people', thus indicating a strong tendency among the evangelicals of the period to believe in the possibility of a process of Protestantisation occurring within the Catholic church itself (hence the LHS's willingness to co-operate with priests). By the late 1820s, this view would seem as fanciful as the possibility of Unitarian/Trinitarian co-operation in promoting 'pure and undefiled Christianity'. (24)

One last evangelical initiative in this period needs to be looked at - the formation of a congregation in Carlow, treated as the revival of a congregation which had become non-functional in 1750. Even for this specifically Presbyterian venture, the initiative came from outside the Synod, in this case from Rev Thomas Cox, an Independent who had studied under Dr Bogue at Gosport. According to James Morgan, the first regular minister to the congregation, Bogue had suggested that Cox join the Presbyterian Church, though, since he does not appear in the Fasti, or in the Records of the General Synod of Ulster, he may have applied to the non-subscribing and predominately Arian Synod of Munster. The Synod of Munster thanked the Synod of Ulster for supplying Carlow (with Henry Cooke and Robert Stewart) in 1818, the same year in which the congregation applied to be put under the Synod of Ulster's care. Relations between the Arian Synod of Munster and the orthodox Presbyterians in Dublin seem to have been friendly. The leading member of the Munster Synod, Dr James Armstrong, wrote to William Porter in 1825, as an incident in the Arian controversy, to say:

'I have been labouring for several years to combine the exertions of the Presbyterian bodies and direct them to the revival and extension of our interest in the south and west of Ireland; and, I trust not without success.' (25)

R.F.G. Holmes reports that Cooke, during his visit to the South of Ireland, became friendly with Armstrong. A committee was appointed in 1820 'to co-operate with the ministers of Dublin, the Synod of Munster and the Trustees of the General Fund (a joint fund administered by both Synods - PB) in preserving and extending the Presbyterian interest in the above mentioned parts of the kingdom' (meaning the south and west - PB). The committee included two of the older generation of orthodox ministers (Hanna, and Thompson, who had also been on the Bible Committee and was known as a strict Calvinist), together with the newer generation (Cooke and Stewart): but it also included the latitudinarians, Dr William Neilson and Henry Montgomery. According to Rodgers, it had strict instructions not to interfere with members of any other communion. (26)

Morgan was appointed to Carlow in the same year and refers to inroads he was making into the Church of Ireland (owing to the local rector's fondness for playing billiards) and in the army. But the rather glowing account in his Recollections of my Life and Times is based largely on the 'godliness' of the local Anglicans. In 1835, he told the Synod that he had found only twenty-five Presbyterian families when he began his ministry. Other ministers, Kennedy and John Hanna, who supplied the congregation subsequently during vacancies, found only about twelve. Morgan recommended that the charge be abandoned. In general, the venture is probably more important for the effect it had on the ministers involved (Cooke, Stewart and, principally, Morgan) than for any effect it might have had on religious life in southern Ireland. It brought them into closer contact with the Church of Ireland evangelicals and with the evangelical Presbyterian grouping in Dublin. (27)

In the field of education, 1 have found no evidence of Irish Presbyterian participation in the London Hibernian Society, despite considerable aid from within the Church of Scotland. Individual Presbyterians supported the Sunday School Society and a separate 'Belfast Sunday School Society' affiliated to the Hibernian Sunday School Society, was established in Belfast, largely on the initiative of lay Presbyterians. The Sunday School in Belfast had been founded in 1802 'for the purpose of affording education to those in the situation of servants and apprentices who are employed during the rest of the week, and to those parents who cannot afford to pay for their education.' The purposes of the education provided were secular: 'to afford the means of mental improvement to the children of the lower classes by communicating to them useful knowledge and teaching them habits of good order and regularity of conduct,' though Bibles and Testaments were given as prizes. In 1814, the Society opened a day school on Lancasterian principles and resolved that:

'the bible and testament shall be read in the school three days a week; these and other approved books shall be given as premiums for proficiency and good conduct. The Douay translation to be used and distributed among children of the Catholic persuasion.' (28)

This Lancasterian School received help from the Kildare Place Society and was subsequently identifiable as a latitudinarian and liberal establishment. It is safe to say that the standard of education among Presbyterians improved in this period due to the aid provided by the KPS, but in this case they were the objects rather than the initiators of social reform.


