Early Developments in Ireland

In 1644 the Solemn League and Covenant was brought to Ireland and subscribed to by many thousands in areas where the Scottish presence was strongest. In the 1640s and 1650s many Presbyterian ministers who held to the Covenants were appointed to parishes in Ireland. In 1661, nearly all of these ministers were dismissed from their positions on their refusal to conform to the episcopal form of church government. Most of them continued in their respective localities, ministering to their congregations, despite, on occasion, considerable state opposition.

By the later part of the seventeenth century a majority of Presbyterians in Ireland had come to a position on the Covenants which could be described as ‘respectful remembrance’. That is, they believed that the Covenants had been important documents, but were no longer perpetually binding on them or their descendants. On the other hand, a minority of Presbyterians continued to believe in the continuing obligation of the Covenants and from them today’s Irish Covenanters or Reformed Presbyterians descend.

Many individuals and families from Scotland had found refuge in the north of Ireland during the Killing Times, strengthening numerically the position of the Covenanters on the island. Among the refugees was Alexander Peden who has associations with a number of places in Ulster, but most especially with the Glenwherry district of County Antrim. Another individual of importance in the Covenanter story in the late seventeenth century was the Rev. David Houston. His ministry to Irish Covenanters, which seems to have been mainly focused on Antrim and Down, ended in 1696.