BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014
your place and mine
Your Place & Mine Radio Ulster Website

BBC Homepage
BBC Northern Ireland
greater Belfast
contact ypam
about ypam

print versionprint version

Contact Us

History from Headstones

As part of a series of special features, Michael McNamee visits St Patrick's Church & graveyard in Drumbeg.

Graveyard at St Patrick's Church, Drumbeg, near Belfast

writeAdd a new article
contribute your article to the site


St Patrick's Church in Drumbeg
Saint Patrick's Church at Drumbeg - widely known for its Lych-Gate

Rev. Ray Devenney, St. Patrick's Church, Drumbeg.
Rev Ray Devenney
St. Patrick's Church of Ireland in Drumbeg is one of the best known landmarks of rural Belfast, due to the unusual stylish inclusion of the Lych Gate. It isn't known when the first church was built on on this site but there was certainly a Mediaeval Church dating back to 13th Century. The site has been used by the Church of Ireland as a place of worship since the mid 1600s. The church we see today dates back to 1870. Behind the church in the graveyard you can still see the remainder of walls from the original building.

Reverend Ray Devenney has been at St Patrick's since they year 2000 and loves the place. He says "here in the pastoral beauty of the Lagan Valley, surrounded by woodland and rose gardens, you feel like you're a hundred miles away from Belfast."


Michael McNamee went to Drumbeg to examine the headstones, tombs & memorials around the church and its grounds, with the help of William Roulston (Ulster Historical Foundation) and the Rev. Ray Devenney.

Audio Clip 1: William Roulston / Reverend Ray Devenney



Matt Neill has been around this church all his life. He was baptised at the font in this church in 1919. and he was married here in 1943. His grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sister are buried here in the churchyard. He has been close to this church all of his life and was its sexton for 30 years. Matt feels that during that time he grew to know every headstone around the graveyard like an "old friend". He tells us a story about one particular gravestone which, rather than standing upright, lies almost flat to the ground. It is that of James Haddock who is said to have 'died leaving his affairs unfinished'. Shortly after his death his will was tampered with, depriving his son of his inheritance and the story goes that James Haddock made various appearances and forced a court hearing to review the execution of his will. Matt explains further...

Audio Clip 2: Matt Neill - Haddock's Ghost



As well as featuring grandiose memorials to some of the wealthiest and most influential industrialists of the greater Belfast area, there are also simple headstones to foreigners such as the one commemorating two Norwegian Seamen who were killed in an accident in the Belfast docks.

The McCance family burial plots
The Charley family burial plots
On the left and right above: the burial place for members of the McCance family and the Charley family who were major figures in industry and commerce in Belfast in the 1700s and 1800s. In the middle, a simple cross in memory of two Norwegian sailors, Brö Hellstrom and Diva Mustonen, who were killed in a dockyard accident in 1935.

Eileen Black of the Art Department at the Ulster Museum talks more about the McCance family who once owned several bleach greens and linen mills around Dunmurry. One of the better known figures is John McCance (1772-1835) who lived in Suffolk House. As well as his interest in the Linen industry he was also a banker and ended up as chairman of "The Northern Bank" in 1824. Eileen explains to us how this churchyard became the resting place for the wealthy influential people of Belfast.

Audio Clip 3: Eileen Black - Why the wealthy industrialists are here...



William Roulston mentions various other headstones of historical interest, including a memorial stone to one William Stewart who died in the 1641 rebellion...

Audio Clip 4: William Roulston - looking around the headstones



Stained glass memorial in  St. Patrick's Church at Drumbeg

Moving inside the cruciform styled church it is somewhat smaller than it appears from the outside. On every wall there are monuments in memory of those who died in just about every war over the past 150 years.

One brass plaque with a family crest on top reads:

Sacred to the Memory of
Major J.F.W. Charley
2nd in Command of the 27th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
who fell at the Battle of Colenso, 15th December 1899
Eldest son of the late John S.Charley of Finaghy
In loving memory this tablet is erected by
his Mother, Brother and Sisters
in this Church where his forefathers worshipped

His comrades said of him “A man whom it was good to know”

There are also memorials, beautifully crafted in stained glass. One is to Sir Hugh Montgomery who died at the Battle of Balaclava, during the famous Charge of the Light Brigade.

Stained glass memorial in  St. Patrick's Church at Drumbeg

Matt Neill recounts how, during the war years, this little church was filled to bursting with United States servicemen. He says that "The Star Spangled Banner" was sung on quite a few occasions. He comments on the peaceful ambience of the church and remarks that even a platoon of boisterous young American soldiers would have fallen into a hush upon entering. Matt says that whatever we thought of them, it was hard to condemn them for their sometimes brash behaviour as they were all bound for the Normandy beaches, most of them never to return...

Audio Clip 5: Inside St. Patrick's Church


Interior of St. Patrick's Church at Drumbeg


Relevant weblink:

"History from Headstones" - Drumbeg Graveyard


Mrs Anne Glenn - July '08
I attended an Art Exhibition of Paintings at your church on Saturday 24th May, 2008 and was very interested in a Painting by Phyllis Wilson called Poppies No. 117.
I spoke to the gentleman at the reception desk on the day and left my name and phone number with him to ask the lady to contact me regarding this painting. I have not heard from her.
Would you please be good enough to find out the ladies telephone number for me and I will ring her.

