I beg to move
That this Assembly notes that 2009 will mark the 150th anniversary of the 1859 Revival; acknowledges the positive contribution made by the Revival to society; recognises that the positive impact of the Revival is still felt today; and calls upon the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to mark this anniversary during 2009.
Members know that the dates and commemorations of events can be divisive long after the events themselves. This motion, however, relates to one date and commemoration that can be acknowledged and accepted by Members on all sides of the House. It is worded in such a way as to invite support from all sides. The motion does not mention conversions or the tangible presence of God that swept through society; it does not mention the extraordinary outward physical manifestations that occurred, often because of an overpowering sense of sinfulness; and it does not mention the crucial part that prayer played in the revival or the preaching that took place during that year of grace. However, I am sure that other Members will mention such things.
Some Members have much that they could say, such as the Ulster Unionist Member Rev Robert Coulter, who ministered in one of the churches that felt the full force of the revival. His voice will be one of authority if he speaks in the debate. For my part, I simply wish to lay out the motion as presented.
Next year will be a significant anniversary. Much valuable work has been done by groups such as the Caleb Foundation in lobbying for official recognition of the anniversary; however, more can be done.
The motion speaks of the positive contribution that the revival made to society. The revival had a massive beneficial influence on the levels of criminality. By 1860, crime was reduced. On several occasions, judges in Ulster had no cases to try. At one point, in County Antrim, no crime was reported and no prisoners were held in police custody. In Belfast, a large distillery was put up for auction, two pubs were closed because the publicans had been converted, and a third was closed because of lack of trade. In Ahoghill, drunkenness, fighting and swearing were prevalent. A policeman described it as:
“the worst wee place in the world”.
But what a transformation —
But what a transformation took place. The local presbytery examined the work and noted:
“drunkenness and … profane language … had been all but annihilated.”
Before the revival, it was said:
“Bellaghy was the most degraded of Irish villages … rioting and drunkenness were the order of each evening … such a place for lying and stealing I do not know.”
However, after the revival, it was said:
“As you pass down the street you hear, in almost every house, the voice of joy and melody.”
No account can be complete without mentioning Coleraine, in the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s constituency. He will not need reminding of the events surrounding the opening of the new town hall and of the occurrences at the school of the Irish Evangelical Society.
In my constituency of Upper Bann, the ‘Lurgan Gazette’ said that the revival:
“has at once arrested the careless and ungodly, and almost put a stop to the drinking customs of the people, spreading a seriousness over the face of society, and leading men to think of the great concerns of eternity”.
However, the events were not simply confined to what is Northern Ireland today. In Counties Monaghan, Donegal, Cavan, Limerick, Carlow and Dublin, the revival’s force was felt.
The motion also speaks of the lasting effects of the revival, such as the promotion of sobriety.
The Countess of Londonderry stated that:
“It is impossible not to observe that one result of the much-talked-of Revival has been… the establishment of greater sobriety and temperance.”
A Justice of the Peace witnessed that, in certain parishes, the use of spirits was almost entirely abandoned. It worked a miraculous change in public manners, and was described as:
“the most striking effect produced upon national manners, in our day, in these islands”.
It also had an extraordinary influence on the mindset of the Protestant population, particularly on the involvement of lay people, the rise of mission halls and small ground-level works, and ministries.
Consider the years of violence and bloodshed that the Province has come through. Many have noted that loyalist paramilitaries never enjoyed significant popular support, and one reason for that was the abiding influence of a world view and legacy that was handed down by the revival. There were small independent churches and mission halls in the hearts of Protestant communities in which the high demands of the scriptures in relation to sin, and our accountability to God were preached. That has had a restraining influence on families and generations ever since — and for that, we should all be grateful.
The motion calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to mark the anniversary. He could do so by utilising libraries for the setting up of displays; he could liaise with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) to help create a revival trail for tourists and produce tourist information literature; he could work with the Ulster Museum to set up a display there, or he could explore the possibility of working in partnership with the BBC on commemorative programmes. No doubt the Minister will have his own ideas. I ask that he ensures that the anniversary does not pass unnoticed or unmarked, and that all sides of the House support the motion.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am happy to support the motion and to hear the introduction by the proposer, who rightly says that we would all be prepared to welcome the motion and to celebrate alongside our Protestant fellow countrymen that great period in their history.
The significant increase of interest in religion is something that some of us who are interested in religion would like to see happen again. I do not know if everyone would be happy at the closing of pubs; but other, more positive aspects of it would certainly be welcomed. As for marking the anniversary of the revival, there should be displays; but the best way to mark it is for us all to reinforce interest in our spiritual lives. It is a wee bit odd that we are discussing what is a very serious, fundamentally-spiritual, issue in a House that is more used to discussing the things of Mammon. We, on this side of the House, support the motion, and we wish you well.
It was my privilege and pleasure to discuss the issue of the 1859 revival as the Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland at our Twelfth of July celebrations this year in the wonderful surroundings of Broughshane. On that glorious day — and it was a glorious day in every respect — the brethren assembled in Broughshane, as they did in every other part of our country hosting and celebrating the Twelfth of July, and were commended to give careful thought on how to advance any worthwhile opportunities that may arise and be taken by the institution to celebrate and commemorate the 1859 revival. I commend the sentiment of the Twelfth of July to the House in association with the motion tabled, which meets with the full approval of the Ulster Unionist Party, and therefore has our support.
I am sure that the Minister was grateful for the ideas that were suggested by his party colleagues on how to mark the anniversary of the revival. I am sure that they want the Minister to confirm — if they do not, I do — what he intends to do about sponsoring or initiating an event, or events, to mark the anniversary.
