BILLY CHURCH HISTORY

Billy is derived from the Gaelic word Bile meaning a large ancient tree. The old church of Bile is mentioned in the taxation of  Pope Nicholas IV  in 1290 and the wall of the graveyard, south of the present church, contains part of the north wall of that ancient church. The building of the present parish church was made possible by the gift of £800 from the Board of First Fruits and was consecrated in 1815. A bell was installed in 1821. In 1834, the sum of £9 was expended on the purchase of a Parish Hearse. Half a crown was to be paid by any person using the hearse and a second half crown lodged as security for its safe return. It was last used in 1900 and can now be found in the Transport Museum at Cultra.  

   

The long association with the Traill family, who built the chancel in 1890, is in memory of Harriett Jane Traill  and contains some fine 20th century stained glass windows by Michael Healy.  Mr William Acheson Traill CE, designed the Causeway Tram System, a pioneering project of its time between Portrush and the Causeway in 1883    Sergeant Robert Quigg, who won the Victoria Cross at Thiepval, during the Battle of the Somme, on 1 July 1916, and who died in 1955, is buried in the churchyard. On 1st  July 1976, the Rector of Billy, also assumed charge of the Parish of Derrykeighan and the Rectory for both parishes is in Dervock.

Billy Church

Billy, a parish, partly in the Barony of Carey, but chiefly in that of Lower Dunluce, county of Antrim, and province of Ulster; containing, with the post-town of Bushmills, 5845 inhabitants. This parish is bounded on the west by the river Bush, and on the south-east by the sea; it is also intersected for nearly three miles by the road from Ballymoney, through Bushmills, to the Giants' Causeway, which is within its limits. Including eight townlands which now form part of the Parish of Dunseverick, it comprises, accord­ing to the Ordnance survey, 17,329 3/4 statute acres, of which 16,860 are applotted under the tithe act, and valued at £8139. per annum. The land is generally in a good state of cultivation; the system of agri­culture is considerably advanced, and is still improv­ing; there is very little waste land, except moss and bog, which together form nearly one-third of the sur­face. Whinstone abounds, and is quarried for building and for the roads; limestone is found in great quantity and occasionally burned for manure, and wood-coal is ob­tained near the Causeway. Among the principal seats are Bushmills  House, the residence of Sir F. W. Macnaughten, Bart.; Ballylough, of W. Trail, Esq.; Ballydivity, of J. Stewart Moore, Esq.; Black Rock House, the pro­perty of Miss Wray, and now in the occupation of Hugh Lecky, Esq.; and Bentfield, formerly the resi­dence of Col. Wray, but at present uninhabited. There are some weirs on the river Bush, near its influx into the sea, for taking salmon, of which great quantities are sent to Liverpool and London. A market on Tuesday, and five fairs are held at Bushmills (which see) ; and on the day after Dervock fair, which is generally on Aug. 12th (except that day falls on the Saturday or Sunday, on which occasions it is held on the Monday following), a pleasure fair, called the Causeway fair, is held at the Rock Head, above the Giants' Causeway, and is nume­rously attended by persons for many miles round, for whose accommodation tents are pitched. This parish was formerly the head of a union, which comprised also the parishes of Armoy, Ballyclug, Donegore, and Kil­bride, together forming the corps of the archdeaconry of Connor; but by the act of the 5th of George. IV., obtained by Dr. Mant, the union bas been dissolved, the parishes disappropriated from the archdeaconry, and the rectorial tithes annexed to their respective vicarages, with the exception only of this parish, of which the rectory and vicarage. alone now constitute the corps of the archdeaconry, with the cure of souls, the former archdeacons having no cure of souls: it is in the diocese of Connor, and patronage of the Bishop. The late Archdeacon Trail, then rector of this parish, in 1830, separated nine townlands from it, giving the tithes of four; and his brother, the Rev. Robt. Trail, rector of Ballintoy, seven townlands from that parish, giving the tithes of three, for the formation and endowment of the perpetual curacy of Dunseverick, the patronage of which is vested alternately in the respective incumbents: the new church is a very neat building in a central situation. The tithes of the parish amount to £489. 4. 1!., of which £37. 9. 3. is paid to the perpetual curate, and the remainder to the archdeacon. The church, a plain substantial building, was erected on the site of a former structure, by aid of a gift of £800 and a loan of £500, in 1815, from the late Board of First Fruits. 'the glebe-house  built in 1810, by the Rev. T. Babington, vicar, aided by a gift of £350 and a loan of £450 from the same Board. In the R. C. divisions it forms part of the union or district of Coleraine. There are two meeting houses for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, one of which is of the third class, and there are places of worship for Seceders, Covenanters, and Wesleyan Methodists.from topographical dictionary of County Antrim 1830's. At Eagry is a school under the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity, for which a good school-house has been erected, with a residence for the master, who has two acres of land; a school is held in a house hired for that purpose at Bushmills, and is supported by subscription; there is a parochial school for girls, for which a house was built, in 1832, by William Trail, Esq.; also schools at Moycraig,also schools at Carnbore, Straidbilly,and Dromiarran, another. is held in the Methodist meeting-house at Castlecat, which was endowed with £20 by the late Dr. Adam Clarke.The Rev. Archdeacon Trail, in 1831, bequeathed £50 for the use of the poor of the parish, which has been invested in Government securities, and the interest is annually distributed by his son, W. Trail, Esq. There are some remains of the ancient castle of Ballylough, which was of much importance; the lake on which it was situated has been drained, and is now under cultivation.

