Edited by Raymond Gillespie and Alison O’Keefe.
Published by the Representative Church Body Library.
The register, which covers a mere seventeen years, is in essence a loose social history of a parish in a young though not always healthy town. In between the years of the title the growing town of Belfast was subject to constant change in its social, cultural and business life, from a medieval settlement at a river crossing or ford, Belfast (Beal Feirsde in the gaelic form) grew slowly to become a town and a port with ever increasing trade.
The book opens with an interesting history of the growth of the parish of Shankill and of Belfast during the 18th. Century.
It was the parish of Shankill, (from the gaelic, Sean Chill or Old Church) which enclosed the town of Belfast and from the earliest days there was a church close to the crossing. The first recorded mention was in a Papal decree in the year 1306.
Planter baron Sir Arthur Chichester decided that a new church was required and that the old one be refurbished leaving each church with its own graveyard. This situation is the reason why entries in the register refer to either Shankill or Belfast as burial places.
In the period covered by the register the parish of Shankill extended from the river Lagan in the East across to the mountains of Antrim in the west and as far North as Greencastle.
The parish covered a total of twenty-seven townlands and encompassed the town of Belfast.
From the prospective of outside observers the most striking feature of the community of Belfast was its religiously iverse nature. Richard Pocoke, Archdeacon of Dublin at the time, wrote of the Church in Belfast “indeed the congregation is but small and most of them of the lower rank, for of 400 houses there are about sixty families that go to church. The richer people with a number of others are of the new light Presbyterians and the rest of the old light and Papists. The new light are looked on as Arians and these two lights have a greater aversion to each other than they have to the Church.”
The index covers pages 47 to 300 in this volume of 350 pages filled with details of baptisms, marriages and burials by year and by day of the month with headings in bold type indicating the page numbers in the original register. The end pages contain an alphabetical index of all the included persons.
Reviewed by Eddie Brennan, Hon. librarian IFHS