I was pleased by the manner in which Mr Molloy accepted the motion. However, the Minister will be aware of the potential for howls of dissension by some people against the motion, if not in the House then outside, for reasons that are best known to themselves. In answering the call of the motion, the Minister could be dragged into the mire of precedent and find himself damned if he does and damned if does not.
I hope that there is a mature debate and a reasoned outcome on an issue that is best judged on its own merit rather than another vocal rendition of intolerance by some people for matters that others — such as me — cherish as part of their Britishness. I hope that that happens in light of the significant role that religious identity played in shaping the history of the British Isles at the time of the revival. The Minister could also consider marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin on 10 July, which is an ominous birth date of great significance and is somewhat fortuitous in its proximity to other celebrations at that time of the year.
I ask the Minister to assure the House that his Department will be able to sponsor a series of exhibitions, conferences and seminars that promote the anniversary of the revival. As the proposer of the motion eloquently stated, the revival brought 100,000 converts into the Protestant churches of Ireland. Edwin Orr noted that the revival:
“made a greater impact on Ireland than anything known since Patrick brought Christianity there.”
By the end of 1860, the effects of the Ulster revival included: strong services; unprecedented numbers of communicants; abundant prayer meetings; an increase in family prayers; unmatched scripture reading; prosperous Sunday schools; converts remaining steadfast; increased giving; the abatement of vice; and a reduction in crime. Such effects would be welcome if a revival happened in our country today.
It is estimated that one million people were converted in the United Kingdom from the beginning of the revival in Kells. Missionaries carried the movement abroad and — fortunately — the consequences of the revival are still felt today and contribute significantly to various recognisable national characteristics that we protect. Those characteristics deserve recognition and commemoration in the year of the 150th anniversary of the revival. I commend the proposer of the motion.
Naturally, the SDLP supports the commemoration of events that have contributed positively to communities’ lives across Northern Ireland. Although it is perfectly legitimate for such commemorations or celebrations to be single identity, it is important that they are positive, respectful and do not represent a victory for one community over the other. I have listened to Members’ contributions, and I assume that a commemoration of the revival would fit those criteria.
However, the SDLP is not convinced that tabling this type of motion is helpful to the commemoration of the revival and the relevant organisations. Despite that, I acknowledge that David Simpson has outlined how he wants the Minister to commemorate the revival. If the organisers of the revival’s commemoration seek recognition from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I assume that they will be subject to the same criteria and scrutiny as any other organisation.
It is important that if the Assembly gives its stamp of approval to that commemoration, it gives similar approval to other commemorations and celebrations. I assume that if the motion is passed, similar motions on Catholic events or on those of any other respected spiritual or religious group with a long or recent history that has made a positive contribution to life would also be passed by the Assembly, regardless of whether Assembly Members or the Executive share the ethos or belief system of the group.
My party has been centrally involved in the commemoration of the civil rights movement. I wonder what would have happened had my party tabled a motion to the same effect by asking the Minister to mark that particular anniversary. If the House and the Minister cannot commit to treat all social and religious groups — as described in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 — in the same way, surely that discriminates against those groups.
The Assembly’s approval of the motion must not be taken as carte blanche for departmental expenditure. Any departmental input must be proportionate to the scale of any planned events and commemorations.
I also welcome the motion that has been tabled by Mr Simpson and his colleagues, and the manner in which he made his proposing speech, which stated significantly how the House can develop such matters.
At the outset, I want to declare my interest not only as a Presbyterian, but as a resident of the Presbyterian parish of Connor. That ought to give me particular insight, although, regrettably, it does not. As I am slightly younger than 150 years old, I am not particularly well informed.
Mr Simpson explained the positive aspects of the 1859 revival. However, there were some negative aspects, which may, perhaps, be acknowledged if one were to examine the matter in detail.
The Member cannot leave that idea hanging. I hope that he will tell the House what he perceives to have been the negative aspects of the 1859 revival. I must say that I have not read of any of them.
I am not sure that that will be necessary, Mr Speaker.
The tone in which Mr Simpson introduced the motion and that of the response from, I believe, Mr Brolly, rather than Mr Molloy — although, perhaps, to some people, one member of Sinn Féin who has a grey beard is much the same as another —
Yes, I noticed that. Come on, boys; get your irony.
The tone of those Members’ contributions shows clearly that, despite its difficulties, the Assembly can, occasionally, discuss potentially divisive issues in a sensible and moderate manner. For that, we should be grateful.
I acknowledge the fact that Mr Ramsey raised legitimate concerns about whether the House will demonstrate balance if similar motions are tabled on other aspects of our religious history. The proposers of the motion must consider that issue. The way in which Mr Simpson proposed the motion, at least, gives some hope that that balance can be achieved. It is, therefore, rather regrettable that what appears to have been an Ulster Unionist’s prepared speech was critical of Sinn Féin, even though the party said nothing of which to be critical in the debate.
Since the Member failed the first challenge that was put to him ably by Mr Wells, I will challenge him now to withdraw that remark or to cite evidence that I delivered a prepared speech to attack Sinn Féin.
To respond to Mr Wells’s challenge; the 1859 revival, undoubtedly, had positive aspects as regards commitment to religious life. However, there were times when certain aspects of it ventured into the area of mass hysteria, rather than necessarily ensuring total personal commitment. The Assembly must acknowledge that certain aspects of the revival went in that direction.
