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Ballygawley Presbyterian Church & Graveyard, Errigal Keerogue Parish, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland: History & Description

Including photos of church & graveyard
Submitted by Annie Crenshaw
-- crenshawannie[at]


This file of the Ballygawley Presbyterian Church & Graveyard, Errigal Keerogue Parish, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland: History & Description forms part of the vast archive of 3,000+ pages of genealogical records relating to COUNTIES TYRONE, DONEGAL, LONDONDERRY & FERMANAGH provided without charge or subscription by CoTyroneIreland Welcome to the Premier Website & Research Tool for Cos. Tyrone, Donegal, Londonderry & Fermanagh Genealogy. A complete list of records pertaining to County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on this website can be found at the foot of this file.


Ballygawley Presbyterian Church - all photos courtesy of Annie Crenshaw taken 2006

Ballygawley's Presbyterian congregation was originally part of the older Presbyterian charge at Aughnacloy, which had been established in the 18th century. A Presbyterian church, or "meeting house," as that denomination called their houses of worship, was known to have been built at Aughnacloy in 1743. It was replaced by later structures over the years, but the town still has a Presbyterian church and congregation today. Surviving registers of the Aughnacloy church only date back to 1812, but ministers faithfully recorded entries in those early years for "the congregation of Aughnacloy and Ballygawley" and "the United Congregation of Aughnacloy and Balligawley."

The linen industry gave many areas of County Tyrone an economic boom that's reflected in population numbers. In 1813, there were 96 houses in Ballygawley village, and in 1816, the total had increased to 151 houses. The 1821 census listed a population of 745. Ten years later with the 1831 census, the village had 972 inhabitants.

By 1827, Ballygawley had 26 Presbyterian households. Even if each household had only 3 people, that would be 78 individuals – and some families had a dozen or more members. After nearly seven decades of traveling six miles to and from Aughnacloy to attend religious services and register life events, Ballygawley's Presbyterian families wanted a place of worship nearer to their homes. They asked to split from the parent congregation, and finally a meeting house was built in their own village about six miles northwest of Aughnacloy.

In 1817, the local clergyman and historian, Rev. John Kelly Groves, wrote a chapter on "Errigall-Keroge" parish for William Shaw Mason's government-sponsored work: "A Statistical Account, Or Parochial Survey of Ireland." The Reverend Groves described Ballygawley's Presbyterian church: "The walls of a new Meetinghouse have been erected in Ballygawley, but they seem to be on too large a scale, as they have remained some time uncovered." Finally completed and roofed about 1820, this was the first Presbyterian church built in Kerog parish, as Errigal Keerogue parish was anciently known.

In 1829, Ballygawley's Presbyterian congregation was officially separated from Aughnacloy, and each became a separate charge. When County Tyrone was surveyed in 1833-1837 for "The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland," the officer wrote about Errigal Keerogue parish: "Presbyterian Meeting House - A square plain building and not the slightest ornament." He also recorded: "Townland Ballygawley: a Presbyterian meeting house, a corn mill and brewery. Townlands have been set off for a perpetual cure and a church [Church of Ireland] recently built in the adjacent townland Richmond, close to the town."

Samuel Lewis, in "A Topographical Dictionary Of Ireland" (1837), described Ballygawley: "This district was constituted a parish in 1830, by an order of council ... when eighteen townlands were separated from the parish of Errigal-Kerogue, in the barony of Clogher, and twelve from that of Carrenteel, in the barony of Dungannon, and formed into the parish of Ballygawley... The living is a perpetual curacy [of the Church of Ireland], in the diocese of Armagh, and in the alternate patronage of the Rectors of Errigal-Kerogue and Carrenteel... The church [of Ireland] is a small but handsome edifice, in the later English style... There is a place of worship in the town for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the third class; also a Baptist meeting-house in the parish."

In "Memoirs of Ballygawley - Local History Group Talks, 1998 to 2003," written by Eugene McSorley and edited by his wife Eilish McSorley and Jack Johnston, the author gave these details about Ballygawley's Presbyterian churches: "The Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in earlier years were known as meeting houses, and this is probably the source of the name – Meetinghouse Street – now Church Street. Dr. Gillespie had said that the earlier Presbyterian Church was outside the town about a mile on the Aughnacloy road. It should be remembered that in earlier times Ballygawley and Aughnacloy were a united charge, and were known as Aghaloo Congregation. This harkens back to the Old Church of Ireland site at Rouskey. The present Presbyterian church dates from 1887."

