There was  a church built in the  village of Derrykeighan  1 mile North of Dervock and it dates back to 4th –5th  Century AD.  The founder of the church was a St Colman  Muilinn of Daire Chaechain, in Dalriada.

There are a number of Churches in Ireland named after St Colman and about five different people called Colman around about the 4th-5th century working in missionary work in Ireland. 

The name Colman is nearly the same as Columba, which means a dove: Colman, or Columba-an the little dove. This name he seems to have adopted at his Christian Baptism to show the disposition he desired to cultivate. The diminutive termination ‘’an’’ in saints names was given only to those who were held in special reverence.

The first Christian Minister in Derrykeighan is mentioned in the tract of Aengus of Culdee, written prior to A.D. 800, who says: Bronach, daughter of Milcon, with whom Patrick was in bondage, was ‘’the mother of Mochae, of Aendrum  and of Colman Muilinn, ‘’of Daire Chaechain, in Dalriada, as Mochae was converted to Christianity by St Patrick about A.D. 440

St Patrick

 We may fix the date of the first Christianity  in this Parish about A.D. 460 ( Reeves, 189), that is , a hundred and thirty years  before Augustine  ( sent by the Pope) preached Christianity in Canterbury.This St Colman, or Columba-an, is the patron saint of the old parish church and parish.In the ancient calendar of the O’Cleerys his festal day is given 1st Jan (Reeves 376). The martyrology of Donegal says of Colman Muilinn that  ‘’It was in a mill he used to make obeisance to the brethren’’ (Martyr Donegal, Jan 2nd ); he seems to have  been a humble minded monk, of the days before the Monastries became idle and corrupt, when the Western monks were the school –masters of their neighbourhood, both in books and in the mechanical arts.

This early notice of a mill, one of the earliest in all Ireland, shows that our ancestors of the fifth century were not wandering nomads, as Giralous Cambrensis asserted, depending for food solely on their flocks and herds, but had some agriculture, though for centuries after this date hand querns were the usual means for grinding corn, and the mills of our early ancestors were un like ours.

The mill where St Colman  laboured was probably in Dervock; the weir for that mill could only have been erected when the land along Straham was of little or no value. Prior to St. Colman’s mission, the natives were Druidic in religion and semi-idolatrous, but they at once became Christians ( at least outwardly)  when the Gospel was proclaimed to them by St Patrick and his successors.


After this flash of light into our primeval past, the dense mists of antiquity conceal all records of our parochial history.  We know nothing specially of the state of the people ( nothing of the individuals in the parish who brought the ancient Scriptural, non-papal Irish Church under the yoke of Rome), but under the yoke it did come, for in A.D 1290 Derrykeighan is noted in the roll of taxation, made by order of Pope Nicholas IV and is valued at £20 8s 0d a year, of which one –tenth was claimed by the Pope, nominally to assist in the crusades, but really to help him in a war against the King of Arragon.(N Spain) 

Edward 1  

 Pope Nicholas IV      

 Edward 1st  permitted the Pope to levy this tax, but on the terms that he, the King of England, should be allowed to retain ten years tax for his own revenue ( Reeves. 78)

At some unknown period, between A.D. 1300 and A.D. 1539, Derrykeighan was appropriate to a Monastry- Down, Kells, or Woodburn  that is, by the gift from the patron or owner of the tithe and parish, the Monastry received all the tithe of the parish, and one of the monks did its spiritual duties. This system worked satisfactorily in the then state of civil war, as the officiating brother could take refuge in the Monastry during the heat of the contest.

To what Monastry Derrykeighan was appropriate is not distinctly known. The ‘Ulster Visitation’ of 1662 says; Two partes of  the ‘’tithe corne impropriate to Kells or Woodburn, and possest by the ‘’Earle of Antrym,’’ but the ‘’Antrim Inquisition’’ of 1605 says that it had been attached to the Monastry of Down. (Reeves 78)



Modern Church


The modern day Parish Church of Derrykeighan which is dedicated to St Colman is located in the village of Dervock in County Antrim.  Nestled in the upper north-westerly corner of the county, the parish now incorporates some 15 townlands, a number of which were taken from adjoining parishes at various periods to affect parochial reorganisation; neighbouring Drumtullagh Parish was once amalgamated with Derrykeighan but that connection no longer exists.


