Kellswater Reformed Presbyterian Church
The first Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Access detailsThe churchyard is located off the Grove Road, near the village of Kells, and is accessible during the hours of daylight.
The early congregation
Covenanting societies had been operating in the Kells and Connor area from the late 1600s. Before the provision of a meeting house, they met on Ferniskey Hill, south of Kells. David Houston, an important figure in the Irish Covenanting movement in the late 1600s, preached, administered communion and baptised children at Ferniskey. His death in 1666 1696 left Covenanters in Ulster without a pastor for over 60 years. The church hall at Kellswater was built in memorial of him.
The present church was built in 1806 and situated at the banks of the River Kells Water. A stone on the church records the stonemason, Robert Darragh and the joiner, John Orr. The building has kept many of its original fittings and in 1988 was designated a listed building. The church is still in use today.
A renovated mill served as a meeting house before the present church was built. At this time, the congregation was ministered by William Martin, who was ordained the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in Ireland in 1757. Due to increasing unrest in the north of Ireland, Martin led many local Covenanter families to emigrate to South Carolina in 1772. Martin later won fame for his courage in the American War of Independence.
The small graveyard contains over 40 memorials. The earliest surviving gravestones date to the first half of the 1900s. Several Reformed Presbyterian ministers are buried here, including Rev. William Stavely, James Dick, S.M. Calderwood and Archibald Holmes.
The memorial to William Stavely stands against the front wall of the church. Stavely was a key figure in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the late 1700s. He ministered over a vast area and was heavily involved in the reorganisation of the Irish Reformed Presbytery. Many Covenanters became United Irishmen or supported their cause and Stavely himself became a figure of suspicion to the authorities around the time of the 1798 rebellion. In 1800, Stavely moved to the joint congregation of Cullybackey and Kellswater. He later concentrated his ministry at Kellswater where he ministered for 25 years.