from the ordinance survey of 1830's.

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES BY NIGEL JOHNSTON M.A.

 

Modern Church

  The area under the present parish of Billy is thirty-nine townlands plus other land portions in the Baronies of Lower Dunluce and Carey.  In the past, the parish was very extensive and used to incorporate all of the modern day parishes of Dunseverick, Ballintoy and Rathlin Island, in addition to its present holdings. 

  Located on a hillside near Ballylough with commanding views of the surrounding area, the modern church of Billy was constructed in 1815 on the site of an older building, by aid of a gift of £800 and a loan of £500, from the Board of First Fruits.  Impressed by its exalted location, the Ordnance Survey team of the 1830s recorded that ‘the situation of this church is high and it is one of the most conspicuous in the country’.  Writing during the same decade, Samuel Lewis described Billy church as a ‘plain but substantial building’.  Indeed, in design and appearance, it is very much in the mould of other rural churches of this period, being constructed of rubble basalt stone.  As to dimensions, it is three bays in length, with a chancel being attached to the main structure in 1890 at the cost of £1,000.  The tower, rendered in basalt stone with complimentary sandstone inlays, is of three storeys in extent and crowned by pinnacles and battlements ordered in symmetrical fashion.  In 1820 a bell was purchased for the church tower but this was replaced by a new instrument in September 1914.  Windows are shaped in the familiar Y-traceried style and fitted with transparent glazing except for three of stained glass in the chancel area fashioned by renowned artist Michael Healey.  Interior furnishing are in graceful style with pews, pulpit, font and a fine timber hammerbeam ceiling.  A lovely pipe organ constructed by Messrs Conagher of Huddersfield in 1893 is located to the right of the chancel recess. 

 

A number of valuable church plate items are in parish custody including a chalice and matching paten both hallmarked ‘Dublin 1723’; also a further two chalices and a paten fashioned in old Sheffield Plate received by Billy church during the middle of the nineteenth century, though likely of an earlier vintage.  Parish records indicate that a replacement hearse was procured in 1872 and this conveyance was donated to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in 1958. 

 

Perhaps, the best known ecclesiastical personality with connections to Billy parish church is Charles Frederick D’Arcy D.D., who served as rector during the period 1890 to 1893.  He was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Armagh on St Peter’s Day 1920. 

 

 

Early Church

 

The name by which the church and parish are known, Billy, is derived from the Gaelic term ‘Bile’ which means a ‘large, ancient or pagan tree’ suggesting probable pre-Christian antiquity of the present site.  It is not certain, however, if an early branch of Irish Christianity was established here, perhaps upon or close to a druidic place of veneration.  What is clear is that St Patrick visited nearby Dunseverick and likely made his journey on the old road of ‘Ballaghmore’ that runs through Billy parish and leads to Tara in County Meath.  By the mediaeval period Billy was within the Anglo-Norman county of Coulrath.  A property valuation of £36 was placed on the parish in the year 1300, a figure that suggests very considerable holdings.  Over the next couple of centuries the parish saw conflict and neglect almost in equal measure.  Only seven churches in the entire Diocese of Connor were in a tolerable state as reported in the Ulster Valuation Book of 1622; Billy was one of these of which it was noted ‘The walls stand with an old roof’.  During the Interregnum period of the mid seventeenth century Jeremiah O’Quin, a Presbyterian of Roman Catholic upbringing, was ordained and charged with the care of Billy parish in 1646.  He died in January 1657 and his remains share a burial plot in the churchyard with Thomas Babington who was Church of Ireland vicar of Billy, 1790 – 1823. 