Colin McKee - June '08
Mary Nov 06

I am still intrested in contacting this person with reference to the Jackson Family.

I am the Grandson of Harold Jackson brother of Sidney buried in Drumbeg Grave Yard

Jacqui Bruce - Jan '08
My paternal grandfather Alexander William Bruce is buried here, along with his family I think who were Violet May (mother) - brothers Harold and Herbert and sisters Lillian and Violet. He was born in 1906 and died at the age of 36. I would be greatful if anyone knew the family to get in touch. Alexander, my great grandfather was a gardener, possibly conected to Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park and my grandfather worked for the Anderson and McAuley family (of the department store fame!) and lived in Dumurry Lane Can anyone help??

Roy Dutton - Jan '07
Do you have a "Balaclava2 stained glass widow in the church?

Hon James Stewart Edwards - Nov '06
On September, 14th 2006 I visited St Patrick's churchyard, but was not able to enter. I did manage to view the Stewart stones on the external wall of the vestry. I am descended from the Irish Stewart family who were instrumental in building the church in the early 1600s. The last of the family bearing the Stewart name came to Canada in 1822. There are over a thousand descendants now living in Canada and the USA, all of us the progeny of Hon Thomas Alexander Stewart and Frances Browne Stewart. I would be interested in hearing from any descendants of the Ballydrain or Wilmont Stewarts still living in Ireland.

Mary - Nov '06
I am currently researching my family history. My great uncle Sidney Jackson is buried here. Sidney was one of the Jackson brothers well known in cricket and rugby in the 1920s and 30s.
Sidney was survived by 3 daughters. Any information appreciated.

Fay Bullock - Oct '06
I have just started researching the McCance family (my mother's father's family), and not knowing much at all at this early stage, it was nice to come across this very interesting information.
I look forward in exploring all the comes before me, and certainly would love to visit this area one day.
Once again thanks.

Jim Todd - Aug '06
Beautiful old church, my father and grandfather are both burried in the churchyard. Both named - William Todd. If anyone knew the Todds of the area I would like to hear from you as I am trying to research the family history. As i live in Australia it is a bit difficult.

Chris Reid - May '06
Thanks for the opportunity to communicate. I am putting together a pictorial history of the areas of Drumbeg, Drumbo, Ballylesson, Purdysburn etc. and would be very interested to hear from anyone who might have old photographs taken in these areas. I am particularly looking for photographs of cottages or houses which are no longer in existence, modes of transport eg cars, buses etc. Also photographs of people doing their days work eg blacksmiths, farmers etc. Anything which depicts a life which has essentially gone would be appreciated.

Please respond back to YPAM if you, any help would be really great.

Dorothy Dougan - May '06
I lived in Drumbeg until I emigrated to Canada in 1960. I have very fond memories of this beautiful church. My parents (Billy and May) are buried in the cemetery.

Hilary Read - March '06
March 17 2006 - This St. Patrick's Day I enjoyed reading about Drumbeg Church which my family attended in the 1940s and 1950s. I now live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, but then lived in Finaghy and we often walked to morning services at Drumbeg.

Kathy Charley - Mar 06
looking for Robin Charley- please email: - we are lost relatives from the United States... John Charley was my father's great great grandfather.

Lily Skelton - Jan '06
My name is Lily Skelton nee Alexander from drumbeg. My father's two brothers where killed in the First World War at the battle of the Somme. One was Robert, a private in the Royal Irish Rifles, and his brother John was a first leutenant in the Lestershire regiment.

Raymond Skates - Dec '05
As A Member Of The Skates Family. Belonging To Drumbo Parish. You Have A First Class Website
Well Done

Rev.Douglas Rose - November '05
This is an outstanding article. My wife's father, Moses Edward Copeland was sexton at a Belfast church in the early l900's so we are very interested in these historical accounts.

Robin Charley - December '04
Reference the Memorial in Drumbeg Church to Major JFW Charley who was mortally wounded at Colenso. I visited Major John Charley's War Grave at Colenso, South Africa three years ago- the first member of the Charley family to do so.

Mr. and Mrs. J McCue - November '04
We have been members of drumbeg for the past twenty years and have been made aware of alot of the history which was unknown to us. Thanks to the rector for mentioning last sunday evening, it has given us a desire to know more. Keep up the good work.

Clara Crookshanks - November '04
The oak panelling on either side of the Holy Table in the Chancel and the Prayer Desk used by the rector were hand carved by my uncle, James Allen, and presented as a gift by him to the church. These panels match the existing panel behind the Holy Table. The Prayer Desk was carved to match an existing Payer Desk.

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read some of the others in this series, exploring community history through headstones... click here


Relevant weblinks:

History from Headstones:


Use the form below to post comments on this article
Your Comments
Your Name (required)
Your Email (optional)

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy