Edinburgh, scene of stirring events in 1637…
IT was a stirring occasion in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh that Sabbath Day in July 1637.
As the Dean started to read from the new Service Book which the King had ordained should be used at the service, a woman named Jenny Geddes is said to have picked up the stool she had brought to sit upon and hurled it in his general direction.
The words she is supposed to have used – “Wha dare say mass in ma lug?” – have resounded down the centuries, summing up the basic Calvinistic view of worship.
If you go to St. Giles today you can see a memorial stool in the cathedral highlighting the incident, which led to rioting in the city, and the drawing up of the Scottish National Covenant.
A teenage boy named Patrick Adair is also supposed to have been at the High Kirk that day, and to have witnessed Jenny in full flight with her stool.
History has recorded Jenny’s name for posterity, and although the 13 year old Patrick Adair could not know it, he too had a special place reserved in the history books.
He was a son of John Adair of Genoch in Galloway and came from a family with a long pedigree, which some have suggested actually stretches back to Adare in the south of Ireland, from which they took their surname.
The Adairs would have an equally long pedigree in County Antrim when Patrick’s family moved across the North Channel during the Plantation period. Ballymena would become a seat of their power and influence, but Patrick Adair would be influential not only in terms of place but also in terms of the Presbyterian Church.
He had been educated at St. Andrew’s University in 1644, being licensed to preach two years later on completion of his course. On May 7, 1646, the Covenanter Army Presbytery, meeting in Carrickfergus, ordained him for the congregation of Cairncastle north of Larne.
He arrived into an area which had not seen the worst ravages of the 1641 Rising, but where fear had stalked the hillsides. Nearby Ballygally Castle had been attacked by Irish insurgents and people had fled to the castle from the farms around for safety. Many had fled further, arriving on the Scottish coast at Irvine, Ayr, Stranraer and other towns.
Although the Scots army at Carrick helped stabilise the situation, Patrick Adair would still find stormy waters ahead as he ministered in view of the picturesque Ballygally Bay.
Presbyterian relationship to the Commonwealth Protectorate was always shaky, and when Charles I was executed, they accepted Charles II as King, much to the annoyance of the Commonwealth forces.
At one time Cromwell decided to exile the Ulster Scots communities to Tipperary, and appointed representatives within the Presbyterian settlements to ensure that it all went smoothly.
It was a time when Adair found it politic to hide out in the extensive hills around Cairncastle rather than be taken into custody by troops. He continued to preach in private houses in the area.
Rev. Patrick Adair had to hide out in the hills in Cromwellian times; Oliver Cromwell was none too impressed with Presbyterians.
Although the period passed, with the Restoration came further problems.
In 1661, an attempt by the Church of Ireland in the form of Bishop Jeremy Taylor, to ensure conformity from the Scots clergy in Ulster resulted in Adair again being ejected from his pulpit.
It was reported that he found difficulty making ends meet at this time, no thanks to the congregation, which appears not to have looked after him as well as it might.
In 1663 he had been ejected for a time and several papers belonging to him were seized from his house. The soldiers who took them apparently sought lodging in nearby Larne that night and a maid who was sympathetic to Rev. Adair stole away with the documents and returned them to him, perhaps preventing a worse fate than the three days detention in Carrickfergus gaol which he had experienced.
Adair continued to preach to his congregation in barns and private houses, but in quieter times at the end of the 1660s a meeting house was erected in the village of Cairncastle and he ministered there.
He would not live out his life there as a quiet country parson.
Adair was for some time in Dublin, trying to resolve difficulties within a Presbyterian congregation there. In 1674 he received a call to Belfast, which he accepted.
On 16 June 1690 Adair was one of a deputation of Belfast Presbyterians who delivered a congratulatory address to William of Orange, who had stepped ashore at Carrickfergus two days before. It is said that Adair had several interviews with the King, who was very impressed with the cleric.
He might well have been, for one of Adair’s near contemporaries described him as “a man of great natural parts and wisdom, eminent piety and exemplary holiness, great ministerial gravity and authority…a constant, curious and accurate observer of all public occurrences…”
Patrick Adair was undoubtedly an observer. He is known in fact as the historian of the early Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He wrote an extensive account of the early years of the Kirk, covering the period 1623 to 1670, but had not completed it at the time of his death in 1694.
The manuscript awaited a further 172 years before it would appear in print, having been edited in 1866 by Rev. William Killen, who continued the epic History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland by Rev. James Seaton Reid.
Not only did Adair provide an impressive account of the church history, but also a largely autobiographical tale.
For Patrick Adair not only lived in interesting times but also participated fully in them.
His Narrative on the Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland highlights events such as the arrival in Ulster of Professor Robert Blair, who would become prominent among the first Scots ministers in Ulster in the early years of the 17th century.
Noting his arrival on the coast at Glenarm, Adair wrote of how he walked over the hills to Carrickfergus and saw Bangor in the distance across the lough; “at sight of which the Lord did unexpectedly fill his heart with such a sweet peace and extraordinary joy that he could scarcely contain himself, but was forced to lie down upon the grass to rejoice in the Lord, who was the same in Ireland that he was in Scotland.”
We learn also of the Eagle Wing episode, when two congregations tried to unsuccessfully emigrate to America in 1634, the Army Presbytery at Carrickfergus in 1642, the taking of the Solemn League and Covenant in Carrick, Belfast, Comber, Newtownards, Bangor, Broadisland, Islandmagee and other parts in 1644 and much more.
Adair notes of the 1641 Rising that “burning, killing, destroying all persons, houses, and whatever came in their way was the thing they (the insurgents) delighted in.”
The prominent cleric died in 1694, having been married twice and being survived by four sons and a daughter.
A suitable epitaph was provided by Rev. James Armstrong, historian of the southern congregations of the Presbyterian Church in 1829 when he wrote that Adair was “…the most conspicuous and influential minister amongst the Presbyterians of Ulster.” There had been no minister “at any period in the history of the Irish Presbyterians, engaged in such a continuous series of important transactions as Patrick Adair.”
It is not the presentation to William III or his exceptional historical record that engages my mind when I travel around Cairncastle, however.
It is the image of Adair hiding out in the hills above the village, or preaching in a barn to people who looked across an empty sea to Scotland not only literally but also metaphorically.
Whenever I visit the rugged landscape around Knockdhu – which is one of the most spectacular sites missed by most visitors to the Antrim coast because they stay on the coast road – I often wonder whether Patrick Adair spent his days wandering the hills and keeping an eye out for danger.
And I think of the journey he made to get to those hills.
A journey which included a milestone that day in St. Giles, when Jenny Geddes stood up and threw the stool that started a Presbyterian revolution…