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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Presbyterianism - Rev Dr Robert Tosh

The Scots Planters who came in the early 17th century were mainly Protestant...

For centuries, people had been crossing the narrow sea in both directions between Scotland and Ireland. Before the Plantation of Ulster the vast majority had been Roman Catholic. The Scots Planters who came in the early 17th century were mainly Protestant- members of the Reformed Church of Scotland- a Church which until 1690 alternated between Presbyterian and Episcopal forms of government.

Between 1605 and 1633 over 70 Scottish ministers served, some as bishops, in the northern dioceses of the Church of Ireland. Less than ten of these would now be recognised as Presbyterians- the first of them, Edward Bryce, was installed in Ballycarry, near Carrickfergus, in 1613.

Some of these first Presbyterian ministers were unhappy at the direction the Church of Scotland was taking. Robert Blair resigned from his position as a lecturer in Glasgow University in protest at changes introduced in worship. He was presented to the Parish of Bangor by the local landowner, the Scot, James Hamilton, Viscount Clandeboye and ordained there in 1623 by another Scot, Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down and Connor.

they resented the authority of bishops and refused to use the book of Common Prayer...

Blair and a number of like minded colleagues served in parishes of the Church of Ireland, although they resented the authority of bishops and refused to use the book of Common Prayer. They were tolerated because of a shortage of ministers and the unsettled state of the country. They also had the protection of local Scots magnates like Hamilton. These Scots ministers were involved in a religious revival- the Sixmilewater Revival, taking its name from the river which runs through the town of Antrim and they began to meet regularly together.

Their rather irregular position within the Church of Ireland could not really continue. In the 1630s, they were deposed from their parish ministries. Some, with members of their congregations, planned to seek relief in the American colonies. The ship Eaglewing sailed from Groomsport in September 1636 with about 140 people on board but half way across the Atlantic, fierce storms caused the ship damage and in November it arrived back in Ireland. Most of the would be emigrants then made their way to Scotland.

Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford, who was appointed Lord Deputy in Ireland in 1633, was determined to introduce religious conformity in the North of Ireland. In 1639 the so called "Black Oath" was imposed on all Scots in Ulster over the age of 16. They were required to reject the Scottish National Covenant which opposed the imposition by Charles I of certain innovations on the Church of Scotland. The penalties for refusing to take the Black Oath, (the origin of the term Blackmouth sometimes used for Presbyterians) were severe and again many Scots fled to their native land.

In 1639 the so called "Black Oath" was imposed on all Scots in Ulster...

But such religious policies were overtaken by the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641. A Scots army, under General Robert Monro was sent to restore order. Five chaplains in this army, along with four elders, formed the first Presbytery in Ireland on 10th June 1642. Irish Presbyterianism was now a distinct denomination.

After the formation of the "Army" Presbytery, a large number of nascent Presbyterian congregations sought ministers and the structure of the Church began to develop. Yet Presbyterians were already proving that they could be awkward in their dealings with governments. When in 1649 the Presbytery objected to the execution of Charles I and to the suggestion that Parliament might allow some degree of religious toleration, the poet John Milton’s reply described the members of Presbytery as the "blockish presbyters of Clandeboye" and "unhallowed priestlings of a generation of Highland thieves." The Commonwealth Government contemplated transporting the Scots of Ulster to Munster. While Presbyterians were still regarded with some suspicion, about 70 ministers functioned in parish churches with a community of about 100,000.

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