Friday, 9 May 2014

St Mark's parish church, Ballysillan

Interior of St Mark's parish church
In the middle of the 19th century the Church of Ireland decided to established a new parish at Ballysillan.  Rev Abraham McCausland was appointed in February 1852 to  established the new parish.  He took up residence in Clearstream Cottage and held Sunday morning services in Ligoniel schoolroom.  A congregation was gathered and then the next step was to build a parish church.

A site on the Ligoniel Road was provided free of charge by Mrs Elizabeth May of Rockport and she laid the foundation stone of St Mark's parish church on 25 May 1854.  The building is attributed to the architect Charles Lanyon, who designed so many of Belfast's finest buildings. but it was probably the work of his then assistant W H Lynn and the builder was James Carlisle.  This was an early Gothic Revival church and was laid out with the nave gable facing the road.  It took two years to build the church and it was consecrated on 1 May 1856 by Bishop Robert Knox.  At that stage it could accommodate 180 worshippers.

The original tower is still undisturbed but the church was re-oriented and enlarged in High Victorian manner with the addition in 1866 of a red stone banded nave and polygonal chancel by W H Lynn.  With the new work running at right angles to the original church the earlier nave then became the south transept.

Finally in 1885-6 the new nave and north transept were heightened, an organ chamber was added and the wooden baptistery screen was erected.  This was the third phase of building and the work was overseen by the architect James J Phillips.  By then the church could accommodate a congregation of 500.

The first two ministers stayed for only short periods of time but the third minister Rev James Marshall (1826-1909) was licensed on 24 June 1856,  and remained until 1884.  He was a son of Rev James Marshall, who was minister of Fannet Presbyterian Church in county Donegal from 1806 to 1826, and his wife Sarah Cunningham.  His grandfather Samuel Marshall was a farmer.  After leaving St Mark's in 1884 he emigrated from Ulster to New Zealand and was minister at Te Aroha, Auckland, from 1885 to 1889 and of Ellerslie, Auckland, from 1889 to 1892.  During his time in St Mark's, James Marshall was one of the twenty-three founder members of Ligoniel True Blues LOL No 1932 when it was formed in 1872.

St Mark's National School was built in the grounds of the church and the foundation stone was laid in November 1874 with the official opening in December 1875.  A rectory and a residence for the schoolmaster were also built in the grounds.

In 1887 there were 315 children in the school, which could accommodate 342 pupils, who ranged from infants through to seventh standard.
The Ewart family, who lived nearby in Glenbank House, had a strong association with St Mark's and there are a number of Ewart memorials in the church.

In 1966 the minor hall was built and named in memory of Gerald Reid, manager of Glenbank Bleaching Green.  Also in that year the school buildings reverted to the parish when Ligoniel Primary School was opened.

Back in 1952 Archdeacon William A Macourt, a former minister of the congregation, wrote The First Hundred Years: being a history of St Mark's Parish Church, Ballysillan, Belfast.  Some years later a second edition was published under the title A Short History of Parish Church of St Mark, Ballysillan Belfast.

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