The picture is not much altered if we include the Seceders or Covenanters. We have seen that the Evangelical Society of Ulster originated among the Burghers, that it issued in a small congregationalist cause, and that it can be seen as a marginal incident in the history of Scottish Congregationalism. There was a symbiotic relationship of mutual influence and recrimination between the Scottish Secession (especially the Burghers) and Scottish Congregationalism, which was mirrored on a much smaller scale in Ireland, especially in Dublin. If the Secession is seen as a half-way house between a covenanting position and a Calvinistic Methodist position, the turn of the century saw it shift in the Calvinistic Methodist direction with the adoption of 'new light' principles by both Synods, partly through the competitive influence of the congregationalists.

The term 'new light' seems to have been borrowed from Ulster, where it signified the latitudinarian theology of the non-subscribers. In Scotland, however, it signified broadly the view that heresy should not be punishable as a civil crime. This view was incorporated in the new Narrative and Testimony issued by the Antiburgher Synod in 1804, and in the Preamble to Ordination Questions issued by the Burghers in 1799. The Narrative and Testimony did not abandon the ideal of the covenanted nation, but it did represent a concession to arguments already advanced by the non-covenanting Relief Synod and the congregationalists, and it was a step towards the later adoption of a Voluntaryist position. It resulted in the departure from both Synods of a small number of 'old light' ministers who maintained the ideal of a national church capable of imposing restrictions on the religious practise of dissenters. (29)

The Old Light/New Light, split was not paralleled in Ireland either among the Burghers or the Antiburghers, though one Burgher probationer, David Graham, applied to join the Covenanters in 1804 because of doubts over the Burghers' doctrine of Christ's mediatorial dominion, magistracy, and the obligation of the covenants. He was, however, deposed from the Reformed Presbytery in 1808, and his subsequent career in the Reformed Presbytery of America showed him to be something of a maverick. A 'Scotch Secession' (Old Light) interest did appear later, but this was in response to the controversy over classification of the Regium Donum, 1809-11, rather than to the Scottish controversy. The Antiburghers' New Testimony seems to have been generally welcomed. Rev John Tennent of Roseyards, one of the first Antiburgher ministers to arrive in Ireland, wrote in 1802 (presumably about a draft of the Testimony):

'1 know a great cry long ago among many for a new impression of the Act and Testimony (the original statement of Secession principles, before the 'Breach' between Burghers and Anti-burghers occurred - PB). But this is more clear and plain and the disputed parts about Church and State is (sic) what the most I have talked with are pleased.' (30)

The only complaint raised in the Synod was by Thomas Campbell, the former member of the Evangelical Society of Ulster, who gave notice in 1802 that 'a number of difficulties... of a very embarrassing tendency had arisen from the 18th and 23rd chapters'. These chapters refer respectively to covenanting and to church discipline. The perpetual obligation of covenants was recognised, but only insofar as they were lawful: 'They could neither bind themselves, nor us, to impose a religious profession upon any by external force or violence.' The 23rd chapter gives the church a right of excommunication. Campbell left Ireland before the 1807 Synod without having had his objections discussed. It is not clear what they were, but since the movement with which he became involved In America was nonsubscribing, it is probable that he felt uneasy about the church's right as a collectivity to exercise power over individual members. (31)

The lack of controversial literature in the period even among Seceders suggests a general lessening in the emphasis on 'sectarian' peculiarities (which were mostly to do with the relations between nation and church). In 1812, the Antiburghers, prompted by Hanna of the Synod of Ulster, decided to co-operate with the Hibernian Bible Society. In the same year, Alexander Waugh of the London Missionary Society, spoke to the Burgher Synod in Ireland in favour of foreign missions. While approving of this interdenominational endeavour, the Synod felt it couldn't afford to offer practical or financial help. (32)

