Murland Mausoleum, Clough

Churches in County Down are replete with interesting ancient mausolea and tombs and this is especially true in the area around Lecale, most particularly amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, and the churchyard at Downpatrick, for instance, alone has eight or nine large tombs of different designs.

But the most celebrated Mausoleum of all is at Clough.

A view of the now restored Murland Mausoleum at Clough

The Murland Mausoleum was built in about 1860 by a family who were closely connected to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation at Clough for generations. The Murland family were wealthy local mill owners, they lived at Ardnabannon and it is thought that the architect who designed their house also designed the family mausoleum. This was Thomas Turner, a Dublin-born architect who began his career as an assistant to Charles Lanyon in Belfast and who had a long and productive career designing buildings all over Ireland including Stormont Castle and Coleraine Town Hall.

But it is very clear when you look at the Murland Mausoleum that this was the work of someone steeped in the designs of classical architecture and particularly ancient funerary architecture. The inverted torch is used in Christian iconography to represent the resurrection and the eternal life of the soul. But it actually goes back to ancient Greece where it represented Thanatos the Greek god of death.

It is a very rich design.

Professor James Stevens Curl describes it as

something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’

For local schoolchildren it is a place well-known for decades as somewhere where the bravest of them could stand near the open grill and peer in at the coffins resting in the dusty gloom.

As such an old structure the building was gradually becoming in need of restoration and to see this done the church was able to partner with the experience and expertise of the Follies Trust, a body set up in 2006 to help, in their own words, with ‘the conservation, preservation, restoration and protection, in their original setting, of mausolea and monuments; follies; grottoes; garden buildings and other structures of particular beauty or historic, environmental, architectural or industrial significance.’

At the church we were very pleased to welcome local expert Dr Finbar McCormick of Queen’s University, Belfast who gave a fascinating talk on the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond, looking at the influence of the Reformation and classical ideas.

This was a prelude to the work being done on the mausoleum. A number of specialists have looked at the building, and the job of restoring the structure was given to Noel Killen, noted for his work in restoring the nearby Mill at Ballydugan.

Work on the restoration getting under way

Generally, considering its great age, the building was in good shape but there was lots to be done to make the structure fully watertight and secure again for the future. Stonework that had crumbled had to be replaced. The iron work in the grills and the heavy door had to be conserved. They were also repainted in the original colour, which had largely long faded from view.

Work commenced in August 2019 and was completed within a few months. To mark the completion of this work and the collaboration that was involved we planned a special service of celebration with representatives of the Follies Trust and others, but this wasn’t to be. Like so many other plans it fell foul of the pandemic and couldn’t be held. But the important thing is that this striking and unique structure is now restored and fit to last for another 160 years.

Short video telling the story of the restoration of the Mausoleum

Rev Alexander Gordon

Our worship today comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is the first in a new series considering significant Non-Subscribers from history.

Alexander Gordon was born in Coventry on 9th June 1841 and died in Belfast on 21st February 1931. A self-styled Englishman by birth, Scotsman by education and an Irishman by inclination Alexander Gordon was the foremost historian of religious dissent in the British Isles whose influence is still recognized today.

Alexander Gordon arriving at Dunmurry, 18th January 1931

I’ve mentioned before the above photograph of Alexander Gordon, (click here to see the original post) the last known picture of him, arriving at Dunmurry to take the service in 1931 and this and many other images are used in the video for today’s service.

Click on the video to see the latest service (from 9.45 am on Sunday, 16th May 2021)

The service is recorded in Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reader is Carol Nixon who reads Psalm 100 and the organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 478) and Fairest Lord Jesus (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 19). Also played at the beginning and end of the service are As the deer pants and Who is on the Lord’s side.

As well as the images connected with Alexander Gordon the film includes video of the eighteenth-century roof beams of Ballee Church constructed from Memel pine.

Memorial in First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Over the course of a long career Gordon was minister of a number of congregations in England and Ireland and was Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester and lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Manchester, in what was then the first free faculty of Theology in Britain. He was also a renowned historian who travelled all over Europe in the course of his work. He regularly travelled between England and Ireland, even throughout the First World War, and always travelled from wherever he was to Dunmurry in order to attend the twice yearly communion services there. He also travelled across Europe visiting record offices and archives – most notably in Poland, Hungary and Transylvania – at a time when such visits were rare and logistically difficult. This is referenced in the service. His researches, whose subject matter stretched over centuries and many areas of religious life, link us with the past and with his life. They set us in context and in time.

