Parish of Drumcree

Vol. 6 No. 3 - 1993

Parish of Drumcree

by John A Pickering - Rector

The Parish of Drumcree is a Church of Ireland rural parish on the northern side of Portadown in County Armagh.

Drumcree which means "Ridge of the Branch" (of Branchy Tree) may well in days of old have been a centre for Druid worship. However it would appear that Drumcree became a Christian centre in Celtic times. The Culdees of Armagh who were formed in the sixth century to oversee the worship of the Cathedral also had responsibility for Drumcree.

Drumcree Parish Church
Drumcree Parish Church

When parishes were formed in the Irish Church in 1110, the parish of Drumcree was defined as having sixty-six townlands. These townlands lie west of the River Bann, north and south of the church. Shortly afterwards the Irish Church came under the control of the Church of Rome. That was in 1172 at the Synod of Cashel. The Papal Taxation documents of 1296 and 1302 list the Parishes of Kilmore and Plebs Varren (Ballyoran), the latter being Drumcree. David Macralagen was the name of the first recorded Vicar. He died in 1414. It is most likely that the parish church was on the very site of the present church.

When the Reformation took place in the mid-sixteenth century, the Irish Church became Protestant like the Church of England and independent again. Nothing is known about the Reformation years, except that Henry Iharran was appointed Vicar of the Parishes of Kilmore and Drumcree on 5th January, 1505.

A map of 1609 shows that there was a church in ruins in Drumcree Churchyard. Shortly after the Ulster Plantation in 1610 a church was built on the site of the present church. it was "a plain stone building rough cast and whitewashed". It is understood that the church seated five hundred people and had a gallery.

Proposal to close Drumcree and Seagoe churches

About 1657 it was suggested that Drumcree Church and Seagoe Church should be closed and a new church should be founded at Edenderry. But this never came to pass.

The oldest Rectory that is known about is referred to in a Parliamentary Return of 1731. It describes the Rectory as a ''parsonage house". The next Rectory was built in 1736. In the Parliamentary Return of 1776 it stated that there were 514 Protestant families in the parish.

The Rev John Wesley had a great influence upon the parish and visited it six times between 1769 and 1785. An entry in his diary dated 15th April 1769 describes his visit to the parish that day. He says that he ''rode to Derryonvil, a little village out of all road, surrounded with bogs ... The congregation, however, was exceeding large and exceeding lively''.

The tower of the church was built in 1812 and the bell was hung in 1814.

When Portadown began to grow at the beginning of the nineteenth century, thirteen townlands were separated from Drumcree, to form the Parish of Portadown. The townlands are: Annagh, Artabrackagh, Ballyworkan, Baltylum, Clounagh, Corcrain, Drumnakelly, Drumnasoo, Garvaghy, Kilmoriarty, Mahon, Mullantine and Tavenagh. The Curate of Drumcree, Robert Henry, was appointed Curate-in-Charge.

A Chapel of Ease dedicated to St Martin was built where St Mark's is now sited. It was consecrated on 14th November, 1826. Robert Henry was succeeded by Charles King Irwin in 1833. He also had been Curate of Drumcree (1827-1833).

A new Rectory was built at Drumcree in 1826 under the supervision of the Rector Charles Alexander. It was built in front of the previous Rectory. It cost £1,600.

Decision to build a new church

It was decided in 1854 to build a new church at Drumcree which is the present church. The foundation stone was laid on Ascension Day, Thursday, 17th May, 1855, and that is why the church is dedicated "The Church of the Ascension". The church stands on almost the site of the previous church. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Down and Dromore and Connor, Robert Brent Knox, on Tuesday, 28th October, 1856.

In 1867 five more townlands were separated from Drumcree to help form the Parish of Diamond. These townlands are Corglass, Annagora, Ballymakeown, Coharra and Cushenny.

The Church of Ireland had been supported by the State prior to 1870, that is, it was the Established Church. But the Irish Church Act of 1869 brought the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church of Ireland from 1 st January 1871. This meant that the Church of Ireland lost millions of pounds and a great deal of property. Drumcree lost almost all its 565 acres of Glebe Land. The Government made some compensation and this, added to the generosity of the laity and clergy kept the Church of Ireland going.

In the present century a great number of things happened in the parish. New Burial Ground was provided on the north side of the church in 1901. The Parochial Hall was built in 1902. the Pipe Organ was installed in 1907. The 1914-1918 War Memorial was erected in 1921. In 1922

The Terrace Burial Ground was established on the east side of the church an Old Burial Ground. The Seventieth Anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1926. The Sexton's-House was built in 1924. Extensive improvements were carried out to the church and the Parochial Hall in 1931.

The year 1936 saw the Eightieth Anniversary of the church. New chancel mosaic tiles with polished marble steps, the gift of Mrs. F J Halahan and parishioners were dedicated in memory of the late Rev F J Halahan, in 1955. the Centenary of the Consecration of the church was held in 1956. The present Rectory was built in 1964. St Columba's Parish, Portadown was formed out of Drumcree's "daughter'' parish, St Mark's in 1966. St Columba's then became known as Drumcree's "granddaughter" parish.

Recent renovations were carried out on the Rectory, the Parochial Hall and the Secton's House. The War Memorial for the 1939-1945 War was erected in 1989.

Roof re-slated

The largest renovation that has ever been carried out on the church since it was built was the re-slating of the whole church roof in 1992. This along with the re-pointing of the walls, the repair of the chimney and installation of the lightning conductor cost the sum of £88,000.

And so the Parish of Drumcree whose history stretches far into the past is all set for the future, pressing ahead with much enthusiasm through this Decade of Evangelism and looking further ahead with faith and hope in Almighty God.