Waugh had been - together with the English congregationalist, David Bogue, and the Scottish congregationalist, Robert Haldane - one of the founders of the LMS. Although he was a Scottish Burgher, he was based in London, so he was outside the ambit of the Synod, and his relations with it may have been similar to Benjamin McDowell's with the Synod of Ulster. Together with a Scottish Antiburgher, G. Jerment, he was instrumental in establishing the Irish Evangelical Society in Dublin in 1815, as a reaction against the London Hibernian Society's change of emphasis in 1814 from preaching to education. One of the first secretaries of the IES (together with the Synod of Ulster's James Carlile) was an Antiburgher layman, James Clarke of Dublin. But the Antiburgher Synod as a whole did not support the Society and in 1818 rejected an overture proposing that ministers be allowed to preach under its inspection. (33)

At its first meeting in 1819, the Presbyterian Synod in Ireland, formed by the uniting of the Burgher and Antiburgher Synods, set up a committee to devise a plan 'for the further spread of evangelical principles in Ireland'. A mission to the South and West of Ireland was established at the 1820 Synod, which also resolved to support the Hibernian Bible Society and, on a request from the Marquess of Donegall and Sir Robert Bateson, the Auxiliary Hibernian School Society. The Second Report of the Mission, published in 1821, emphasised its non-sectarian nature: 'It is not to increase the number of Seceders that the mission committee are labouring so assiduously...'. There was to be no interference with the work of ministers of other denominations, including the Church of Ireland, if they were preaching the gospel (which was thus assumed to be something apart from doctrines of church government). They were critical of the IES as a body which masqueraded as interdenominational but which in fact promoted Congregationalism:

'The Irish Evangelical Society solicited the aid of all denominations of Christians and professed merely to introduce the Gospel into the dark corners of Ireland, leaving the congregations formed by their instrumentality to choose what form of ecclesiastical rule they pleased, and at the same time established an academy for the education of missionaries in the principles of Independency.' (34)

Nonetheless, in 1823, the Secretary of the Mission, David Stuart, was appointed to a chair in the IES'S Theological Academy (which was dissolved in 1828). Stuart, the minister of New Mary's Abbey in Dublin, seems to have been the driving spirit behind what missionary activity there was among the Seceders. He was the Moderator in 1819, when the aim of the mission was approved, and his congregation (which included James Clarke of the IES) contributed £50 out of the £130 raised in its first year of operation. In its second year, £330 out of the £400 raised came from Scotland. As the Second Report said: 'alas, our funds are gone, and our people are not making any advances to supply them.' (35)

As with the General Synod, then, the idea of promoting a gospel common to all theologically orthodox Protestants was accepted by the Seceders, but pressure for activity came from outside the Synod, and the greatest enthusiasm for it was shown by those far from the centre.

The minutes of the Reformed Presbytery and Synod in this period give no evidence of participation in the work of interdenominational evangelical agencies, though the Causes of Fasting and Thanksgiving of 1823 (a document that was later to become controversial through its opposition to 'persecuting principles') included the spread of education among the Causes of Thanksgiving and said of the Sunday Schools: 'The pious and intelligent Christian who may object to some of the plans at present adopted for the diffusion of knowledge will still rejoice when he sees some of the effects produced.' In 1820, the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Scotland wrote to the Irish Synod that:

'Never at any former period were more laudable efforts made for propagating the Gospel of Christ. . . and it becomes us by every means in our power to co-operate in such a beneficent design.'

and in 1821, the Irish Synod replied:

'We have great pleasure in stating that the doctrines of the Gospel are much more acceptable to the inhabitants of this country than they were a few years ago. It has consequently become more fashionable to preach them. Whether this in all instances may proceed from a conviction of the truth, or in some from a desire to please, we do not determine: but whatever may be the motive, we "rejoice that Christ is preached..." ' (36)

Here again the evangelical movement was external to the Synod, and, while ministers were impressed by it, they were less inclined even than the General or Secession Synods to take a leading part in it.


