Our Revival peters out.

My family’s connection to the Ulster Revival continued down another generation as I recall my father, Tommy McWilliams and his travels with an old brown suitcase.  

My father, Tommy McWilliams circa 1995.

A large brown battered suitcase appeared to follow us each time we moved house in Ballymena. It was too large and heavy to be of any use to us and lay under a spare bed, rummaged during spells of boredom. The solid clunk of the rusting clasps released the lid with its musty smell, inside there were never any surprises. Over the years the books, tracts and handwritten notes became jumbled, aging in the darkness. Some forty years after its first outing, my father’s case was dumped, a few mementos saved.

As a young man of about thirty Tommy carried the heavy case to villages in Scotland and Ireland. His mission was simple “by all means to reach the lost for Christ”, and he had been taught to “live by faith” and put his “trust in God to provide the necessary resources”.

A leaflet from the brown suitcase, Tommy listed as a speaker at a Faith Mission conference.

Since its formation after the Christian Revivals of the mid-1800s The Faith Mission had organised summertime tent missions. Tommy led some of these services, took bible study and welcomed those willing to commit to their lives to God. His rich tenor voice leading the hymn singing perhaps turned as many heads as his preaching.

Opposition came as a surprise to him, something he had not experienced in his native mid-Antrim and the hostility eventually wore him down. He had a change of heart, or at least a softening of his spiritual mission, and returned home.

Back in Ballymena he began an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic at Moore’s Garage, but left shortly afterwards; the experience put him off tinkering with cars for the rest of his life. He found a vocation as a bread man with Morton and Simpson’s Bakery where fresh bread and his warm personality found a welcome among communities on either side of the River Bann, in Antrim and Derry.

His Wellington Street Church elected him as an Elder, a Christian counsellor to the congregation, in 1951, a role he retained until he retired to Co Leitrim in the late seventies.

One summer Sunday evening I am in church with him, the warm sun slanting through the church’s large plain windows and across the half empty pews. We stood to sing, his mellow tenor voice soaring above the worshippers, through the melancholy of the evening; he too was soaring, fulfilled, without doubt.

Unlike him I would not continue the legacy of the Ulster Revival. Not then, beside him in the church that evening, but after a few years as a leader in various church groups when increasing doubt would set me on the path of the unbeliever.

Tommy as his Princess Street home circa 1950.

If Tommy the missionary, the church elder, portrayed his serious side, Tommy the joker was never too far away. Even as a child he would regularly fool his sisters into mischief, while entertaining with pranks and impressions. The photograph of his mimic from a scene in a Laurel and Hardy film, at his Princess Street home is typical, funny and a little scary. While it was likely he used these skills at his mission meetings, the big brown case divulged no such secrets.


The next blog is a short story based on my father’s travels to Ballachulish, in Scottish Gaelic,  Baile a’ Chaolais or “Village of the narrows”. It is pronounced Ba-la-hoolish.

2 thoughts on “Our Revival peters out.”

  1. Your recollections and historical anecdotes are priceless Stan. I wish our family had such a dedicated story teller and chronicler. Without it so much is lost, connections to customs, politics, people and places.


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