A new church
In the Archives of the Fishmongers Company, London, there is recorded a report of a deputation which surveyed the Estates of the Company in 1820: “The Presbyterian Meeting Houses of Ballykelly and Ballyhanedin are both in so wretched a state of repair as to be scarce fit for the Celebration of Divine Worship, or safe for the Congregation to assemble in. They are full of hope that their good landlords will assist them to repair, but considering the probable expense and the bad construction of both buildings it will certainly be more admirable to rebuild”.
The decision of the Court very generously favoured erecting two magnificent Church buildings, substantial and in the Classical Greek style. The sandstone dressings were quarried in Dungiven. The cost of Banagher was approved at £2,200 and was built over a period of three summers and completed in 1834. Ballykelly was completed two years later.
Mr Ellison was ordained by the Reverend John Mitchell then minister of 1st Londonderry. Before that Mr Mitchell served the congregation of Scriggan in the district of Camnish outside Dungiven. The Nationalist community of Dungiven are proud of that connection for it was the Reverend John Mitchell’s son John, born in Scriggan Manse who was so active in the Young Ireland movement in the mid-nineteenth century becoming a hero in that tradition. The Reverend John Mitchell was born in the Mitchell house at Killycorr within our Parish boundary.
The Presbytery of Derry’s first visit to Banagher was in 1826. We learn from this visit that public worship in Banagher begins each Sabbath at 12 noon and ends at 5.00 pm. The stipend paid to the minister was £57, there were 250 families connected with the congregation and 300 communicants.
Mr Ellison became known as an energetic farmer endowed with homespun wisdom. A saying of his that was remembered is: ‘A laying hen is better than an idle horse’. He died at the age of 48 in 1847 after falling heavily on his shoulder while tying a load of flax on a cart.
Mr Ellison’s successor was the Reverend Robert L. Rodgers of Carndonagh installed by the Presbytery of Glendermott in 1847. Mr Rodgers’ father suffered the indignity of being erased from the list of the Presbytery of Derry when a Licentiate for the Ministry along with another Licentiate called John Pinkerton and the Reverend Robert Steel of Scriggan because of their alleged involvement in the 1798 uprising of United Irishmen against British rule. The Reverend James Porter, minister of Greyabbey was not so fortunate for he was hanged on a scaffold erected midway between his manse and the meeting House and died on 2nd July 1798 at the age of 45. He had been falsely accused of robbing a postal car. His real crime was his satiristic articles under the nom-de-plume ‘Billy Bluff’ which greatly offended Lord Londonderry, the neighbouring landlord. Mr Porter is the great, great, great grandfather of Mr Alex Miller of Millbrook whose family have been connected with Banagher for generations.