Time

Time is the feather’d thing,
And, whilst I praise
The sparklings of thy looks and call them rays,
Takes wing,
Leaving behind him as he flies
An unperceived dimness in thine eyes.
His minutes, whilst they’re told,
Do make us old;
And every sand of his fleet glass,
Increasing age as it doth pass,
Insensibly sows wrinkles there
Where flowers and roses do appear.
Whilst we do speak, our fire
Doth into ice expire,
Flames turn to frost;
And ere we can
Know how our crow turns swan,
Or how a silver snow
Springs there where jet did grow,
Our fading spring is in dull winter lost.
Since then the Night hath hurl’d
Darkness, Love’s shade,
Over its enemy the Day, and made
The world
Just such a blind and shapeless thing
As ’twas before light did from darkness spring,
Let us employ its treasure
And make shade pleasure:
Let ‘s number out the hours by blisses,
And count the minutes by our kisses;
Let the heavens new motions feel
And by our embraces wheel;
And whilst we try the way
By which Love doth convey
Soul unto soul,
And mingling so
Makes them such raptures know
As makes them entranced lie
In mutual ecstasy,
Let the harmonious spheres in music roll!


Jasper Mayne (1604-1672)

Faith guided by Reason

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (1837)

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The reading for our service today, from Clough, comes from the 4th chapter of Ephesians.

Click on the video to see this week’s service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 9th May)

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers with the reading being given by Elsie Nelson. Church organist Alfie McClelland plays the hymns Immortal Love, forever full (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 84) and The Lord my pasture shall prepare (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 88) also played at the start and end of the service are Sun of my soul and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

Also uploaded this week is this short video, a Prayer for Spring:

Filmed in the grounds of Dunmurry Church

Roscoe Gardens – cause for concern

The congregational memorial in 2019

In July 2019 I published a post about Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant in Liverpool, a little-known green space near Liverpool city centre. It is the site of the burial ground of Renshaw Street Chapel and the home of a memorial to the chapel and its members including such notable figures as William Roscoe and Joseph Blanco White. You can see the original post here. In the last year this has become one of the two most frequently visited posts on this blog, the other being Croft Unitarian Chapel to which I hope to return in the near future.

Memorial to William Roscoe

The reason for the frequency of views of the Roscoe Gardens post has been a developing abuse of the site that has seen scant disregard for for its importance to the city and its status as a burial ground and memorial.

Inscription on the memorial

On the evening of Friday, 30th April the Rev Phil Waldron went to Roscoe Gardens in his clerical robes to kneel in prayer at the congregational memorial to highlight this ongoing problem. In solidarity with his stand I am pleased to publish his press release below which explains all the issues. Let us all pray that this leads to some action by Liverpool City Council:

Rev Phil Waldron kneels in prayer in Roscoe Gardens, Friday, 30th April 2021

Statement from Rev Phil Waldron and the Unitarian community in Liverpool:

Since July 2020 Liverpool City Council has been complicit in the desecration of the graves of many of our city’s citizens and the gifting of an entire public park to a private business. Since July 2020 Roscoe Gardens has been locked off, and public access removed and denied, consistently by the business operating in the space.

Roscoe Gardens is not just a public park, but a Unitarian burial ground and needs to be treated with the basic levels of decency, dignity and respect that is not only presumed human moral basics but also obligations under the law of the local authority.

The council have allowed a marquee structure of such vast size, it should be subject to planning requirements, to be erected over and pegged into the graves of those interred on the site.

The Listed memorial of William Roscoe, one of the first abolitionists is currently in a state of disrepair, as is the green space of the park itself. Members of the Unitarian congregation are being denied their right to pay their respects to those interred at the site. Members of the local community, including the elderly and those less able of body, have been deprived of their nearest greenspace during a pandemic and lockdown.

The structure erected by the business is directly adjacent to, and outside of peoples homes. Families of children have had nothing short of months of misery, endured by the obscene and lurid content matter of the ‘entertainment’ blasted directly into their homes, let alone the anti-social behaviour of customers.

This is nothing short of an affront to those buried in the ground beneath them, including founders of the Temperance movement.

As B G Orchard once wrote, “… no group of men has so manifested far-sighted appreciation of great questions affecting social wellbeing of the town or worked with more dogged ardour to promote national education, public parks, free libraries and museums… at present Renshaw Street Chapel is probably the greatest political force in our midst.” –

we are shocked Liverpool City Council sees fit to allow the graves of these people who built the socialist foundations of our city, to be desecrated and ran into disrepair, in such a way.

Liverpool City Councillors and Officers, and even our local MP, have been made aware of ongoing complaints since August 2020 and failed to act. In fact, to this date, Liverpool City Council have ignored every reference to desecration to the graves made, and to this date, not one single Councillor or Officer has had the foresight to contact the Unitarian Church, not only to apologise, but to seek the permission they are obliged to, for use of the space, as set out under the Burial Act.

The business operator has shown no willingness to listen to the community and currently only allows access to the space if a petition is signed in support of their continued occupation of consecrated ground. The business has also consistently breached the terms of the Land Use Agreement they had with the council, and evidence has been provided, again consistently, to the responsible officers and no action has been taken.

