The plantation of Ulster in the early-seventeenth century brought Scottish landlords and tenants to the area. The landlords, such as Henry Acheson, were likely to have been Presbyterian by conviction but worshipped at the nearby church of Ireland in an attempt to curry favour with the Crown. In the early days of plantation settlement tenants had not the means to establish their own church and they too worshipped at Mullabrack, albeit under Presbyterian ministers ordained within the established church.
When the first Presbyterian church was constructed it was a "little, low-browed, thatch covered structure". The first minister of who we have any knowledge was Archibald McLaine of Scotland, installed in 1700; he was described as "a man of varied accomplishment and of a resolute temper". At the time Presbyterianism was not acceptable to the Crown and the Reverend McLaine became the first minister to be prosecuted for celebrating marriages according to the Presbyterian form.
A seven-year vacancy followed the departure of the Reverend McLaine and this caused division within the church. In 1739, the church received permission from the Presbytery to divide into two separate congregations.
FIRST MARKETHILL PRESBYTERIAN
Following the split the first congregation issued a call to Reverend Geroge Ferguson
and he was ordained in 1741. Ferguson became involved in the Arian controversy
(Acceptance that Jesus was the Son of God but differed as to whether he was
created or of the same substance of the Father.) Disgruntled members asked
for his removal but charges brought against the minister collapsed. Ferguson
finally retired in 1780.
Questions were also asked about the theology of Ferguson's successor, Reverend Sloane but no action had been taken by the time of his death in 1793. The Reverend William Charleton took up the charge in 1794 but again questions were asked about his religious morality. The Presbytery initially refused to take action but in 1808, after "a long series of scandalous and reprehensible practices", he was dismissed.
Having learned from past misfortunes the Reverend Paul Boreland was accepted into the church for a trial period before his ordination in 1809. No significant events are recorded throughout his nineteen-year ministry. He retired in 1828 and is remembered for having "exercised great influence over the young of his congregation, but was said to have been too fond of the pleasures of the table for the influence to have been altogether beneficial". His successor Reverend Fisher provoked further controversy when he became involved in the Arian debate. Described as 'non-evangelical' he was suspended in 1842. He joined the exodus caused by the famine and went to America where he died of Cholera in 1850. All congregational records went missing during his ministry.
After Reverend Fisher's departure Reverend Alexander Goudy Ross was ordained in 1843.
A fervent supporter of tenant rights he championed the cause and, it is recorded,
"did much good in a silent and unobtrusive way". He died in 1858
and was the first minister to be buried in the Presbyterian graveyard.
Reverend Hillis Kyle came to the ministry and had care for the church during the great revival of 1859. It is recorded that in December of that year 229 communicant, including thirty-nine new members received communion. Unfortunately Reverend Kyle did not live to enjoy the benefits of this success. It was left to his successor Reverend George Gibson to consolidate the gains and for twenty-five years he ministered faithfully to the church at Markethill.
During the incumbency of Reverend William Morrow the present meetinghouse was constructed. It was designed in a gothic style of grey sandstone, dressed by red brick. The new church was dedicated in 1900. Over the following years the two churches moved towards union, celebrating summer service together. In 1919 the Reverend Hugh Moore resigned in order to effect a union with Second Markethill Presbyterian.
SECOND MARKETHILL PRESBYTERIAN
Subsequent to the split in 1739 the second congregation were not in a position
to issue a call for preaching. In 1745 they asked the Associate Synod of Scotland
to provide them with a minister. Mr.David Arrot was installed and under his
care the church was guided through the violence engulfing Co.Armagh in those
Robert Morrison was installed in the church in 1819 and by 1834 had become Moderator of the Secession Synod. His headstone records the esteem, in which the congregation held him,
"He studied Christ, he preached Christ, he lived Christ, he was much honoured of Christ in his ministry, Beloved by his people, highly esteemed by his Brethren and all who knew him".
The Reverend William McConnell was installed in 1910 but volunteered to serve during the First World War. During this time he served with the 16th Division in France. Inspired by his example, his son Rory volunteered during the Second World War and lost his life. Reverend McConnell remained as minister after the union with First Markethill Presbyterian in 1919.
THE UNITED CHARGE
Reverend McConnell continued to serve for some years but was forced to retire in 1925 because of an injury sustained during the war. His replacement was Captain Witherow, thus known because he had also served with the Ulster Battalions during the war. Reverend Witherow left the church in the care of another minister when he was called up again to serve during the Second World War.
The current incumbent is Reverend Daniel Rankin who had previously served in Thailand.
Following the union the churches alternated Sundays until the lower church became unsafe. In 1948 it was demolished and rebuilt, at a cost of £4,000. Only the baptismal font is original. The church was reopened in 1957.
In April 1979 a second terrorist bomb in Markethill damaged the upper church, damaging the stained glass windows. The worst damaged were replaced but destroyed barely a month later by another terrorist bomb.
The meeting house was described in the Ordnance Survey Menoirs in 1838:
"The Presbyterian meeting house of Markethill, situated on the western side of the lower extremity of the main street, is a plain slated rectangular building in good repair (the inside being unfinished, unceiled and unflagged) of the following form and dimensions: [ground plan, main dimensions 76 and 55 feet, rectangular shape with projection at north west and sessions house attached to north east]. It is surrounded by a number of fine ash trees." (Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1835-38)More recent ministers
1925 - Rev Witherow
1963 - Rev J H Rankin
1990 - Rev Bob Allely
1998 - Rev Danny Rankin
2010 - Rev David Irvine
In the accompanying audio recording, the Reverend Daniel Rankin talks about Markethill First and Second Presbyterian Churches.
Use the audio controller to listen to this talk, given in 2003.