No doubt Mr Wells will take the opportunity to argue his case. While the 1859 revival was significant, enhanced the culture of our society and brought about change, it must also be recognised that problems sometimes occur when movements go beyond their stated aims. The revival was, undoubtedly, a significant and positive experience for many people. Only last night, in my church car park, a discussion somehow turned to the 1859 revival. I assure Members that I did not start that conversation. A colleague who runs a business in Kells pointed out that, as a result of the revival, all five pubs in the village closed down.
Members in the House who are from the temperance lobby will consider that to be a particularly positive move. My colleague also remarked that, such was the good behaviour of the vast majority of citizens, the Royal Irish Constabulary was on the point of making officers redundant in mid-Antrim. That could perhaps provide a lesson for today. Therefore, many positive elements should be drawn from the revival.
It is somewhat ironic that the grandfathers and fathers of those who led the revival — the Presbyterian laity of mid-Antrim — had led the political rebellion against the forces of the Crown at the end of the preceding century. Perhaps DUP Members are less enthusiastic about that. The establishment of the role of the laity, and not merely the clergy, was significant and positive. It is also slightly ironic that, only this week, Cardinal Brady announced changes in the Catholic Church that will give a greater role to the laity. It could be suggested that lessons from the revival are being learned even before the celebration of its anniversary in 2009.
The Assembly should recognise the positive aspects of the revival and work in the spirit in which Mr Simpson moved the motion. All Members should seek to learn from each other’s cultural and religious history. In that spirit, the House should pass the motion and move forward to a consideration of how the anniversary can become a cause for unification rather than division.
I support the motion that was so ably moved by my colleague Mr Simpson. This important anniversary celebrates an event that has left an indelible and beneficial mark on society, not only in Ulster but much further afield. David Simpson mentioned Lurgan’s experience of the revival, to which I will add further observations from the area. One eyewitness in Lurgan said:
“Congregations are large … communicants almost doubled … drunkenness has declined.”
The rector of Magheralin Church of Ireland said:
“Morality in every sense of the word is the order of the day. The change indeed is a mighty one.”
I could cite many examples from all corners of the Province, all parts of the island and across the British Isles. The motion advocates a sober acknowledgement of a part of our history that everyone can appreciate. It is about recognising not only the revival’s anniversary but also the fact that it brought good to society as a whole.
In Straid, County Antrim, the entire society was profoundly affected by the revival: the cockfighting pit that had been a place for vice of the worst kind became a preaching point, and the profanity and drunkenness that had characterised many lives were set aside.
On the wider scene, six months after the commencement of the revival, the number of prisoners sent for trial in County Antrim was half that in the previous year, and, a full year on, the figure was zero. In April 1860, there were no cases to try at the quarterly sessions in Londonderry or Carrickfergus.
The Church of Ireland Bishop of Down reported a conversation with a group of people that included three magistrates. Their unanimous testimony was that since the revival, public morals had vastly improved, and cases of drunkenness and other vices had greatly reduced. The bishop went on to ask the barrister, magistrates and grand jurymen to what cause they attributed the change. He relates that they each and all at once replied “to the revival”.
Many other figures could be added to that list; some have been mentioned during the debate, and, undoubtedly, more will be mentioned before it ends.
Everyone can commemorate the anniversary, regardless of whether they agree with the religious themes that were the hallmark of those days of the revival. As has been mentioned during the debate, the historic event contributed hugely to elevating public behaviour and public morality, reducing crime and fostering basic public decency. At a time such as this, when antisocial behaviour is continuing, community bonds are breaking down and the spiral of crime against the weakest and most vulnerable members of society is ongoing, we should welcome the impact of that great event. Oh that it were like that today.
Throughout the Province, people are preparing to give proper recognition in 2009 to the 1859 revival, and much work has already been completed. The BBC has expressed interest in commemorating the revival and, to that end, has met with organisations such as the Caleb Foundation. The Minister has a keen interest in historical matters, and I urge him to seize this opportunity also. I support the motion.
I support the motion and commend my colleagues for proposing it. It is often said that many of society’s ills emanate from the United States of America and, ultimately, find their way into Northern Ireland. Today is an important day for the United States. Although Members might question the correlation between the United States elections and the 1859 revival, they should recall that a similar awakening occurred in the United States of America in 1858, and many people concur that its sparks travelled across the Atlantic and lit the embers and flamed the fire in my constituency.
Given that the 1859 revival’s genesis occurred in my constituency of North Antrim, I am glad that the motion asks the Minister to consider organising a commemoration. Moreover, my honourable friend from the Alliance Party Mr Ford lives close to where the revival took place. We should remember the events of 1859 with a sense of pride and honour.
Some people view religion as divisive and claim that it is the source of all the world’s conflicts. It is the depravity of man’s heart that causes today’s conflicts. The 1859 revival demonstrated true biblical Christianity at its best and, as a result, people’s lives changed. Today, we seek a society that is free of violence and the ills that are mentioned in the Chamber. Members urge Ministers to implement proposals in order to create a well-ordered and well-structured society — bearing the trademarks of what we deem a good society — in which the elderly can live without the fear of crime and young people can expect a bright future. It is impossible to achieve those outcomes without seriously considering the impact of the 1859 revival, during which the gospel was preached. That gospel is not for unionism at the expense of nationalism, or vice versa — it is for everyone. I am glad that, during the debate, Members have welcomed the idea of a commemoration.
I am disappointed — not for the first time — in the attitude displayed by the SDLP. It has exhibited double standards many times, whether it is with respect to the Budget or other matters.
