The December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr Alec Blair, well known Historian and Broadcaster, on the subject of The Moravian Settlements at Gracehill and Gracefield, Ballymaguigan.
He explained that the movement had originated in Prague in the fourteenth century when a man called Hus, a disciple of John Wycliffe, who had already rebelled against the excesses of the Church and the Holy Roman Empire in general, decided to continue in Wycliffe’s footsteps and form a society based entirely on the Bible teachings. This was some 60 years in advance of the Reformation and the Hussites, as they were called, became a strong voice in Prague where they built the Bethlehem Chapel with a capacity for 3,000 people. Hus did not live to see this as he was martyred in 1415.
The man responsible for starting the movement in Ireland was John Cennick who came in June 1746 to Dublin and preached widely in that area. In August of that same year a man called Joseph Dean invited him to Ballymena where his teachings flourished and after some time Societies were formed in Ballymena between 1765 to 1790.
The Society in Gracehill was so called because of it’s location on a hill and Cennick’s followers believed they had been led there by the Grace of God. The lovely village of Gracehill was planned and built by them as it looks today.
They also built three Choir (meaning Members’) Houses, a Sisters’ Choir House, a Brothers’ Choir House and a Widows’ Choir House. They did not refer to themselves as a Church but as a Society and all people were equal. Every man was addressed as Brother and every woman as Sister, irrespective of title or rank. Women entered and left the building by one door, men by the other and they did not sit together. Even in death they were buried apart. This last custom is still observed today although that of entering and leaving the building no longer applies.
The Settlement in Ballymaguigan was the result of a visit paid by a Mr and Mrs McKimm to Dublin to hear John Cennick preach. They invited him to come North and he preached in many places. Mr Watterson of Lisnamorrow asked him to come to Lisnamorrow to establish a Society there. This he did and when the lease ran out after eighteen years they moved to Ballymaguigan where they were sold one hundred acres by Mr. Dawson of Castledawson and a church was built.
This was consecrated by John Cennick in September 1769 and named Gracefield as they felt they had acquired the land by the Grace of God. The burying ground was called God’s Acre. Brethren farmed the land but took no wages and after the Great War lack of work and emigration took their toll. The Methodist minister in Magherafelt and rector in Woodschapel took services for some time but eventually the land was sold and the church was bought by the Parish of Woodschapel.
Mr. Blair’s lecture proved to be of great interest to his large audience and Mr Seamus McErlean, acting Chairperson for the evening, in thanking Mr. Blair, expressed members’ great appreciation for the scholarship of its content. He also reminded members about the January meeting when the Speaker would be Mr Anthony Buckley of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum whose subject would be “Traditional Medicines and Cures.”
Guest speaker at the December meeting, Mr Alec Blair, well known Historian and Broadcaster, Mr Blair’s talk was on The Moravian Settlements at Gracehill and Gracefield, Ballymaguigan