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Banagher: A goodly heritage

The Reverend Robert Rodgers


Robert L. Rodgers appears as a student for the ministry of the Presbytery of Derry in 1838. Each student for the ministry has a final piece of trial in the form of a dissertation delivered at Presbytery before he is Licensed to preach. Mr Rodgers piece was entitled, “The Steam Engine”. This novel subject was topical in its day. The first railway in Ireland was the Dublin – Kingstown line in 1834. The Belfast – Lisburn line was completed in 1839. There was strong opposition to the advent of the Steam Engine from both the Church and the landed gentry. It was alleged that the belching smoke would be most harmful to birds and the sparks flying from the furnaces would be a fire hazard. The Presbytery of Belfast said that the Steam Engine would contribute to an increase in vice by Sunday travel. One orator was inspired to exclaim, “Every sound of the Railway whistle is answered by a shout in hell”.


We don’t know which line Robert Rodgers adopted at Presbytery or how persuasive his oratory was but it didn’t prevent the Railway reaching Coleraine in 1855 and Londonderry five years later.


Mr Rodgers married a daughter of Matthew Robinson of Mulderg. In a visitation of Presbytery in 1852 we find that 212 families were connected with Banagher, that 270 were present at the Lord’s Supper, that the Stipend was £40 and that the Sabbath Day collections averaged 2/6d.


The year 1859 has become known as the ‘Year of Grace’ because of the mighty religious revival which changed the face of Church life in Ireland and touching all the denominations. It was reported at the General Assembly of our Church in 1860 that 10,000 new members had joined the Church within the year. Not surprisingly, Banagher experienced the special grace of God which was sweeping the land for plans were made for the erection of a Gallery in the Church to accommodate the increased numbers wishing to attend Public Worship. The Fishmongers Company agreed to donate £163 to cover the cost of the Gallery which was made in 1860 on condition that the £400 already approved for the building of the Manse should be proceeded with. In the Fishmongers records reference is made to the unsuitability of the old Manse that then existed, ‘Although it is good enough for a farm it is not good enough for one who as a minister ranks with gentlemen’. The Congregation responded to the spur and the present Manse was erected about 1865 and the architectural style is described as Tudor-Gothic.


The Reverend Robert L. Rodgers died in 1879 aged 63 and was buried in the Churchyard newly acquired from the Fishmongers Company in 1877. He was succeeded by the Reverend W. J. D. Williamson in 1880. Mr Williamson had been ordained in Staleybridge England in 1870 and removed from there to Irvinestown and again to Buncrana from where he came to Banagher. Mr Williamson received the call to Banagher in the face of stiff opposition when it is realised that two of the rejected candidates on the list later became Moderators of the General Assembly.

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