The absence of dramatic innovation in Ulster Presbyterianism during this period need not necessarily be described as a failure: it could equally point to a satisfaction among Presbyterians that their religious needs were being adequately met. Methodism has frequently been described as a popular movement registering dissatisfaction with the Church of England, and Kiernan describes Anglican evangelicalism as an attempt to broaden the Church of England to incorporate that dissatisfaction. The success of Scottish Congregationalism also suggests the existence of popular needs which were not met within the Church of Scotland - either because of its inadequate geographical distribution (which left large areas of the highlands open to congregationalist penetration) or because of its unexciting doctrine.' Of course the area covered by Presbyterianism in Ulster was much smaller than that of the established churches in England and Scotland. The Synod of Ulster was a small enough body to give an adequate sense of ministerial equality and effective democracy to its annual meetings; and it did not have the problems of patronage which plagued the Church of Scotland. (37)

It is also arguable that the Seceders and Covenanters performed some of the functions which Methodism performed in England. Halevy suggests that the division in English nonconformity between rationalist and Calvinist provided an opening for Methodism (and Walsh feels that the impact of Methodism on nonconformity was greater than Halevy acknowledges). The same division provided an opening for Seceders and Covenanters in Ulster. While neither body was particularly attached to the principles of itineracy or field preaching, they practised both; and while the attempt to form a liaison between Whitefield and the Scottish Secession ended in mutual recriminations, they had at least recognised a similarity in their ambitions. Halevy points to a class division in English nonconformity between more educated latitudinarians and poorer Calvinists, and the Seceders and Covenanters likewise appealed chiefly to the poor. (38)

The obvious distinction between the Scotch/Irish Presbyterian 'dissenters' and English Methodism lies in the letter's insistence on the experience of conversion (an emphasis common to both Calvinistic and Arminian Methodism). This can be taken simply as reflecting a difference between the typical forms of English dissent and Scottish Presbyterianism. English dissent was attached to the ideal of the gathered church, while Scottish Presbyterianism was attached to the ideal of a church co-terminous with civil society. The gathered church requires a knowledge of salvation, and Walsh suggests that Methodism appealed to English dissenters 'uneasy at their failure to produce in a cooler religious climate the classic marks of regeneration demanded of them by Puritan doctrine and Puritan forebears'. This demand was not made by Scottish Presbyterianism. (39)

The appeal of the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Seceders and Covenanters was the appeal of a comforting doctrine of grace. Much that has been written on Calvinism has been influenced by Weber's view that the doctrine of election necessarily induces anxiety. Miller takes this as an a priori assumption, arguing that this anxiety is relieved in 'prophetic' orthodoxy by membership of a church destined to revolutionise the world, and in 'conversionist' orthodoxy by an internal knowledge of salvation. But the doctrine of election can equally be seen as a comforting doctrine, relieving the Christian of responsibility for his own salvation. While 'gathered church' Congregationalism, with its insistence on evidence of regeneration, may have been anxiety-inducing, Scottish Presbyterianism adhered more closely to Calvin's own idea of the church's function, which was to provide comfort to its members through the regular reiteration of God's promises. Justification by faith can perhaps best be understood as justification by confidence in the promise of election - a confidence induced by membership of the church. (40)

The popular tendency in Ulster Presbyterianism was thus towards a comforting doctrinal orthodoxy and membership of a 'true' church, not, until the 1859 revival, towards an emotionally exciting form of preaching. The Seceders and Covenanters acted as a safety net for dissatisfaction within the Synod of Ulster, keeping dissatisfied elements inside the ambit of Presbyterianism. Disruptive as they might have appeared to Synod of Ulster ministers in the eighteenth century, they can be described in retrospect as a stabilising factor, reducing the chances that dissatisfaction may have taken an enthusiastic and/or non-Presbyterian form.

Nonetheless the lack of controversial literature in the early nineteenth century suggests an inability among Presbyterians to attach the importance to their own affairs which they were able to feel at the end of the eighteenth century. At the same time, their inability to take substantial initiatives in the fields either of national education or of conversionary endeavour suggests that they did not have a strong sense of responsibility towards society as a whole -whether in Ulster or throughout Ireland. They still felt themselves to be a distinct society within - and in important respects alien to 'the nation' (whether Irish or British). The rebellion had been in part an attempt to overcome that alienation through dismantling the identification of the state with a hostile church. The failure of the rebellion, and the subsequent surrender to the conditions attached by government to the increased Regium Donum, brought home to Presbyterians their powerlessness as an independent polity. The Dublin ministers and Hanna can be said to have tried to overcome this through the development of a sense of responsibility to society as a whole, parallel to the non-enthusiastic, socially responsible evangelicalism of Thomas Chalmers in Scotland. But on the whole, the mood of Ulster Presbyterianism in this period can probably best be characterised as sulking.



