First Presbyterian Church, Ahoghill
Little is known about Presbyterians in Ahoghill until October 1654 when a group of Presbyterians were supplied with sermons from Antrim where Presbyterian ministers, who came across from Scotland, had been working for periods of six months at a time. The people of Ahoghill then sought permission to elect elders and this was carried out in 1657. Their first minister, Mr John Shaw from Scotland, was called and ordained on the 30th June 1658.
First Presbyterian Church Ahoghill was established – the small group of people had organised themselves into a congregation, elders were elected and a minister was installed. This young congregation in Ahoghill began to grow in size and presumably built their own meeting house for worship. As the people in 1658 were poor and living in houses built with mud walls and thatch roofs, it is to be expected that their meeting house would also be made in like fashion.
God blessed the congregation over the next one hundred and eighty three years. Increasing numbers of people attended the church and as numbers increased so the church building had to expand. Eight men served as God’s ministers to the congregation over those years.
The Rev. David Adams and the 1859 Revival
The Rev. David Adams was ordained in First Ahoghill on the 8th June 1841 and was minister of the church for almost 40 years. During his ministry many changes took place. The major event in the life of the church during his ministry was the building of a new church and the 1859 Revival. This was an occasion when God visited the land in a powerful outpouring of blessing. The ‘Year of Grace’ was a season of harvest as many hundreds of people were brought to a deep sense of their sin before God and cried out to the Lord Jesus for pardon. The result of this was an increase in the church numbers.
The new meeting house was opened on Tuesday 24th August 1858 and was ready just in time for the 1859 revival. We are unable to be certain if this was the third or fourth meeting house. The stone in the vestibule states “Rebuilt in 1762 in the 2nd year of the ministry of the Rev. James Cumming and in 1857 in the 16th year of the ministry of the Rev. David Adams.”
On one occasion the attendance at meetings held in the church was immense – hundreds were unable to obtain admittance. A record of the meeting states: “Owing to the vast throng and there not being enough standing-room in the church it was deemed prudent to dismiss the meeting, lest there might be some fatal accident from the falling in of the galleries, which threatened to give way under the alarming pressure.”
Permanent damage was done to the gallery at that time as two pillars actually sank a couple of inches into the ground and could be seen for the next one hundred and fifty years until the church was closed and renovated to be used as ‘The Maine Medical Practice.’
The next one hundred and forty years
For the next one hundred and forty years, ten ministers continued to labour and witness in First Ahoghill. Many members of the present congregation can remember the last four ministers.
The Rev. John Lyle (1947-1987). Several organisations were started during his ministry – Boys’ Brigade, Youth Fellowship, Youth Club and Young People’s Bible Class. The Rev. Lyle was well known for his interest in the youth of the congregation and also for his pastoral work when he visited all his families annually. It was during his ministry the “five year plan” was launched of renovation and work to the property, finishing with the erecting of a new hall, recognised as the best in the country at that time.
The Rev. Derek McMeekin (1988- 2002). Rev McMeekin was passionate about missionary work and set up a ‘Missionary Committee’ to encourage a greater interest in missionary work and to raise support for a number of missionaries. He was also an able preacher of the Word of God and the prayer life of the congregation was developed during his ministry.
The Rev. Eddie Kirk (2003-2014). A new manse was built to receive the Rev Kirk and family. The 350th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated with an evangelical mission in November 2004. The Rev Kirk continued the faithful preaching of the word of God. During his ministry a new church building was built in the manse field. The last service in the old meeting house was held on the 1st September 2013 and the new building was opened on the 7th September, 2013. The old Church building was converted into the Maine Medical Practice,
The Rev Mark Neilly (2016 – present). Under the ministry and teaching of the Rev Neilly, the congregation continues to experience God’s blessing. The organisations are flourishing and new families are joining regularly.
For over 350 years Presbyterians have been meeting in Ahoghill. There have been many changes in Northern Ireland and in Ahoghill during those years – Churches and manses have been built and subsequently renovated; generations of church members have come and gone, but as a congregation it has had a strong witness in the village of Ahoghill.
The book entitled “First Ahoghill Congregation from 1654” has been published and records the history of the congregation for 350 years. It gives a brief account of the ministers who have served in the congregation. It also gives further details of how the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was established and helpful information about their form of worship.
- This book may be purchased at a cost of £10.
There is also a booklet entitled “First Presbyterian Church Ahoghill, A Collections of Memories.” (Thankful for the past ….. excited by our future). This booklet contains photographs of the old church building (built in 1858) and the congregation in attendance at the last public service on the 1st September 2013. It also contains photographs of the new building and the congregation present at the opening ceremony on the 7th September 2013. It records the memories of the minister, the Rev Eddie Kirk and also several members who worshipped in the old building.
- This booklet may be purchased at a cost of £5.
There is also a booklet entitled “First Presbyterian Church Ahoghill from the Old to the New.” It gives a brief record of the church building – churches, halls and manses from 1658 to 2013. This booklet records the many details behind the work of the congregational committees and also the struggle behind decisions taken. It also explains how the old church building was converted into “The Maine Medical Practice” for Ahoghill.
- This booklet may be purchased at the cost of £5.