In view of what Mr Storey has said, it is important to state that the Assembly has no function in advocating the cause of any particular religious belief or denomination. The debate is about whether it is appropriate for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to apply some of its resources to marking the anniversary of the 1859 revival. It is not for that Department to take any view on whether the 1859 revival was a good thing or a bad thing, or whether it was of benefit to society in religious terms: that is not the function of the Assembly or the Executive.
However, the revival was a significant historical event; and to mark such an event, it may well be appropriate for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to have a role — but only in that respect.
I wonder whether I will be given another minute for that. I will try to squeeze out the time as much as possible.
It is the responsibility of the Assembly and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to commemorate events that have made a significant contribution to the well-being and good of society. That is why the SDLP’s comments are reprehensible.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate and I congratulate those who tabled the motion. I am pleased to see it before the Assembly.
I welcome students from Newtownhamilton High School who are in the Public Gallery. They are enjoying the debate and are, I hope, being educated by it.
Anniversaries are important; and 31 October is particularly important as it is the anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest which brought forward the Reformation. Some people celebrate the pagan festival of Halloween on that date; however, we should be mindful that Luther did what he did on 31 October, and we should give thanks for that.
According to the ‘Encyclopaedia of Christianity’:
“the term ‘revivals’ is a general one, used to describe the movements of awakening that covered all the Protestant territories of Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries…Revivals are seen as counteracting Christian decline, both spiritual and social… by special evangelistic and organizational means”.
We do well also to remember that revival does not begin in a place, it begins in the heart.
During the revival the whole of Ulster was caught up in the “movement of God”, which began in the parish of Connor in County Antrim. Although it began among Presbyterians, and I am proud to be one, the revival was not limited to them. Many ministers of the established Church and smaller denominations played a significant role. In November 1856, a Mrs Colville, an English lady from Gateshead, arrived in Ballymena on a door-to-door mission to share her faith. Through talking with Mrs Colville, a man named James McQuilken was converted. People saw a change in McQuilken and, over time, that resulted in Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace being drawn to Christ.
That was the beginning of the revival. Encouraged by Rev J H Moore, who was the minister of Connor Presbyterian Church, the four young converts began to meet weekly for prayer and Bible study. Those meetings continued from September through the winter of 1857 and into 1858. On New Year’s Day 1858, the first conversion that could be related directly to that prayer meeting took place. There were conversions every night after that.
The prayer meetings soon grew dramatically, with many new ones being established. By the spring of 1859, there was an average of 16 prayer meetings every night in the Connor parish alone. Before long, the revival spread to Kellswater, Ahoghill, Portglenone and other places. Soon, almost the whole of Ulster was caught up in the revival, and as the clerk of session of Bessbrook Presbyterian Church, I am pleased and proud to say that the revival was experienced in the Newry presbytery at that time. So many people were caught up in the revival that there was not enough room in the churches. Meetings had to take place in fields and on roads, and they sometimes involved several thousand people.
The impact of the revival was tremendous. One of the results was that churches were overcrowded on Sundays, which is in stark contrast to church attendance in the modern age. Dead, formal ritualism was replaced by direct preaching and praise. The Connor Presbyterian meeting house became too small to meet the needs of the congregation.
Those changes were very positive. One writer claimed that the 1859 revival had six specific characteristics. It had its origin in profound conviction of sin, manifested in vast numbers of people asking for forgiveness of sin. It made for temperance, as we already heard. It worked a miraculous change in manners. It resulted in praise — the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church appointed a day for prayer and thanksgiving to God. Millions of hymn books were sold. The work was mainly brought about through humble and local means.
At the outset, I declare an interest as a Presbyterian.
The 1859 revival was an event that was not just a religious one — it was an event that changed undoubtedly the very fabric of Ulster society. When 100,000 people are affected by changes in society, those changes must be reflected throughout the entire population. The changes that society underwent during the 1859 revival are still recognisable in the underlying standards in which our society believes today. An event of that significance is surely worthy of celebration and recognition.
In preparing for my contribution to today’s debate, I studied events that occurred in my constituency. There are reports from Limavady of great gatherings, and one account states:
“A gentleman from the Presbyterian congregation of Cullybackey addressed the assembled throng…Multitudes remained till the morning light, alternately engaged in singing and prayer.”
That describes a fundamental change in society. In Garvagh, the rector, the Rev Mr Smyth, wrote:
“I have been twenty-seven years rector of this parish, and never before witnessed even the most remote approach to what is now going on. Vice and immorality of every sort lessened to an incredible extent, and oaths scarcely ever heard, or drunkenness seen.”
The most extraordinary account of all came from Coleraine. In the Irish Society School in June 1859, a teacher noticed:
“boy after boy slipping out of the classroom. After a while, the master stood upon something, which enabled him to look over the wall of the playground. There he saw a number of his boys ranged round the wall on their knees in earnest prayer, every one apart. The scene overcame him. A strange disorder for schoolmaster and mistress to have to control! The united cry reached the adjoining streets, and soon every spot on the premises was filled.”
That event, and another meeting in Coleraine town hall that was attended by a great number of people, can only be described as a peaceful revolution for individuals and for the entire country. It must also be remembered that the revival was not limited by class or creed. From master to servant, the wealthy to the poor, the standards that individuals and society set for themselves were forever changed by the revival of 1859.
All too often, the Assembly recognises tragic or sad occurrences, so it is only right for us to celebrate the positivity of the 1859 revival. Agreeing the motion would be a public acknowledgement of our intention to do that. The motion is deserving of support from all Members of the Assembly, as we have all been affected by the revival. I am delighted to support the motion, and I hope that all Members will do so, in recognition of the historical importance and lasting influences of the events of the 1859 revival.