(1) Reid: History, pp. 433-434. Back

(2) Hibernian Society for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge (London Hibernian Society): Annual Report 1811, p.5.

(3) See e.g. British and Irish Communist Organisation: Imperialism, Belfast 1975, pp. 39-50.

(4) John Bossy: 'The Counter Reformation and the People of Catholic Ireland', 1596-1641, in Historical Studies viii, Dublin 1971. Quotation from p. 156.

(5) David Miller: 'Irish Catholicism and the Great Famine' in Journal of Social History, Pittsburgh 1975, pp.89-91; Bossy: Counter Reformation, pp, 163-165.

(6) For the evangelical seriousness about social problems see e.g. lan Bradley: The Call to Seriousness, London 1976; quotation from Hibernian Sunday School Society: Annual Report 1813, Dublin 1814, p.4. Back

(7) Quotations from LHS Reports, 1813 (p.5); 1814 (p.8); 1813 (p.12); 1815 (p.7).

(8) D.H. Akenson: The Irish Education Experiment, London and Toronto 1970, esp pp. 85-94.

(9) For Irish Evangelical Society see James Miller Henry: An Assessment of the Social, Religious and Political Aspects of Congregationalism in Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, unpubl Ph.D. thesis (QUB) 1965, esp pp.92-98; for Irish Society see J.G. McWalter: The Irish Reformation Movement, Dublin 1852, pp.150-156.

(10) For Evangelical Society of Ulster see Reid: History, pp. 415-416 and Stewart: Seceders, pp. 104-107 and 187- 190.

(11) Minutes of the Antiburgher Secession Synod in Stewart MSS, PRONI D1759/TF/1, pp.21 and 24. Back

(12) Stewart: Seceders, pp. 187-190.

(13) RGSU p.279 (June 1804): Alexander Carson: 'Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster' in Works Vol iv, Dublin 1856, p.103.

(14) RGSU pp.298 (June 1805) and 309 (June 1806).

(15) For Armagh, Richill, Sligo and Smithborough, see Stewart: Seceders, pp.273-274, 342-343, 348-349; for Campbell's departure, see Antiburgher Minutes, p.54; for Donegall Street, see James E. Archibald: A Century of Congregationalism: The Story of Donegal Street Church, Belfast 1901.

(16) Carson: Reasons, quotation from p.13 ; for Carson's career see Thomas Witherow: Three Prophets of Our Own, Londonderry, 1855. Back

(17) See Introduction, fn (3) above; Associate Synod: Narrative and Testimony, Edinburgh 1804, p.91.

(18) For Church of Scotland's Act see e.g. Drummond and Bulloch: The Scottish Church, 1688-1843, Edinburgh 1973, p. 153; for Carson and Wardlaw see William Lindsay Alexander: Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Ralph Wardlaw, Edinburgh 1856, pp. 21-23; Andrew Stevens: Two Letters Addressed to the Rev Alexander Carson, Londonderry 1810; for lawsuit over Tobermore, see RGSU, 1806-1810.

(19) Account of McDowell in DNB; for his involvement with the General Evangelical Society see Robert James Rodgers: Presbyterian Missionary Activity among Irish Roman Catholics in the Nineteenth Century, unpubl MA thesis (QUB) 1969, p.66; for McDowell and the LMS see London Missionary Society: Reports of the Missionary Society from Its Formation in the Year 1795 to 1814 Inclusive, London N.D., e.g. p. 46.

(20) Carlile in DNB.

(21) For Bible Committee, see RGSU pp .325-326 (June 1807); 340-341 (June 1809); 356-357 (June 1810); 367- 368 (June 1811); list of opponents of Rev Josiah Ker in ibid, p. 370 (June 1811); list of Remonstrants in J.L. Crozier: Life of Henry Montgomery, London 1875, p. 403, with additions subsequent to 1830 from Fasti. Back

(22) RGSU p.368 (June 1811).

