Presbyterians began to come from Scotland to the Ballybay area of County Monaghan from about the year 1690. In 1748 the Rev Thomas Clark was sent to minister to the first Seceder Congregation in the County. He established the Ballybay New Erection, later known as Cahans and built a small church there in 1751.
Clark was a striking and energetic figure with a charismatic personality. He had a good knowledge of medicine and was an ex-soldier. He was jailed on several occasions for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance, by kissing the bible, but undaunted, he preformed christenings, and marriages in the jail, and became well known for preaching to the people on the outside through the window of his cell.
Following the death of his wife and one of his children, Clark began to contemplate emigration. In 1764, he led 300 members of his congregation from Ballybay, across country to Newry, where they boarded the sailing ship ‘The John’ bound for New York. Robert Harper of Ballybay, who had emigrated a few years earlier and was a professor of Mathematics in New York. helped the emigrants to get established, negotiating the land on which they finally settled.
As previously stated, they sailed under the leadership of their Pastor, Reverend Doctor Thomas Clark. By 1767 the majority of the emigrants had settled on farmland acquired for them in New Perth, a town which changed its name after 1788 to Salem, New York. The remainder put down roots around Abbeville, South Carolina and established churches at Little Run, Long Cane and Cedar Creek.
It is always of interest to consider the intentions of these 300 families, who left their native land in search of religious and civil freedom. They were one of a number of such Presbyterian groups that left Ireland at that time, as they were dissatisfied at the situation with the established Church in Ireland, where they had to pay an annual stipend to support ther Established Church, on top of their contributions to support their own preachers.
One interesting fact, buried in the midst of this fascinating story, is the number of Gaelic speaking Roman Catholics who became Presbyterians, after discovering that most lowland Scots were bilingual in Gaelic and Ulster Scots and consequentially there was an element of intermarriage and of children attending Presbyterian schools, where they received a basic education. We already know that, at this time in our history most rural Freemasons were Roman Catholic, although a good number of Presbyterians followed them into the Order. These were the men who either emigrated to The New World, or who involved themselves in The Volunteer Movement, which had, as a major goal, the freeing of commercial trade between Ireland and England, the removal of The Test Act and the freedom for Catholics to become land owners, serve in the military and judiciary.
The Old Church at Cahans, still stands, in mute testiment to the many religious difficulties over the past two hundred years. It is now playing an important part in celebrating the cultural diversity across the County of Monaghan, and fund raising is underway in an effort to build a cross community centre, where all can meet on the Level and by the Square.
One such fund raising initiative, commemorating The Cahans Exodus, while looking to develop a multi-cultural centre is The Cahans Walk. This is an initiative where participants have the opportunity to relive the walk across country from Ballybay to Newry. This sponsered walk will take place over four days as follows :-
15th June 2012 walk starts at Cahans and will finish at Annyalla.
16th June 2012 walk starts at Annyalla and will finish at Newtownhamilton.
22nd June 2012 walk starts at Newtownhamilton and will finish at Bessbrook.
23rd June 2012 walk will start at Bessbrook and will finish at Narrow Water.
Brethren, a few of our members from Monaghan, will be giving their support to this initiative and we wish them all every success in this venture. I’m reminded of St Patrick’s blessing, which puts it much better than I could.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,And until we meet again
May God hold You in the hollow of His hand.