Held from 16 to 21 September 2013, this was a family history conference with a difference. The conference was themed ‘Return to the Cradle of Irish Presbyterianism’ in recognition of the fact that 2013 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival in Ireland of the first Scottish Presbyterian minister – Rev. Edward Brice.

Over the six days of the conference delegates from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were able to explore the history of Ulster first-hand through excursions to some of the province’s most historic sites and had the opportunity to carry out their own personal research into their Ulster ancestors at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Visits were arranged to sites of immense importance in the history of Irish Presbyterianism including Ballycarry (where Edward Brice settled in 1613), the Sixmilewater Valley (scene of a religious revival in the 1620s), Groomsport (associated with the Eagle Wing, which set sail for America in 1636), and Ramelton (which has associations with Francis Makemie, regarded as the father of the Presbyterian Church in the United States).

Return to the Cradle of Irish Presbyterianism group

The week began in Assembly Buildings, the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, with a welcome from the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, followed by a programme of morning talks delivered by Valerie Adams (Librarian & Arcvhivist of the Presbyterian Historical Society, well-known Scottish author, historian and genealogist Dr Bruce Durie, and Drs Brian Lambkin and Paddy Fitzgerald of the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies.

We travelled to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in the afternoon for registration and familiarisation and here Dr Durie delivered a lecture on DNA and genealogy. In the evening we visited Union Theological College, Belfast, for a meal and tour, followed by talks by Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick and Dr Andrew Holmes.

Tuesday morning and afternoon were spent in PRONI, with a lunchtime lecture by Dr Robert Armstrong on Ulster Presbyterianism’s first historians, while we had an evening visit to Sentry Hill House. On Wednesday we visited Ballycarry (where our guide was Rev. Dr John Nelson), Carrickfergus, the Sixmilewater Valley and Kellswater Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Early on Thursday morning we visited Rosemary Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast before heading back to PRONI for the rest of the morning and afternoon. That evening we travelled just outside Belfast to Drumbo Presbyterian Church.

On Friday Mark Thompson led us on a tour of sites in North Down and the Ards with stops at Holywood, Bangor, Groomsport, Donaghadee, Ballywalter, Greyabbey, Newtownards and Killyleagh. Finally, the week was rounded off with an excursion to Derry and Donega, where we had the opportunity to visit First Derry Presbyterian Church, the Monreagh Heritage Centre and the picturesque town of Ramelton.

Cradle Flyer