(23) Discussion of Hibernian Bible Society from Desmond Bowen: The Protestant Crusade in Ireland, 1800-1870, Dublin and Montreal 1978, esp pp.72-73 and 99-103; and N.D. Emerson: 'Church Life in the Nineteenth Century' in W.A. Philips (ed): History of the Church of Ireland, London 1833, p.335.

(24) Ulster Register 18/4/1817, pp.l95-200.

(25) James Morgan: Recollections of My Life and Times, Belfast 1874, pp. 13-14; RGSU, p.489 (June 1818); Armstrong's letter in Christian Moderator, Vol i, no 5 (Sept 1826), pp. 166-167.

(26) R.F. Holmes: Henry Cooke, 1788-1868, unpubl M. Litt. thesis (TCD) 1970, p.63; RGSU pp.536-537 (June 1820); Rodgers: Missionary Activity, p.96. Back

(27) Morgan: Recollections, pp. 15-16; debate on Carlow in Northern Whig 2/7/1835.

(28) LHS: Annual Reports, esp Twelfth Report (1818) p. 10; Monthly Proceedings of the Belfast Sunday School Society in PRONI (ed): Problems of a Growing City: Belfast, 1780-1870, Belfast 1973, pp. 47-54.

(29) For the split in Scotland see C.G. McCrie: The Church of Scotland, Her Divisions and Her Reunions, Edinburgh 1901, pp.70-83; Drummond and Bulloch: The Scottish Church, pp. 150-151; for an account favourable to the 'old light' element see John Mcleod: Scottish Theology, Edinburgh 1974, pp. 229-254.

(30) For David Graham's career see Minutes of the Proceedings of the Reformed Presbytery in Ireland, 1803- 1811, pp.12-15 and 24-25, 55, 78, 158-159, 195; and Alexander McLeod (New York) to William John Stavely, 6/12/1870 in Armour MSS, PRONI D1792/C/1; for history of 'old light' Secession congregations in Ulster see Stewart: Seceders, pp. 381-392; Rev John Tennent to Dr Robert Tennent, 16/6/1802 in Tennent MSS, PRONI D1748/B/211/35.

(31) Antiburgher Minutes, p.29 et seq; Narrative and Testimony, quotation from p.158. Back

(32) Antiburgher Minutes, p. 69; for Waugh addressing Burghers, Stewart: Seceders, p. 198; for Waugh addressing Synod of Ulster, Latimer: History, p. 187.

(33) For career of Alexander Waugh, see James Hay and Henry Belfrage: Memoir of the Rev Alexander Waugh, D.D., Edinburgh 1839; Waugh, Bogue and Haldane are in DNB; for Clarke, Jerment and IES, see Rodgers: Missionary Activity, p. 84.

(34) Minutes of the Secession Syood in Stewart MSS,. PRONI D1759/1F/2, pp. 18 and 21 (July 1819) and 32-33 (July 1820); Reports of the Missions of the Presbyterian Synod of Ireland, Glasgow 1821, p.l.

(35) For Stuart and Clarke see Rodgers: Missionary Activity, pp. 87-88 and Stewart: Seceders, p.245; Report, p. 14.

(36) Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Ireland: Causes of Fasting and Thanksgiving, Cookstown (?) 1823, p. 3; correspondence between the Scottish and Irish RP Synods in Minutes of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Ireland, 1811-1825, quotations from pp.158 and 167. Back

(37) V. Kiernan: 'Evangelicalism and the French Revolution' in Past and Present, no i (Feb 1952), esp p.44.

(38) Elie Halevy: The Birth of Methodism in England, Chicago, London, 1971; J.D. Walsh: 'Elie Halevy and the Birth of Methodism' in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. vol xxv (1975), p. 6; for Whitefield and the Seceders, see Drummond and Bulloch: Scottish Church, pp.51-53.

(39) Walsh: Elie Halevy, p.6.

40) Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, London 1967, p. 104; Miller: Presbyterianism and "Modernisation", pp.70-71.