St Colman’s Parish Church was constructed in 1831 with aid of voluntary subscriptions of £565 and loan of £600 from the Board of First Fruits.  Local landowner George McCartney donated £150 and also gave the site for the new church and graveyard.  Of striking appearance, contemporary writer Samuel Lewis described it as “a spacious and handsome structure, in the later English style of architecture, with a lofty square embattled tower crowned with pinnacles”. 

Finished in stone with roof frame of metal, it is well furnished internally and fitted with a small gallery that in original form included two private pews. In 1857 refurbishment work was carried out and a bell was provided for the church tower.  A sum of £780 was expended upon improvements to the church fabric in 1878 together with installation of two stained glass windows, a new pulpit of stone and marble and reading desk.  Pipe organ music was introduced to St Colman’s church in 1893 with a dedication ceremony being presided over by Rt Revd Dr J. Welland, Lord Bishop of Down and Connor and Dromore; after more than 40 years service the organ was rebuilt in 1936!  By 1935, due to the generosity of Captain Samuel Allen, the church were enabled to add a furnished vestry room, and in addition took possession of a four acre site for construction of a parochial hall and rectory.  Re-slating was necessary and considerable maintenance work was carried out on the church tower in 1955, and again in 1969 the parish undertook further repairs at cost of £650.


Few assets held by the parishioners at St Colman’s are more highly cherished than those items of Church Plate so central to worship down the years.  Holy Communion silver such as the early eighteenth century Chalice and Paten are rightly regarded as parish treasures: both Chalice and Paten are engraved with “The Church at Derikikhain, 1716” and both items are hallmarked Dublin 1716 and fashioned by the hand of William Archdall.  Other pieces of Eucharistic ware including a Chalice, Paten and Flagon which date to the middle nineteenth century: the Chalice is of old Sheffield Plate and bears the inscription “Derrykeighan Church 1852”; the Paten with inscription “Derrykeighan Church, provided by the parishioners, 1866” was made by Martin Bell of Sheffield; the Flagon is likely by Hyam Hyams of London and is engraved with the words “Derrykeighan Church.  Provided by the parishioners, 1864”.



Derrykeighan Old Church


Derrykeighan old church and cemetery are located about one mile from the modern church of the same name between Bushmills and Dervock village.  An impressive structure, its sturdy stone walls are as original though now without a roof.  Adding form to this attractive ecclesiastical shape are three windows in oblong style with arched tops; another on the east gable is of the larger Gothic variety.  This old church, probably constructed in the 1780s, was a replacement on this very site of a larger more ancient structure thought to have been fitted with an oak roof. 


The present old church of Derrykeighan was badly damaged by an incendiary device in the 1820s, due it is believed, to a rift in the vestry over siting of a new place of worship for the congregation.  In the event, probably a majority favoured a new church on the existing site, the remainder wished for an entirely new location at Dervock.  However, following a report made of the incident to the Lord Lieutenant,  a decision was taken to relocate to Dervock and a new building was subsequently erected there in 1831.



Early Church


The parish and district around Derrykeighan have known links to early Christianity and it may have been the case that the site of the old church was central to this activity.  That the location of the present old church may have been a pre-Christian site is supported by the presence locally of ancient caves and evidence of primitive dwellings.   It may be surmised that Christianity had reached the parish by A.D. 460 for we know that Mochae of Daire Caechain, Dalriada, was converted by St Patrick about A.D. 440.  The male offspring of Mochae, Colman Muilinn (St Colman) is regarded as the patron of the parish of Derrykeighan.