In the course of the debate, I am reminded of the notorious words that were spoken by the adviser of a former Prime Minister: “We don’t do God”. As a consequence of modern, western society’s attitude towards religion, it was too embarrassing, too touchy a subject, for that Prime Minister to discuss God politically or to be questioned about whether he had ever prayed with the President. However, when that Prime Minister left office, he expressed an interest in setting up a foundation promoting God and religion.
When we, as members of western society, look to the Middle East, we see that, every six hours, society there stops for five minutes to pray. Although we may not worship the same God, there is no doubt that the devotion of the people in the East puts many people in our western Christian society to shame. We, as a Christian society, should learn from that to cherish such things as prayer and how we promote our belief in God. That is why I am more than happy to support a motion that causes us to stop, think and affirm that we, as a society, “do God” and are prepared to recognise the importance of prayer, not only in an individual’s life, but in its effect on society.
There is no doubt that the 1859 revival had a profound effect on Ulster and its people. Today, many villages have two churches of the same denomination. The Member for Strangford mentioned that he gave a talk in Broughshane. The fact that there are two Presbyterian churches in Broughshane is a direct result of the 1859 revival — so many people wanted to attend the church there that an even bigger one had to be built in order to contain them.
Many towns and villages — such as Coleraine or Ahoghill — share that history and have more than one Presbyterian church because of the revival’s impact. That gives an insight into the architectural history of those villages, which is something that we should encourage the Department of the Environment (DOE) to promote. For example, the first Ahoghill Presbyterian church is architecturally different to the second church because of the urgency to have a mission hall built in order to promote the revival and accommodate its effects.
Similarly, the village pillars at the Presbyterian church in Broughshane were removed because of people thronging to get to church. Such stories should be recounted, because they are part and parcel of the identity and the history of our people. Had the revival happened 10 or 15 years earlier, before the Irish potato famine, I have no doubt that it would have had a profound effect on emigration across the Atlantic and that Northern Ireland’s impact on America would have been even greater.
In his contribution, David Simpson was absolutely right when he said that the reason that Ulster did not plunge into civil war in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was because of what happened 100 years earlier. That is an important point.
I ask the Minister what we should do to mark the 1859 revival. What can we do to draw attention to it? There should be some discussions with the Minister about that. Other organisations exemplify how they mark certain events. For example, every year the Royal Mail produces commemorative stamps, covering subjects that include St Patrick and great architectural features in Northern Ireland such as Carrickfergus Castle and the Queen’s Bridge. Therefore, we should encourage the Royal Mail to commemorate the 1859 revival. Recently, the fiftieth anniversary of Her Majesty’s ascension to the throne was marked by the production of commemorative stamps. Perhaps a stamp could be produced to promote the 1859 revival.
Telling the story of the revival should be encouraged. Danny Kennedy’s recounting of the story of Mrs Caldwell in Ballymena and the impact that that had on young men’s lives was fascinating. That story is earthy and rich in history — let it be told. We must provide opportunities and local platforms from which to tell such stories.
Finally, I hope that, late next year, the Minister will hold an event in Stormont that will promote the anniversary, so that we might look to a time when there might be another revival in our country.
This is an important debate, because it brings the remarkable workings of God in 1859 — when he came in power and blessing to his church — to the attention of Members and, indeed, people in this Province. It is estimated that, in one year, 100,000 souls were converted to Christ. That means that 100,000 lives were transformed by the power of the gospel.
I thank my colleagues for proposing the motion. The 1859 Ulster revival affected not only saints and sinners, but society. The revival’s presence and power transformed homes and communities throughout Ulster for God and for good. In his foreword to the reprint of Rev John Weir’s book, ‘Heaven Came Down’, Rev Tom Shaw referred to the change that the revival brought to society:
“People returned to the house of God in great numbers for preaching, worship and prayer. Sabbath desecration declined, and the observation of that day was more widespread. At certain periods and places, every day was like a Sabbath as people rallied for prayer.”
As other Members said, on many occasions, people simply stopped to pray.
Drunkenness was diminished greatly and, in some cases, it was totally abandoned. The power of the gospel sorely affected the drink trade, so much so that public houses were either shut up or completely deserted. How things have changed. It is recorded that on a single market day in an Ulster town, not one glass of whiskey was sold.
In addition, the use of profane language decreased noticeably. In general, evil habits and customs of every kind suffered a severe blow as a result of the effects of the heaven-sent revival.
Given that the motion refers to the revival’s impact on society, I shall quote further about how it resulted in a moral transformation. The then Countess of Londonderry remarked:
“One result of the much talked-about revival has been the closing of public houses and the establishment of greater sobriety and temperance.”
The moral good that resulted from the 1859 revival affected every aspect of society, and, consequently, sectarian violence became a thing of the past. Speaking a few days after 12 July 1859, a Roman Catholic magistrate attributed the peaceful manner in which the Orange celebrations took place to the religious movement in northern Ireland. He said:
“the revival now proceeding has extinguished party animosities, and produced the most wholesome moral results.”
The Ulster revival resulted in great reductions in crime. The number of prisoners presented for trial at the County Antrim quarter sessions in October 1859 — six months after the revival commenced — was half that of the previous year.
I am glad to say that the revival also came to my constituency — although I was not there, and I cannot think of anyone who might have been there to see it. When the revival came to Cookstown, where market day was previously known for drunkenness, drunken behaviour became a thing of the past.
