The Ulster Revival began near Ballymena in 1857 and over the following two years reported one hundred thousand conversions, not ten thousand as I incorrectly noted in the previous blog. The more I read into this religious and social upheaval, the more I realised I had underestimated its influence on lives of my father and his family, and indeed on my own. One hundred and fifty years later an upbringing in the Presbyterian church still resonates with this revival. This story, in two parts, could be that of Robert McWilliams, my Great Grandfather born in 1822 and who died around 1906.
“In the year of 1858, all that time ago, at a prayer meeting in Connor of a Saturday evening, a saw the Light, was saved by the Grace of God. A changed man a was, many didnay believe it. At the start of that year the Master a was workin tay said he’d give me one more chance, told me if a went to those meetings in Connor maybe they would turn me around, cause he coundnay. A took his word and a wheen of us went down tay Connor one fine Saturday afternoon in December. A year later a was born again in Jesus, ma terrible sins all washed away.
On a wee farm a land near Glarryford there were nine of us born and reared, more an two hours walk from the town. A wet patch of ground where the flood would oft come up tay the house. We were workin as soon as we able, some going tay the weavin, an always plenty a food on the table for young an old. A good Christian family we were. But a got one scutch on the ear too many from Daddy and cut out for the town on me own, way nothing but the clothes a was standin in. A had a fierce temper then, an no respect. But a felt a was well able tay look after maself, went tay Ballymena an took the first job a was offered. A was big and strong, any work was easy and a always had pennies in ma pocket.
A had no interest in God or any church an was soon dallyin way Kathleen, a wee catholic girl, she worked in the kitchen up in the Castle. We were well got up tagether, livin as man an wife, in the wee room we had in Bridge Street. When I think on it now, the Devil blindin me tay ma sins.
When she left tay go home tay Moneyglass a sore missed ma family. Afore long a started runnin after the wee still, anywhere a could find it. Of a fair day there be nay work atall and likely none the next either. Daddy sent ones after me, but they had no say over me. A was committin sins then a donay want tay think about in this life, or the next. An then the Master put it up to me and by the Grace of God a found salvation in that house in Connor.
In the Connor School House a met the Reverend Moore and first converts who were taking Bible study and prayin, about thirty of us all tagether. They told us tay read the Bible, see the truth of it ourselves, an pray that Jesus would save sinners like us from Hell’s eternal fires. It was like they were talkin just tay me that day, a felt ma heart swell, beatin in ma chest, and a knew a had come tay the right place. James, one of the converts, said he would teach me how to read. He showed me the words and gave me the understandin of it. A held the Holy Book in ma rough hands that night, a grown man tryin hard tay stop frae shakin.
A was soon able to read a few words, an in no time a could read the first verses from John Chapter 3. James stood me up at one of the prayer meetings, a read a few verses, everyone listenin, tay me – a drunkard, a fornicator, a terrible sinner.
‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
Ma head was spinnin when a sat down, the crowd murmurin “Praise the Lord”, a’ll never forget it tay ma dyin day.
When the Spring came prayer meetings and bible studies were goin on all day and night. In the school house, in the church, in folks houses, and sometimes in barns or outside. Those uns already saved were takin the meetins. They hadnay much learnin themselves but they all knew their Bible. The ones with big strong voices did the best preachin, a think. Boys a dear, what nights there were, sometimes a didnay get home tay near dawn.”
Concludes next blog.