Origin of Parish Name


Conventional wisdom leads to deduce that the name Derrykeighan is a composite term, with Derry or Daire meaning “a wood of oaks” and keighan or keegan, most likely being a family name.  Locally, however, there is an alternative explanation for the origin of the name, as was recorded by the Ordinance Survey team who carried out their work in the 1830s.  This tradition states that a Dorothea Keighan made a gift of land to the church and in honour of this considerable gesture the parish took her name.  It is thought, however, that the name by which she was known was Dorry Keigh, meaning in the Gaelic language ‘blind Dorry’ – from this the modern name of Derrykeighan was derived.


Memorials and Tombstones


Special plaques and commemorative tablets on the walls of St Colman’s draw again to remembrance individuals and families with close parish connections.  One of these is to that great benefactor of the church Captain Samuel Allen, M.C. who died 1942 and to his father also Samuel Allen, who died 1919.  Another member of the family, Lt. Col. H.A. Allen (d.1977), is also remembered on a special plaque.  Oak panelling fitted to the Chancel in 1949 was dedicated to the memory of those from the parish who lost their lives in the two World Wars.   The church has also a good number of other memorial furnishings and gifts, and of course, the interior is beautifully illuminated with a splendid selection of stained glass windows – many of which are dedicated to deceased parishioners.  Thus the Chancel window draws recollection of  Jane Montgomery (d.1874) and John Montgomery (d.1876); on the right hand side, centre, is a stained glass window in memory of Alice, wife of William Ford-Hutchinson, who died March 1875; the window to the left of the gallery remembers Robert James Montgomery (d.1893) and his wife Elizabeth Montgomery (d.1893); the window next to the reading desk is dedicated to Revd Hugh McNeill (d.1893), incumbent to the parish of seventeen years; the window close to the pulpit is in memory of Revd Samuel Barnhill (d.1937) who served as parish incumbent for twenty-eight years; and, the first window on the immediate right upon entrance was erected (1935) by Captain Samuel Allen “in memory of the Allen’s of Lisconnan, from 1788 – 1933”.


The cemetery surrounding the Parish Church of St Colman’s is of considerable extent with a number of finely chiselled monuments in appearance.  Unlike the old churchyard, however,  many of the gravestones here are of comparatively recent origin, and many bear a twentieth century date.  In fact, the oldest grave marker that comes to attention is one found in the boundary wall with the old plantation in remembrance of Alexander McNeill, dated June 1847.


Stout walls of stone and lime envelope the considerable burial ground of Derrykeighan old churchyard.  Etched on its monuments of stone are memories of a distant past.  Beneath the roofless but intact form of the old church rests the tombstone of one William Fulerton Clark, Archbishop of Armagh, with inscription date of 1666.  Another stone found within bears a dedication to the memory of Robart Kar, who died 1676, and of his wife, Sera Kar, who died 1714.  Also in the church interior is a freestone memorial to Major George Boyd and to his wife Jean Gordon who died October 1679.  Outside, about 14 feet from the south east corner of the old church, rests the grave marker of Margrat Boyd, who died in June 1625 – the oldest known burial in the cemetery.  According to local legend it is here in this graveyard that the remains of Dorothea Keighan are interred.  Though no trace of her grave remains, it was she who reputedly donated the church burial ground and gave her name to the parish.




Parish Records








Register of Baptisms



1878 - Present


Register of Marriages



1842 - Present


Register of Burials



1882 - Present






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


Camac, Thomas, History of the Parish of Derrykeighan For Three Centuries, (Coleraine, 1908).


Johns, Adam A., Short History of the Parish of Derrykeighan, (Bushfoot Press, 1981).


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


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



Incumbents of Derrykeighan Church





Charles Douglas



Francis Dobbs



Thomas Hincks



Hartley Hodson



Hugh McNeill



William Ford-Hutchinson



Samuel Barnhill



David Moore



Adam Johns



John Anderson




Postscript to Derrykeighan Parish Church history by The Rector.


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.  Now we are in the 21st century, the congregation in Dervock finds that it must renovate, restore and replace what we have inherited from the past.  A new Rectory is planned and certainly St Colman’s church will need major works due to ingress of damp and the battering of the Irish climate.  There is a lot to do and plan towards, which will be an exciting time for the parish in the immediate future.  I trust with the right vision and imagination that there will be much to write into the history books of the years to come.