A pub owner from Tullyhogue was converted at that time. He became a preacher, and Donaghey Congregational Church was formed out of his ministry. Furthermore, a local Presbyterian church in Sandholes had to increase its size in order to cope with the number of people attending its services.
The motion refers to the lasting contribution of the revival, and its effect can be seen by virtue of the fact that, to this day, Northern Ireland is a country in which the gospel of God’s saving grace is preached in many halls and churches.
I, therefore, support the motion and, with other Members, look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on the proposals.
I did not intend to speak on the motion, because I was thrilled and delighted that my colleagues, who are not in the ministry, wanted to inform the Assembly of the great blessing that the revival brought to the Province, not only in 1859, but thereafter.
I was working in my office — I must confess — and I heard Pat Ramsey speak. I was disappointed that he tried to turn the motion into a sectarian issue. In respect of the revival, a visitation of God is one for mankind. It does not matter whether the individual whom God visits is a Protestant or a Roman Catholic or whether he or she is looked upon in the world as wise or ignorant. The Saviour gave the commission to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
Sitting beside Mr Ramsey in the Chamber today is a Member from East Londonderry, and I am sure that he would like to speak in the debate, because there was no place more touched by the revival than the town of Coleraine. People in Coleraine, including everyone from the youngest child, were greatly moved. In fact, a little boy at school was so disturbed that he was sent home, because the staff could not settle him. On his way home, the little boy went into a vacant house and called on God to have mercy on his soul. He returned to school to say that the issue that had troubled him was settled. God started to move in that school, including the upper part in which the girls were educated.
People heard about what God was doing among the children in that school in Coleraine, and they visited its precincts. On doing so, the elderly people and the parents, too, were affected by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This country needs a visitation of God.
I am not getting into a debate. I am speaking from the heart; I am not speaking for a political debate. Irrespective of what part of the community we come from, we all have to meet God. It would be good, therefore, if we all had a visitation of God upon our hearts; that is something that we all need.
I trust and pray that those Members who appear to be excited about the contents of the motion and who are trying to turn it into something that it was never intended to be remember the social impact that the 1859 revival had on society. Not only did it influence sobriety and change the lives of individuals, it changed homes. Lives were changed for good, which is something for which we should all long.
The society in which we live is broken; it has many broken hearts and broken homes. I believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ can heal the broken-hearted, and in healing the broken sin-sick soul, he can heal our homes, families, towns, villages and communities.
That is why history books have been written, and I am sorry that my friend Rev Dr Coulter is not in his place — I can say “my friend” because we are blood relatives — as no one knows more of that history than he does.
The courtrooms of our society were changed because lives were changed. It is almost 150 years since that revival, and it would do this land good to call on God to send us another revival. That is the longing of my heart, and I pray that God will send it right now.
I welcome the debate and congratulate the honourable Member for Upper Bann Mr Simpson for securing it. He has a deep and abiding interest in historical and cultural matters, especially re-enactments, which he has had some knowledge of recently. It is appropriate to consider the revival in the wider context of where our society is today.
I will try to incorporate Members’ comments into my response. The motion raises three issues: an acknowledgement that the revival made a positive contribution to society; recognition that it had a positive impact, not just then but now; and a request that my Department mark the anniversary during 2009.
The contribution to society was prevalent in a series of comments. Mr Simpson outlined the relevance that the revival had then and continues to have 150 years later, and that was repeated throughout the debate. Mr Brolly referred to it, Mr Ramsey’s comments invoked some comment that I will come to later, and Mr Ford also referred to the fact that it was a significant event. A series of supportive comments were made about the contribution that the revival made to society.
Several Members referred to the religious context of the term “revival”. It is a specific period of spiritual renewal in the life of the community. I have no doubt that the social and cultural changes to society that emanated from the spiritual revival were transformational on the wider community. Several Members referred to the fact that churches are testimony to the events that happened 150 years ago and there is no doubt that that transformational effect is still with us, to some degree, 150 years later.
Mr Moutray, with reference to Lurgan and Antrim, Mr Storey from North Antrim and Mr Kennedy from Newry and Armagh referred to the fact that churches noted dramatic increases in attendances at that time, with some churches running services continuously from nine in the morning until 10 at night. Some people may say sarcastically that some churches today just feel like that, but I will not go down that route. Churches in Belfast reported a sevenfold increase in attendances. I have obtained from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland a photocopy of the record book of Straid Congregational Church, County Antrim, which contains a handwritten report of the actual events of 1859.
A brief extract is all that is necessary to show the impact that the revival had at the time. The following was handwritten by the secretary of the church at the centre of those events:
“I might record many wonderful sessions of this divine work, but every day was a day of wonders — for meetings were held daily and continued all night. At one held on the Lovers Hill upwards of two thousand people assembled — and stood under a pelting rain for two hours listening to the preaching of the Gospel. Many were stricken and waited until dark, seeking pardon in the Saviour.”
Many Members, including Ian McCrea, Ian Paisley Jnr and Dr McCrea, mentioned the open-air meetings that were held. Botanic Gardens in Belfast was the site of a gathering of almost 40,000 people — and, remember, that was a religious service. Several Members, including Dr McCrea, mentioned gatherings of some 15,000 to 20,000 in Coleraine. That is testimony to the scale of the revival, which has had such a lasting impact.
Other Members mentioned the decrease in the number of public houses at the time. For example, there were 16 public houses in the village of Crumlin, and the owners of 10 of them voluntarily declined to seek a renewal of their licences. Ian McCrea quoted a judge at Downpatrick assizes, a Roman Catholic, who said:
“the revival now proceeding has extinguished party animosities, and produced the most wholesome moral results.”