 

 

Memorials and Tombstones

 

Several distinctive tablet memorial stones are found within the walls of Billy church.  One of the largest is that dedicated to Revd Anthony Traill (d. 1831) whom for 50 years served as Archdeacon of Connor Diocese.  Also in remembrance of the Traill family connection is a mural tablet dedicated to the memory of Dr Anthony Traill (d.1914), Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, his wife Catherine Elizabeth (d.1909) and son James Anthony (d.1901).  A number of other memorials are to individual members of the Traill family who served in the military and there are special epitaphs to the fallen of the First and Second World Wars.

 

The parish cemetery, which includes the old graveyard and the new extension opened in 1947, has much to excite the interest of the local historian or genealogist.  One of the oldest tombstones of note is that belonging to Anthony Kennedy of Balsaragh who died December 1620.  Another of late seventeenth century antiquity is that laid in memory of the Stewarts of Eagry, dated 1684.  For the following century, one of the largest monuments is to Revd John Porter (d.1738), Dissenting clergyman of Dunluce, who is interred alongside Revd William Douglass (d.1794) and his wife Mary Stewart (d.1797) who was aged 27 years.  Perhaps the most poignant of memorials on display is that dedicated to the young Forgie family of Cavanmore, five of whom succumbed to diphtheria during April 1881.  They were aged between eight months and ten years old.  A gravestone of particular interest is that placed in remembrance of William Acheson Traill (d.1933) who pioneered the use of hydro-electric power and formed Giant’s Causeway electric tramway.  A stone located in the old graveyard marks the spot where the bodies of two sailors of H.M.S. Racoon, W.G. Farrow and S. Smith, were interred in January 1918.  Billy graveyard is also the final resting place of Sergeant Robert Quigg (d.1955) whose exertions during the Somme campaign of the First World War were recognised in the award of the V.C. 

 

 

Parish Records

 

Source Chronology
Register of Baptisms  

1882 - Present

Register of Marriages  

1845 - Present  

Register of Burials  

1882 - Present

 

 

Bibliography

 

Angélique Day & Patrick McWilliams (eds), Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of County Antrim, V, 1830-5; 1837-8.

 

Johns, Adam A., Short History of the Parish of Billy, (Coleraine & Ballycastle, 1982).

 

Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, (London,1837).

 

© Copyright 2007  - Nigel G. R. Johnston M.A.

Incumbents of Billy Church  

Name   Period  
John Mieltim 
1428
John O’Loanan (Plus Ballymoney and Finvoy)
1428
Bernard O’Neal
1478
Nicholas Todd
1609
Andrew Moneypenny
1622
James Blare
1635
Jeremiah O’Quin
1646
Dan McNeile (plus Ramoan and Loughguile)
1661
George Lovell
1681
Andrew McNeale
1706
Archibald Stewart (plus Ballintoy)
1718
John McClean
1736
Edmund Leslie
1766
Thomas Higginson (plus Dunluce)
1781
Edward Higginson (plus Dunluce)
1781
Henry Reyneth
1782
Thomas Babington
1790
Robert Mullins Mant
1823
Walter Bishop Mant
1832
Leslie Creery
1834
James Smith
1849
Thomas Hincks
1865
Theodore O’Moore
1882
Charles Frederick D’Arcy
1890
Robert Moore Morrow
1893
W. J. N. Mackey
1936
W. H. Sythes
1944
A. N. Kelly
1955
A. A. Johns
1963
John Anderson
2005

 

Postcript by the Rector for Billy Parish Church history.

 

As you have just read, the parish has a long history.  However parishes are living things, our buildings are not museums, but places of worship which change with the generations that worship within them.  In 2005, the church undertook restoration work which included re-roofing the church tower, re-pointing the exterior, repairing windows, new sandstone and upgrading the rain water systems.  This exterior work was completed in July 2006 thanks to a Heritage Lottery Grant of £98,500 and an Environment and Heritage Grant of £3,350.  The parish is still fundraising to raise many more thousands while also continuing to improve the interior of the church and its facilities.  A lot has been achieved in a short time for a small parish and Billy certainly stands proud overlooking Bushmills and the Causeway coast.