Drumcree Parish church has a long and interesting history. Drawing on information from "Historical Sketch of Drumcree Parish" by Isobel Carrick, this history is outlined below.
The Early Years
The name Drumcree come from old Irish sources, deriving from "Drumcribh", which denotes "Ridge of the Branch". It may indicate that Drumcree was an early centre of Druid worship. Drumcree as a Christian centre is thought to date back to Celtic times. It was once possessed by the Culdees of Armagh, who were formed in the Irish Church, Drumcree consisted of 66 townlands, stretching from Muckery to Ballyworkan. In the Papal Taxation documents of 1296 and 1302 there are listed the Parishes of Kilmore and Plebs Varren(Ballyoran), the latter being identified as Drumcree. It was noted in the 1296 list that Plebs Varren was of no value and could not be assessed. The name of the first recorded Vicar was David Macralagen who died in 1414. It is believed that the parish church was on the site of the present church in pre-Reformation times and it was called the church of St.Columba.
There is a scarcity of information about the years of the fourteen hundreds and the fifteen hundreds when for certain periods Drumcree was absorbed into the Parish of Kilmore. Rev. Henry Iharran was appointed Vicar of the United Parishes of Kilmore and Drumcree on 5th January 1505. The Reformation of the mid fifteen hundreds would of course have had a great effect upon Drumcree.
A map prepared in 1609 shows the ruins of a church in Drumcree Churchyard. It appears that a church had been built on the present site shortly after the Ulster Plantation in 1610. It was "a plain stone building, rough cast and white-washed". It seated five hundred people and the usual attendance was around four hundred. It had a gallery. The Plantation Rector was the Rev. James Matchett. As well as being Rector of Drumcree, he was also Rector of Kilmore. It appears that Mr. Matchett preferred to live at Kilmore. It is recorded that he officiated in Drumcree "...every third Sabbath himself and in his absence, has a curate to preach".
It was recommended about 1657 that Drumcree Church and Seagoe Church should be closed and a new church should be built at Edenderry. This suggestion was never implemented.
The oldest Rectory known about is referred to in a Parliamentary Return of 1731. It speaks of "a good glebe and parsonage house". Another Rectory was built in 1736. A Parliamentary Return of 1776 states that there were 514 Protestant families in the parish.
The Rev. John Wesley had a profound influence upon the parish and visited it six times between 1769 - 1785 to preach at Derryanvil where "... on Saturday the 15th " April 1769, he "... rode to Derryanvil, a little village out of all road surrounded with bogs ... The congregation, however, was exceedingly large and exceedingly lively. I talked with several of them who believed they are saved from sin, and found no cause to disbelieve them; and I met with many more in these parts who witness the same confession".
The building of the tower and spire was initiated in 1805 and completed by 1812. In 1814 it was agreed to hang the Bell.
The growth of Portadown necessitated the formation of the Parish of Portadown in 1824 by separating from Drumcree's 66 townlands the following thirteen townlands - Annagh, Artabrackagh, Ballyworkan, Baltylum, Clownagh, Corcrain, Drumnakelly, Drumnasoo, Garvaghy, Kilmoriarty, Mahon, Mullantine and Tavenagh. The Curate of Drumcree, Robert Henry, was appointed Curate-in-Charge. A Chapel of Ease called St.Martin's was built where St.Marks now stands and it was consecrated on 14th November 1826. Robert Henry was nominated Perpetual Curate on 22nd April 1828 by the Rector of Drumcree James Stewart Blacker, also Vicar of Seagoe (1810-1826), who had this right of nomination. He was succeeded by Charles King Irwin in 1833. He also had been a Curate of Drumcree (1827-1833).
The building of a new Rectory at Drumcree commenced in 1826 and was completed in 1828 under the guidance of the Rev. Charles Alexander who had come from Keady in 1826. It was built in front of the previous Rectory for the cost of £1,600. The Builder was Sinclair Carroll and the Architect was William Ferrell.
The Great Famine of 1846 brought much poverty and suffering.
The Church of the Ascension
The foundation stone of the presnt church was laid in the Chancel on Ascension Day, Thursday, 17th May 1855, hence the reason for the dedication, "The Church of the Ascension". The Church which stands almost on the site of the previous church, was consecrated on Tuesday, 28th October 1856 by the Bishop of Down, Dromore and Connor, Robert Bent Knox. The only part of the old church which is incorporated in the present church is the tower and spire. Weddings were held in the porch during the building of the church.
The religious revival of 1859 which swept the north of Ireland would have brought a great spiritual awakening in Drumcree.
Five more townlands were separated from Drumcree in 1867 to help form the Parish of the Diamond, namely Corglass, Annagora, Ballymakeown, Coharra and Cushenny. Drumcree has therefore ever since contained forty-eight townlands.
Up to 1870 the Church of Ireland was supported by the state. But as only one in eight of the population belonged to the Church of Ireland the State ceased to provide for it. The Irish Church Act of 1869 brought the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland from 1 January 1871. This meant that the Church of Ireland lost millions of pounds and much property. Drumcree lost nearly all its 565 acres of Glebe Land. There was some compensation but much generosity was shown by the laity and clergy.
The 20th Century was a period of time where a great deal happen in Drumcree Parish Church. The history of the church at this time can be broken down into a number of sections, which provides valued information to many people and fond sentimental memories to many others.
