Fahan Presbyterian Church

Jesus is Lord - Romans 10: 9

American Connection


Joseph Reagh a grandson of Matthew Rhea was ordained at Fahan in August 1748.  The Rheas were descended from the Campbell clan in lowland Scotland and the family line was started by a Matthew Campbell who moved to Fahan around 1655 after being involved in an abortive rebellion against the government of King Charles II.  On arrival in Ulster, Campbell changed his name to Rhea and it is known that two of his sons settled in Belfast and another at Kennecalley near St Johnston, Co Donegal.  Matthew Campbell Rhea took a prominent part in the Siege of Londonderry in 1688-89. 

Joseph Reagh was a son of Matthew Reagh of Taboyne and educated at Glasgow in1742.  He was licensed to Letterkenny Presbytery and it is marked that he first preached at the little church at Barracranaugh or Bun Cranaugh (now Buncrana) before he became the faithful pastor of Fahan and Inch.  He was a scholarly man well versed in philosophy, theology and the Hebrew and Latin languages.   He was spoken of as one of the most eminent clerics in the North of Ireland.  He was large in stature, (six feet in height) with a cheerful disposition, full of Irish jokes, pleasant in manner and kind and charitable to a fault.  He had been known to take off his shirt and give it to the needy.  He resigned his post at Fahan and Inch on August 16th 1769 after a disagreement over his annual salary of £24.00.  It would appear that in Mr. Reagh's time Presbyterianism was very weak in this locality, or else the Presbyterians were very indifferent regarding their pastor's welfare.  His resignation to the congregation read: - 

" As I received the congregation of Fahan from the Presbytery of Londonderry, I have laboured in the work of the ministry above twenty years in that place and as the congregation has fallen into very long areas and has been very deficient in the original promise to me which was £24.00 yearly.  I am unable to subsist any longer among them and I do hereby demit my charge of them and deliver them into the hand of them from whom I received them. 

P.S.  I have only this further to request of the Presbytery that they will see justice done me in that congregation in my absence."

 So we find that in 1769 this supplication was presented by the Rev Reagh to the General Synod representing his circumstances to be so necessitous that he cannot live any way decently or comfortably in this part and he must transport himself and his family to some of the American colonies.  Rev Robert Huey of Knowhead Presbyterian Church submitted a similar petition.  The Synod ordered each congregation under its care to take up a collection to enable these two ministers and their families to emigrate to America.  The members present at that meeting of Presbytery subscribed the sum of £2.18.9½. 

Rev Reagh asked that the money he had already paid into the Widows Fund might be refunded to him again.  This request at first was refused; but was resolved that a collection should be made for him in the various churches and be divided between him and Rev Robert Huey of Knowhead.   It was with the understanding that if the two ministers and their families did not go to America the money subscribed by the various congregations would be allocated to the Synod of Ulster Widows Fund. 

 On September 1769 he sailed from Londonderry to America with his wife Elizabeth McIlwaine (she came from Lisfannon) and their seven children.  He arrived in Philadelphia and joined the Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1771.  He preached at Piney Creek near Taneytown in Maryland for four years on an annual salary of £112.00.

 In 1775 Rev Joseph Rhea preached at the settlement on the banks of the Holston River which was in North Carolina and today is in East Tennessee.  He was a gifted preacher and as a man of 60 embraced every opportunity of preaching to the settlers and soldiers in their wilderness homes and forts.  Accompanied by his eldest son he purchased lands at Beaver Creek in 1777 and was hoping to bring his family on wagon train trek to the new lands on the frontier.  But after selling his property in Maryland he took ill with pneumonia and died aged 62.  The family moved to Holston and the field behind the Rhea house served as training grounds of the militia before the Revolutionary War.  Both Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnston were frequent guests of the family.  Of the direct descendants of Rev Joseph Rhea, 21 became ministers of the gospel, Presbyterian, with a single exception and 54 were soldiers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War from 1861-65. 

Footnote - Mr. and Mrs Rhea from Oklahoma, USA (ancestor or Rev Joseph Rhea) visited Fahan on Wednesday 8th June 1994.