Liverpool City Council has failed in its duty to protect this sacred, public space and abandoned its commitment and obligations to respecting culture, faith and our city’s history.

We have asked several times for answers to the simple questions overleaf, and still await a response from the council. We are now demanding the immediate restoration of the dignity of those interred at the site and unfettered public access to the public park resumed.

Tercentenary of Ballee

For three hundred years our congregation at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been worshipping in its T-shaped meeting-house of 1721. It couldn’t be described as entirely unchanged since that year – originally the building would have been thatched and at some point later in the eighteenth century it had a new roof built of Memel pine, later still the old box pews were removed and used to fit out new rooms in the church. But still the walls are the same walls that have stood as silent witness to our faith for three hundred years.

To join the service click on the video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 18th April 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading is from John ch.4 v.31-38. The church’s organist, John Strain, plays the hymns Lord of all Hopefulness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 257) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 443). At the start and end of the service John also plays Thine be the glory (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288).

The video includes many of the special features of this historic church and explores the history of the congregation.

In the Ordnance Survey Memoir for this part of County Down in 1835 it notes that the Presbyterians:

have a house of worship at Ballee bridge, and at the late schism of the Synod of Ulster, the congregation departed from the body and joined the Remonstrants. The minister of the congregation receives 50 pounds a year stipend from his hearers and 75 pounds a year regium donum….

The regium donum was a government grant paid to ministers. But the Ordnance Survey also reports, under a section entitled Habits of the People:

A more intelligent or industrious population is rarely to be found, being punctually honest in their dealings and generally attached to the form of religious worship they profess without being intolerant.

Palm Sunday 2021

Today’s service for Sunday, 28th March celebrates Palm Sunday.

The crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew ch.21 v.8-11

Our service comes from Dunmurry where Dillon and Haydn read Philippians ch. 2 v.6-11 and John ch.12 v.12-16, the gospel reading complete with palm leaves. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns: Ride on! Ride on in majesty! (Church Hymnary 92) and When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106). The opening and closing shots of the church show the glorious crop of daffodills in the church yard.

Palm Sunday Service, 28th March 2021

Click on the above video to join in the service (after 9.45 am on 28th March 2021)

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

A small but historically important liberal Christian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was born out of the interaction between faith and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. This act of worship includes this first part of a video series telling the history of the Church. In this film detailing the origins of the denomination in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, the work of John Abernethy, the Belfast Society, the influence of Glasgow University, and the Church’s place in a Europe-wide movement are all discussed.

The University of Glasgow in the late seventeenth century

The service is filmed at Downpatrick, a distinctive building of 1711, and one of the best examples in Ulster of a traditional T-shaped meeting house. The organist is Laura Patterson, who plays ‘Christ be our light’ and ‘The power of the Cross’. The reading is Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6.

You can see the service and the address on the history of the denomination in the following video:

Service of Worship from Downpatrick, including part one of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th February)

Blessed are the meek

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Matthew ch.5 v.5 ‘The Message’

This Sunday’s service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the minister. Mary Stewart, the church secretary, gives the reading from Matthew ch.5 v.1-10 as we consider the idea of ‘the meek’ and humility. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210) and Hide me now under Your wings (Mission Praise 1057) as well as Shall we gather at the river as an introduction to the service.

Click on the following video to see the service:

Service Downpatrick, Sunday, 24th January 2021

During the service we also quote the Rev Matthew Henry (you can see a picture of his chapel in Chester on this blog by clicking here) :

Portrait of Matthew Henry, half-length, in an oval surmounted by ribbons and laurels, slightly turned to the left, dressed in an academic gown with bands at his neck and a periwig on his head, illustration to the “Gospel Magazine” (1779) Engraving and etching

© The Trustees of the British Museum

What does the Lord require of you?

In Micah chapter 6 verse 8 we read the famous statement:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

In our service today, from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we explore how you can summarize – in a few words or a sentence – the real meaning of faith.

On one occasion someone asked Rabbi Hillel to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. He said simply, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary on it.’

Sunday Service, 17th January 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. Robert Neill gives the reading from Micah ch.6 v.6-8 and Alfie McClelland, the church organist, plays the hymns which are Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 22), Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 439) and Rejoice! the Lord is King (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 62). Click on the above video to see the service.

Search me, O God, and know my heart

Our service for this Sunday comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which this year celebrates its tercentenary.

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and John Strain, the church organist, plays the hymns ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 276) and ‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 178) as well as ‘How deep the Father’s Love for us’ (Irish Church Hymnal 224) which is played at the beginning and end of the service. The reading is Psalm 139 v.1-12, 23-24.

Click on the video to join in our service
Ballee NSP Church, built 1721