The "Old Church of Ireland site at Rouskey" was an ancient burial ground for residents of Carnteel and Aghaloo parishes long before the area's different denominational churches and graveyards existed. Another early communal burial place was the Church of Ireland graveyard at Ballynasaggart (St. Matthew's), an historic area extensively researched and beautifully described by the Reverend Brett Ingram in his book, "Ulsterheart: An Ancient Irish Habitation."

Ballygawley's surviving Presbyterian registers begin in 1842, with births/baptisms and marriages. Presbyterian ministers, including Ballygawley's, didn't usually record deaths and burials as was commonly done by Church of Ireland clergymen. However, the deaths of Ballygawley congregation members were recorded for several decades beginning in the 1870s. Townland residences of individuals were carefully recorded, with burial places including: "Here" (Ballygawley, the predominant location) - "B'saggart" (Ballynasaggart) - "Aghaloo" (the ancient Aghaloo burial site at Rooskey) - "A'cloy" or "Augh." (Aughnacloy). In many cases, individuals were being buried where their parents, grandparents and other early ancestors had been interred.

In Ballygawley Presbyterian Churchyard today, there are elaborate as well as plain older headstones. Brightly-lettered grave markers have been erected for recent burials, and modern stones have occasionally replaced older markers, with the addition of later family deaths in the inscriptions. A number of older headstones have been moved from their original locations and leaned against the hedge bordering the graveyard. We also see family burial plots with only curbing and a surname, or with no identifying features at all. These are the congregation's original burial sites, where multiple interments continued for generations. With later 19th century burials, we can search civil death registrations, family documents, probate calendars, newspaper notices and other records to try to identify what individuals may be buried in unmarked plots; but the silent patches of grass or gravel in totally unmarked spaces cannot reveal names and dates.

The churches and graveyards of County Tyrone, as in all of Ireland, are an important part of our heritage. They bear witness to the lives of our ancestors who remained in the homeland of their birth, while sending many of their sons and daughters to faraway locations, generation after generation. We should remember and be grateful for their experiences and achievements, and preserve their burial places for future generations to visit.

IN MEMORIAM / Robert Busby / of Craveney Scotch / who died 26th June 1873 / aged 104 years. / His son / James Busby / of same place / who died 2nd March 1868 / aged 45 years / also his son / William Busby / of Ballygawley, / (by whose orders this stone / was erected) / who died 12th January 1892, / aged 85 years. / also his wife / Eliza Busby / who died 9th October 1857, / aged 56 years.

Erected / by / Wm. J. WIGHAM / in loving memory of / JOHN WIGHAM, Annaloughey / who died 19th Oct. 1859, / aged 26 years. / ANNIE WIGHAM, Loughpark, / who died 19th July 1881 / aged 73 years / ANDREW WIGHAM, who died / 1st Feb. 1885, / aged 74 years. / ROBERT WIGHAM, who died / 16th January 1897, aged 67 years / MARY WIGHAM, who died / 19th April 1904, aged 72 years / The above Wm. J. WIGHAM / who died 20th Feb. 1906 / ANDREW WIGHAM / died 16th March 1907 / ELIZABETH WIGHAM / died 3rd Sep. 1909 / MARGARET WIGHAM / died 29th March 1929 / JOHN WIGHAM / died 16th Sep. 1949 / ANNIE ELIZABETH WIGHAM / died 15th (16th?) Nov. 1957
In loving memory of / William J. called home 18th March 1986 aged 72 / His wife Margaret (Gretta) / called home 18th August 2002 aged 80
[N.B.- "Annaloughey" is a frequent local misspelling of Armaloughey/Ardmaloughey Townland]

In / Memory Of / ARCHD HADDEN, Cavankilgreen / Died 26 October 1884 Aged 83 / His Wife MARY J. / Died 4 May 1864 Aged 43 / Their Son THOMAS J. / Died 6 June 1869 / Their Son JOSEPH, Lisbeg / Died 26 December 1906 Aged 53 / Their Grandson JOHN / Died 21 September 1887 Aged 8 / And Great Grand-Daughter IZA / Died 18 June 1938 Aged 22 / ISABELLA, Wife of JOSEPH / Died 9 January 1942 Aged 88 / Their Grandson WILLIAM JAMES / Died 22 June 1963 Aged 87 / His Wife ANNIE / Died 12 August 1957 / ARCHD IRWIN HADDEN / Died 30 April 1968 Aged 87 / His Wife CHRISTINA / Died 14 March 1969 Aged 76 / MARGARET, Wife of WILLIAM JOSEPH / Died 20 February 1966 / And WILLIAM JOSEPH / Died 19 January 1999 Aged 85
[added later, not appearing in this photo: His Wife EVELYN / Died 12 January 2011 / Aged 94]

Further Errigal Keerogue Parish records can be viewed here:

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