Earlier this week I was pleased to get a look inside the Old Meeting-House at Antrim in the company of Rev Dr John Nelson and architect Dara O’Malley. This is the original Presbyterian meeting-house in the town which became Non-Subscribing under the leadership of Rev John Abernethy, the ‘father of Non-Subscription’ in Ireland.
The meeting-house in 1913
Not a very large building but the home of an active and important congregation for a long time. In the 1970s the congregation was faced with a struggle to maintain the building and it was transferred to the local Council which was then Antrim Borough Council. From 1980 it was let out as a boxing club which closed some years ago and this year the meeting-house was returned to the church. As the photos show the building has faced some years of neglect but this point marks the beginning of the restoration of the meeting-house and the renewal of the congregation’s witness in the town.
The interior in 2018
It is quite a prominent building as you come into the town and nearby a large three-storey building is the original manse. I wrote about the story of the manse a couple of years ago, the post can be read here:
View of the meeting-house, the old manse is on the extreme right of the picture
Most of the graveyard is now managed by the Council and this includes some interesting grave stones including the tombstone of the family of Rev William Bryson, minister at Antrim from 1764 to 1810. He was married to a granddaughter of John Abernethy and whilst holding a very radical theology was less radical in the political upheavals of the 1790s.
Bryson family tombstone
Inside there is little obvious reminder of the building’s life as a church although a memorial to John Carley, a barrister at law and the son of the Rev John Carley (minister 1811-1861) , can be found, as well as the outline of the decorative moulding around the long vanished pulpit and the place where the sounding board was once attached.
Memorial to John Carley
Moulding above the site of the pulpit of 1891
The interior was ‘turned’ in 1891, that is the location of the pulpit was moved from the centre of the long wall to the short wall at one end and the pews re-arranged accordingly. All those fittings are long gone but there is now tremendous potential for this survival from 1700.
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