Much of the church's history involves the building and the rebuilding of its acquired assets, such as the church building itself, as well as the Parochial Hall, the rectory and the stables. However the church also has a history of starting new organisations which aimed to provide it's congregation and the local community with a wider choice of activities that they could get involved in. To explore this more, involves starting at the beginning of the 20th Century, 1901.
1901 saw the start of a trend that was to come, the expansion of the church and its buildings. On the 14th of May 1901 new burial ground that had been acquired for the chuch's graveyard was consecrated by the Archbishop of Armagh William Alexander. Throughout history Drumcree's congregation was known to get highly involved in things and it was no different in this case, Mr J. L Wilson had drawn up a petition for the consecration of the new burial ground. The congregations involvement can be noted in many events such as the Bazaar and Fete of 1901 which took place to raise funds to build the Parochial hall, the event raised £397.17.11d . Such funds were crucial in the building of the Parochial hall, which seen the Foundation Stones of the hall laid on the 4th of September 1902 by the Duke of Manchester and Mr. J. H. Atkinson. The hall itself was built by Messrs Bright Bros., Portadown from the plans prepared by Mr. J. W. Walby. During this time the church acquired many of the fixtures that are still present today, for example, in 1907 Mr Carnegie generously offered £175 towards the organ if the church agreed to raise a similar amount. Therefore on the 21st of March 1907 the dedication of the organ took place by John Halahan Dean of Ross with two hymn boards and four collection plates being presented by Miss Isabelle Walsh in memory of her mother. New prayer desks and pulpit was added in 1910 as well as the Chancel Rail. As time moved as did some aspects of the church, 1914-1918 seen many members of the church fight in the Great War, in remembrance of parishioners who fell in the war and those returned after nobly serving their country, a Memorial Tablet was unveiled on Sunday 1st May 1921. Further addition to this took place in 1930 where a peal of fifteen bells was placed in the newly erected War Memorial Tower of St. Marks Portadown. The bells were acquired through the donation of many bodies, among the first to be presented by the Mother Church of Drumcree Easter 1930. The 1930's was another period in time which was marked by the depression and the Second World War. In this time the church underwent a great amount of reconstruction, reopening on the 1st of January 1931 after it the walls had been plastered, the pews re-varnished and a rubber carpet was laid in the aisles. The Archbishop at the time Charles D'Arcy held a service and preached an appropriate sermon to uplift people's spirits and hopes in Jesus Christ, after this service the Parochial Hall Extension was officially opened by Mrs D'Arcy. As it can be seen, the church underwent a great deal of renovation and changes to its buildings and land during the years, which was set to continue, if we move onto the 1960's further renovation took place.
1964 saw the demolition of the old Rectory and the build of the new Rectory. This decision caused much disagreement, as three plans had been put forward, the first plan (Plan A) was to lease the old Rectory and build elsewhere, the second (Plan B) to modernise the old Rectory and Plan C to demolish the old Rectory and rebuild a new one. The Diocesan Council instructed the Parish to build a new Rectory on the site of the old Rectory, Plan C. An extension to the Rectory took place in 2008 which added an additional room. In 1969 the renovation of the stables into a meeting room was undertaken. To cover the £400 cost of the renovation, the youth fellowship at the time raised money by means of a sponsored walk and the interior fittings and the decoration inside the building took place thanks to volunteers.
Due to the needs of the Sunday School, 1972 saw the hall extended and renovated, with the money needed being raised by a parish fete which raised £834.76 and a further £200 by the Sunday school which had a sponsored walk. Further work to the building also took place in 2007, which seen additional expansion and renovation to the building, such as a new kitchen and meeting room upstairs. It can be seen that Drumcree Parish has a long history of the acquisition, expansion and renovation of its property, this is noted extensively throughout its history during the 20th Century.
As much as the church has a history for it's buildings, it must also be noted that it too has a history for it's organisations and clubs. Many of the organisations still run in the church today such as the Boys and Girls Brigade and the badminton club, all of which have a long history in the church. The formation of the Badminton Club took place in 1922 by the Rev. John Dunlop and Miss Topsey Wilson, it was the first organisation to be formed in the parish and the first Church Badminton Club in the area. In 1949 the Mother's Union was formed at the instigation of the Rector at the time, Rev R. E. Dennis, who emphasised the value of the Mother's Union, the Mother's Union still runs to this day and over the years has had an extensive history of involvement in the church. It must be noted that during this year the Girls and Boys Brigade were also formed by the Rev. R. E. Dennis, Drumcree Brigades have a long standing reputation within the church and the wider community and have attracted a great deal of young people to them, a credit to the officers and the activities available. A 21st anniversary was celebrated in, with a special service being held in the Parish Church, the Rev. R. E Dennis was the visiting preacher for the service. In 1965 the Bowling Club was formed by Mr George Johnston and Mr Frank Jones, a year later the Youth Fellowship also commenced until 1979, it was later revived in 1980, meeting on alternate Sundays for Bible teaching, prayer and worship. During these years and much of the twentieth century, organisations formed and celebrated anniversaries, the church also had much success in special annual events such as the church fete and auction, which has raised a great deal of money throughout the years. None of these organisations would have been successful without the support of the Parish, its leaders and members.
The history of Drumcree Parish throughout the twentieth century is long and extensive and includes much more than buildings and organisations but it is hoped that this short rendition proves helpful when trying to gather a representation of it's past.