The Ulster Revival – 2

The second and concluding half of the story of the repentant Robert set during The Ulster Revival.

James McQuilkin, one of the first converts at Connor, Co Antrim.

“By harvest time a had seen many fall down, the preacher takin them up as new men and wemen, born again in Jesus. But some had tay be carried away we little sense about them. A saw a few baduns amongst them too a must say, as well as a papist or two. A was holdin back then, not takin ma final step, a suppose the Devil was still whisperin that a was alright, tay thole it a while longer.

One stormy night after the harvest was in, an like ma first prayer meetin, I felt the Preacher lookin straight at me. I started to sweat, ma clothes itchin on me.  A heard him say loudly and slowly

“The Holy Spirit’s talkin to you and you alone! Jesus or the fires of Hell? You must decide! There’s no other way. This could be your last chance. You might never hear these words again.”

His hand came down on the big Bible way a slap.

“The Holy Spirit’s chosen you! Now’s your time!” and bowing his head he finally says.

“Let us pray together, for the lost souls, that they come to Jesus tonight.”

A chatter a voices filled in the room.

“A’m a poor sinner. Save me. Save me” a hear maself say. A feel a light above me, the heat is awful.

“A’m a poor sinner! Save me Jesus! Save me!” a called out.

Around me amid the babble I hear shouts of “Praise the Lord” “The Lord’s working.” and other voices a canay fathom.

A’m on ma knees afore the preacher ma forehead and arms on the cold earth floor, his arms out above me like the Archangel Gabriel. Tears are flowin freely as I feel the light of Holy Spirit and see the waitin arms of Jesus.

Someone helps me tay ma feet. The Preacher wipes ma tears away with the flats of his hands.

‘Do you repent your worldly sins brother?’

‘A do. A do.’ A say, catchin ma breath.

‘Will you follow Jesus tay the ends of the earth?’

‘A will, a belong tay Jesus.’

‘Your every sin is washed away by Jesus’ blood. Robert, join us, the Saved, Happy in Jesus. By the grace of God you’ve been touched by the work o the Holy Spirit.’ He said and moved on to others and a didnay hear him anymore.

A think am sobbin like a baby as hands touched ma shoulder and ma head, then it’s James way his arms around me.

‘Welcome Robert, into the fold where you belong.’

About twenty of us were saved that night, and many more after. We were full o our new lives, excited an joyful, ready tay praise God.  Some took the prayer meetins but a wasnay cut out for it. A helped out and witnessed ma life’s story and conversion as often as a could.

 A heard that not all the clergy were for The Revival, but none preached agin it, in the Presbyterian churches anyway. They didnay like the strange happenings, the fainting and the like, but that was God and the Holy Spirit workin among us. I heard too that some of them spoke out agin the few women preachers we had and some even suggestin to raise the black man to a higher station than God intended.

West Church Presbyterian Church, Ballymena completed 1863. (Ballymena Old Photos, facebook)

A was a Christian man after that, nere backsliding. An a joined with ma family again. When the Revival spread to Ballymena there was a great excitement, folks meetin everywhere, even in the streets we many youngsters among them. Thousands more were born again in the Lord Jesus. The old churches couldnay hold them all, an in 59 a helped build Ballymena’s new West Church. And a was witnessin whenever a could at some of the hundreds of meetins goin on at the time.

The Lord was good to me and a was never short of a day’s work again. A met a young Christian woman, Eliza from ma homeplace, and we were married in 1867. Although a was getting on in years by then we had four fine children. God blessed our union. They were raised in the strict Christian faith.  Way us, they kept the Sabbath day and went tay Sabbath school, and way all had regular Bible study and prayed together often. Every one of them grew up to have a trade, so they wouldnay end up a day labourer the likes a me. This town values their trades, with honest work and effort, for it is the will of God too.

A hope you hear, and heed this story of an old man, a lost sinner who repented and earned the rewards of a life with Jesus.”



1.  Robert McWilliams was born in 1822 died about 1906. He was a widower of about 45 years when he married Eliza Bamber, aged 25. Both were from Kildowney, Glarryford, 5 ½ miles north west of Ballymena. In 1901 the family were living at 8 Alexander Street in Ballymena.

2. The Ulster Awakening, John Weir, published 1860. A contemporary and sympathetic view of The Revival, with many eyewitness reports.

3. A pictorial History of 1859 Revival, Stanley Barnes, Ambassador Publications, 2008.

4. The 1859 revival and its enemies: opposition to religious revivalism within Ulster Presbyterianism, Daniel Richie, 2016

5.  Medicine and religion: on the physical and mental disorders that accompanied the Ulster Revival of 1859, James G. Donat, published in The Anatomy of Madness, Essays in the History of Psychiatry, ed. Bynum, Porter and Sepherd, Vol III, first published 1988. Donat refers to The Lancet’s response to the Revival: “The Lancet saw no redeeming features in the movement, viewing it instead as an exercise in ‘fanaticism’ and the direct cause of an epidemical outbreak of disease.” Concluding, Donat says that “For the former (the critics, smcw) all cases of ‘religious excitement’ were indicative of faulty religion. And the latter (the apologists, smcw) were obliged to accept the fact that the Ulster Revival did have a few serious mental casualties.”

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