Then came Rev John Brown McBride who was ordained at Fahan on December 29 1860.  He was born in Armoy in April 1835 and educated QCB ACB BA  (QUI) and licensed Route Presbytery 1860.  After about 6 months as a probationer, he was ordained in Fahan.  There he continued during the whole of his active ministry.  He was clerk of Derry Presbytery 1894-99 and married the daughter of William Coffey, Ballymoney in 1864.  He resigned his charge on August 4 1896, in order to facilitate the union of Inch with Fahan.  He resided in Cliftonville, Belfast since his retirement and he died on August 13 1906.  The following is recorded in the August 17 1906 edition of the Witness: - 

"He was distinguished for kindliness and warm heartedness and deep and sincere affection.  He was a man of no ordinary attainments.  He possessed a fine literary gift, which was recognised, in his appointment as examiner in English under the Board of Intermediate Education, a position that he held for a number of years.  He also acted as superintendent of Intermediate and Royal University examinations.  He was most of all perhaps distinguished for his clear logical acumen, which rendered him a wise counselor to his friend and a formidable antagonist in debate.  His knowledge of law which was something more than amateur, enabled him to render valuable assistance to the members of his congregation, whilst his judgement was rarely at fault in such matters.  During the course of his long and varied experience he accumulated a vast amount of information regarding men and matters and from this he could detail many interesting incidents, without, however, transgressing the limits of due regard to the secrecy under which much of his knowledge has been obtained.   He was an ideal host, friendly, hospitable, entertaining and always able to contribute successfully to any subject under consideration.  As a preacher he occupied a high place amongst his brethren, his sermons being marked by clearness of thought and beauty of diction, and delivered with a freedom and power that compelled the attention of his hearers.  A widow, 5 daughters and 2 sons survived him.   

It was during Mr. McBride's ministry that the manse at Fahan was built due to this trip to America to collect funds. 

The united change of Fahan and Inch gave a unanimous call to Rev Robert Lynn who was installed on November 24, 1896.  Robert Lynn was born in Killaloo and educated MCD ACB GA in 1889 and licensed in Glendermott May 5 1891 and ordained at Aughnacloy on 13 December 1892 which he resigned from on November 3 1896.  He was married in 1897 to Lizzie who was a sister of Rev John Brewster of Malin Presbyterian Church.  His wife was a daughter of Mr. John Brewster J.P. a well known Derry merchant and a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Buncrana.   

In the Londonderry Sentinel Tuesday morning August 30 1904 it was noted that "Rev Prof. Henry preached on Sunday evening at 5 on the occasion of the opening of the new hall at Fahan which will serve as a church for Presbyterian residents of the rapidly rising place.  It is almost 5 years since the Derry Presbytery put on record its sense of need for a Presbyterian Church at Fahan, and this year the assembly made a grant towards the services of the licentiate as assistant to Rev RJ Lynn, the minister of Fahan and Inch congregation in connection with the project.  The new hall has been welcomed by many who felt the inconvenience of travelling 3 miles to Rev Mr. Lynn's church near Burnfoot or almost 4 miles to Rev Mr. Moody's at Buncrana.  The building project was taken up by enthusiasm by all concerned and resulted in a hall 36 feet x 18 feet of wood with iron roof and wooden floor heated with a stove in the centre.  It is situated on the ground above Fahan Station and is approached by the country road, which leads, by a newly made pathway to the vestibule.  

Rev Henry's sermon to the congregation was that they not just provide and maintain their churches but encourage ministers by regular attendance.  The hall will seat comfortably 150 and on the opening service 50 failed to find accommodation.  Speaking after the sermon Prof. Henry said: -  "Let us congratulate all concerned in the achievement we signalise by this evening service.  The rapid growth of Fahan as a residential place and place of holiday resort has made urgent the need long felt for a regular Presbyterian service on the spot.  The members of our church residents or lodging here are so far from a Presbyterian place of worship that the infirm, the old and the children, to say nothing of the indolent and slack, have been practically debarred from religious ordinances after the Presbyterian form.  That is a condition in which our church could not leave its member without.   A grave dereliction of duty, and to which this comfortable and tasteful hall with a regular Sabbath Service will put an end.  The whole church will appreciate the local enterprise and zeal to which it is indebted for so timely an addition to its equipment for local work.  The seaside summer holiday is a steadily growing institution.  Work is becoming harder year after year and the need for rest and recuperation in the bracing sea air becoming more urgent.   This brings our people in increasing numbers into watering places where the church accommodation is insufficient and where more must be provided for their religious interests go derelict and suffer.   You have done spiritually well in putting up this little church and Presbyterianism will be strong and religion in the locality the better for it in all time to come ..... " 

He congratulated the church members on their enthusiasm for the project especially that they are few in numbers and their resources not unlimited.  Also the hall was paid for. 

In the summer of 1905 the floor of the heating chamber at the church was to be covered with boards so to be used for housing the bicycles.  In March 1906 the church was to start building the teachers residence at Burnfoot.