The Minister has told some fascinating stories. He has probably also read about the events at Harland and Wolff shipyard. Following their conversion, several labourers began to return items that had been stolen from the shipyard. So many items were returned that a new shed had to be built to house them. Again, that fascinating story shows the profound impact that the revival had on our society.
I thank the Member for that point. The more I read and hear about the events of 1859, the more I believe that those involved in the production of films about the more unsavoury aspects of our society would do well to turn their attention to the accurate portrayal of events in our country 150 years ago. In that way, they could provide fascinating accounts of what occurred at the time and give people insight into the underlying Christian ethos of our society.
The motion touches on another issue: the philosophical and social changes that the revival instigated, and their continuing impact on our society. The transformation that the revival wrought on our society is still evident in our community and its strong spiritual backbone. That backbone gave many the strength to cope throughout the dark days of our recent Troubles.
A third issue is whether my Department plans to mark the anniversary of the 1859 revival in 2009. My Department does not provide support to, or for, religious commemorations. However, I can report that a significant exhibition will be held that will include the 1859 revival at a local level. The Mid-Antrim Museum and Arts Centre at the Braid is planning an exhibition for late 2009, entitled ‘Divine Inspiration: Remarkable Objects Reflecting Faith’.
In addition, I am sure that the honourable Members who tabled the motion will be pleased to know that as a result of their motion, the Department has received information about other religious groups that are holding events to mark the anniversary of the revival. Therefore, it is clear that the motion is generating activity that will mark that very significant and notable landmark in our society’s history.
I am surprised by the Minister’s remark that his Department does not do religious commemorations — I will come to that in a moment. Earlier, Ian Paisley Jnr referred to the politician’s remark: “We don’t do God”. Elected Members in any legislature are entitled to have religious views and they are entitled to bring those religious views to bear when they are examining social issues.
However, many Members have been confused in what they have said in the debate. Quite rightly, they have provided evidence of the significance of the 1859 revival — that is relevant, because it is the test of whether the revival was a major social event at the time and deserves to be commemorated as such. Some years ago, I was involved in Ballymena Borough Council’s revival commemorations in which a plaque was put up, marking the initial location of the revival. I attended a related function in the local Orange Hall. It is perfectly proper for DCAL to recognise the revival. However, Members have confused the debate by advocating that DCAL make a contribution in support of the religious beliefs expressed in the revival. It is not the function of DCAL or the Executive to do that.
I thank the honourable Member for that not-so-brief intervention. He will note that I outlined the Department’s approach to matters that have a religious connotation. He also mentioned matters of historical note, which I will turn to shortly. I note his comment that he attended a revival event in an Orange Hall. I am sure that the Hansard report will be examined, because his attendance at such an event seems to contradict his previous comments disputing that cross-community activities take place in Orange Halls. However, I am not going to go down that route, and I will resist the temptation to engage in further banter with the honourable Member.
The Mid-Antrim Museum’s exhibition will examine how significant objects reflect faith, both locally and globally. More generally, the exhibition will explore the challenge of museums’ interpretation of religion. Mid-Antrim is regarded as the spark for the spread of the revival in Ulster and beyond, and I am informed that the museum’s collection includes a number of objects that relate directly to the revival, notably the pulpit associated with Ballymacvea Gospel Hall and Jeremiah Meneely. He was one of the young men who were closely associated with the revival’s origins in Kells and was also referred to by Danny Kennedy.
The Mid-Antrim Museum’s exhibition will include material on the revival and other objects that reflect local religious traditions. The exhibition will be augmented by items that have been loaned from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, which holds a remarkable collection of rare religious books and manuscripts from across the world. A key aim of the exhibition is to promote greater awareness of cultural diversity and religious issues in contemporary society. In that context, it aims to support good relations in mid-Antrim and the wider community.
It is up to local museums and libraries to decide what historical exhibitions they stage. However, I urge those institutions not to miss a great opportunity to inform the public by promoting an important aspect of our culture and heritage. I also suggest that anyone who wishes to commemorate the revival should contact their local museums and libraries to establish what information is available and what can be done.
I warmly welcome the debate, the participation of Members and the exhibition that will be held next year. It is a fine example of a local museum carrying out its mandate of developing a local issue and staging an exhibition that can draw people from outside the area into the debate. I hope that other local museums and libraries in Northern Ireland become involved.
The legacy of the 1859 revival is that the Christian values that were promulgated remain relevant today. They are reflected in the way in which people treat one another and in the new immigrants who have chosen to live in our community. It is in everyone’s interest not to lose sight of such a monumental and historic event. When they are attributed to a religious revival, society as a whole must warmly welcome reductions in crime and in disputes in the home or in society.
I find it astonishing that the only Member who is an authority on the 1859 revival, Rev Bob Coulter, has not spoken. Previously, he has not only spoken but written on the revival. It is inexplicable that, having been in the Chamber, he was not able to speak. I am sure that the Ulster Unionist Party could have found a slot for a man of his ability to have spoken during the debate.
Had he been able to stay, I would have taken an intervention from Rev Coulter.
The debate’s recurring theme has been the profound influence on Ulster society of the 1859 revival. Its influences can be seen to this day in the form of churches, in the fact that Northern Ireland has a much higher number of evangelical Christians than many other parts of the world, and in the fact that Northern Ireland society holds higher moral values on many issues than the rest of the United Kingdom. An obvious case is the 1967 Abortion Act, which was not extended to Northern Ireland because of that difference in moral principles, many of which stem from the 1859 revival.
