ON THE TWO HUNDRETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BUILDING OF CULLYBACKEY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
‘Twould take a book to sound aright
Our noble Church’s praise,
To tell of how she came to be
In those dim distant days
When Georges First and Second sat
Upon the English Throne,
And old John Wylie carved his name
Upon the dial stone,
And now she stands in modern days
Serene beside the Maine,
Progressive, strong and wealthy
In our King George’s reign,
And all that happened in between
Thro’ these two hundred years
Of human interest, public note,
Of laughter, and of tears.
And while the guns on Derry’s walls
Be mine the song to sing
Blazed forth in stern defiance
To a weak and faithless king,
And the shouting of the captains
And the voice of prayer and praise
Mingled freely in that drama
To which Ulster memories cling.
While the lone wolf howled and hunted
On the Woodhill’s rocky waste,
And intolerance was rampant
In the high courts of the land,
There were other voices calling
In this ancient isle of ours,
And the rapid evolution
Of a Church was right at hand.
For the Presbyterian cause
Having suffered sad eclipse
Was emerging from the shadow
That the times around had thrown,
For a better day was dawning,
And a proud, determined race
Felt, and followed its convictions,
And was coming to its own.
So the Cullybackey people,
Just two hundred years ago,
Built the Church without a steeple
Down beside the ancient mill,
And without unseemly clamour,
Bar the stroke of pick and hammer,
Laid the courses, arched the doorways,
Reared the roof, and paid the bill.
Yes, they digged the deep foundations,
And they raised the solid walls
On the rock where ran the river,
Clear and limpid, by the holm,
And they worshipped God within them
In the old dissenting way,
With a simple faith and fervour,
And a wholesome fear of Rome.
And their faith has been rewarded,
For the congregation grew
While the village generations,
Youth and manhood, came and went;
While conditions kept a-changing,
And the world was marching on
With its “turnouts” and its famines,
And its back in labour bent.
But the ancient structure stood,
With its whitewashed walls and stair,
Till the early eighties claimed it,
And it vanished in the past.
It has served its purpose grandly,
Been, indeed, a house of God,
Where the Bread of Life was broken
And the living seed was cast.
But, from out its hallowed precincts,
Like a Phoenix, rose again
Even a nobler, larger fabric,
Here beside the narrow bridge,
Keeping, with its slender spire,
Watch o’er town and field and mill;
Meet companion, looking westward,
To the manse, upon the ridge.
Gone are now the old-tune candles,
Gone is now the earthen floor;
Gone the “scaling,” gone the customs
By our fathers held in store.
Come is now this worthy temple,
Come are now these finer schools,
Newer manners, wider thinkings,
Higher aims and other lore.
But the heart of man, unchanging,
As of old, still looks beyond
Outward symbols, to the meaning
And the mystery of death;
And the gospel that our fathers,
Just two hundred years ago,
Found a comfort and salvation,
And of life the very breath,
Still is preached in Cullybackey;
Still we read the same old Book;
Still the rich and poor together
Here in Zion’s courts appear;
Still within its sacred portals
Parents bring their children young,
Still the bride’s and bridegroom’s voices
Make the promise held so dear.
So oh! Cullybackey people,
Praise the ladies two who built
Splendid Church and slender steeple,
And endowed it with their gold.
Grateful thanks to all the others
Who for just two hundred years,
In the pew and in the pulpit
Loved and guarded well the fold.
Praise above all to the Father,
Giver of all earthly good,
Who provided for His children
While eternal ages run
Ne’er forgetting that for talents
Thus so lavishly bestowed,
He expecteth, in proportion,
Due returns from everyone.
James Loughridge 16th September 1927