I congratulate Mr Simpson on his excellent introduction to the debate. He praised the work of the Caleb Foundation and, in common with other Members, he described the influence of the 1859 revival on his constituency and beyond. Members heard examples from Limavady, Coleraine, Londonderry, mid-Ulster, north Armagh, east Antrim and County Down. Members have described the enormous impact of a movement that changed the lives of 100,000 people and, in many aspects, Northern Ireland’s history; as well as extending its influence much further, into North America and the rest of the UK. Mr Simpson also spoke about the resultant huge drop in crime and the decline in drunkenness. Today’s Northern Ireland needs another revival that will create a similar trend, because society is breaking down radically because of the unwinding of the influence of the 1859 revival.
In a very brief contribution, Mr Brolly welcomed the motion and said that the best way forward was to reinforce interest in spiritual lives. Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with him.
Mr McNarry made the useful point that it is 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his theses on the door of Wittenberg Church. That is also important to remember — there is a coming together of two important historical events that affected the lives of almost everyone in Northern Ireland. Mr McNarry made a valid and important point when he said that the 1859 revival was the most important spiritual awakening in Ulster since the days of St Patrick.
I was surprised at the comments of Mr Pat Ramsey the honourable Member for Foyle because he is one of the good guys — one of the few good guys in the SDLP. [Laughter.] I have worked well with Pat on many important issues — yet he tried to pour cold water on the debate and dampen support for the commemoration. I, unquestionably, expect that from his colleague Mr Dallat. [Laughter.]
Unlike others, I am prepared to let Mr Dallat intervene if he wishes to defend himself. However, to compare the 1859 revival with the civil rights movement is totally unfair. The Member must admit that the civil rights movement was not religious and that it had totally different connotations for the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure that Pat Ramsey will reflect and repent on what he said today.
If I was surprised by Mr Ramsey’s comments, I was shocked by those of Mr Ford. He said that there were some negative aspects of the 1859 revival, and the only phrase that he could come up with was mass hysteria. The revival was not about mass hysteria — it was about thousands of people whose lives were blighted by sin, drunkenness, profanity and immorality, turning to the Christian way and living sober, upright lives. What is the downside of that? That is what is needed in today’s society. I am surprised that Mr Ford did not stay in the Chamber to hear my criticism, as I forewarned him of it.
The Member for Upper Bann Mr Moutray highlighted the profound influence of the revival on Upper Bann, Lurgan and Portadown. It was extraordinary that antisocial behaviour declined dramatically, and there were no court cases relating to such behaviour in Londonderry and Carrickfergus.
Mr Storey was more parochial and stated the importance of the revival in his constituency of North Antrim. In fact, the 1859 revival was based on the fervent prayers of a small group of people meeting in Kells and Connor, which are in the honourable Member’s constituency. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those people. They changed lives forever.
Mr Kennedy mentioned Martin Luther King and gave us an interesting and useful definition of revival. He spoke about the revival’s profound impact on south Armagh, Newtownhamilton and Bessbrook. He made the valid point that revival does not start in society or in institutions; it starts in the hearts of individuals who recognise their sinful condition. His was a positive, useful contribution. He also mentioned the fact that churches in his area were so crammed that new churches had to be built. That indicates the sheer scale of the revival.
George Robinson — never one to miss a chance to be parochial — mentioned Limavady and Garvagh, but I must point out that the revival went beyond his constituency. However, it certainly made a profound impact on East Londonderry.
Ian Paisley Jnr was rightly critical of Members who tried to pour scorn on the motion. He mentioned the importance of Broughshane and the effect of the revival on that small community. To this day, there are many godly people in that village, and that can be traced back to 1859.
There are people alive in Northern Ireland today who knew people who were involved in the 1859 revival. The revival did not happen that long ago — elderly people in our Province can still recall meeting people who were caught up in it.
It has been a very measured and useful debate. I understand that the Department cannot fund events, and I respect that. However, if organisations come up with interesting ideas for events, they should be able to apply for funding from DCAL.
I would like to add to Ian Paisley Jnr’s point and make a couple of suggestions of my own. The idea of producing a stamp to commemorate the 1859 revival is excellent, and it should be put to Royal Mail immediately, because the lead time on such issues is quite lengthy.
A special service of thanksgiving could also be considered in some suitable locality, such as Broughshane, Straid, Kells or Connor, on the appropriate date to commemorate this important event. A Member to my left has just suggested that Coleraine town hall would be an appropriate venue for holding such an event. Queen’s University or the University of Ulster could host an academic conference on the effect of the 1859 revival on society. The experts could then convince the Mr Ramseys and Mr Fords of this world that the 1859 revival was a good thing. It was good for society, and we can trace its influence over the past 150 years.
Perhaps commemorative plaques could be affixed to properties associated with the revival. I understand that the house in which the first series of prayer meetings was held has, unfortunately, been demolished, but the original church is still there. Perhaps the Minister should erect plaques to commemorate the first meetings. A book to commemorate the revival and to update our understanding and knowledge of the important event could also be considered.
I wish to thank the honourable Members for their contributions. Unfortunately, I do not have time to comment on the views expressed by Rev William McCrea and his son Ian. This debate has been useful. Let us hope that it will stimulate our society to commemorate, rightly, this important event, and maybe Mr Ramsey and Mr Ford will cut the ribbon of the opening exhibition.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes that 2009 will mark the 150th anniversary of the 1859 Revival; acknowledges the positive contribution made by the Revival to society; recognises that the positive impact of the Revival is still felt today; and calls upon the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to mark this anniversary during 2009.