Dr Adam Clarke Memorial Church Portrush

Opened in 1887.

The granite obelisk, moved to the front of the church in 1916, is a memorial to Rev Dr Adam Clarke.

Adam Clarke, son of a Church of Ireland father and a Presbyterian mother was born near
Moybeg, Maghera in 1759 when Methodism was in its infancy. He spent his boyhood in a
humble thatched cottage at Cappagh near Portstewart while working as a drapery apprentice
in Coleraine. He left Ireland in 1782 to become one of Charles Wesley's preachers at a time
when Methodism was inspiring England.

His first circuit was in Bradford upon Avon and he is chiefly remembered for writing a
commentary on the Bible which took him 40 years to complete and which has been a primary
Methodist theological resource for centuries. He was a remarkable man, was three times
President of the early Methodist Church in Britain and was outstanding scholar and preacher
who had the patronage of John Wesley. He passed away in 1832 at the age of 70.

In 1831 Dr Adam Clarke decided to build six little Methodist school houses / chapels in
Counties Antrim and Londonderry. One of these was in Portrush where the Dr. Adam Clarke
Memorial Church now stands. In this little schoolhouse / chapel meetings were held for all
classes of the community, and Methodists were in fact in a distinct minority. Unfortunately he
passed away in 1832 before the school house was completed but did get to visit the school in
its building stage.

The little Methodist school house/ chapel was the first place of worship of any kind to be built
in Portrush since an ancient abbey, which stood on the site of the gardens opposite the former
Northern Counties hotel, was destroyed by General Munroe in 1642, when suppressing the
Irish rebellion. A hole dug out of a sandhill had been the meeting place of the Presbyterians
and two others who had declared themselves as Methodists.

Dr Clarke furnished the school house with a bell of great interest. It bears an inscription in
Latin indicating that it was forged in Amsterdam in 1681 by Francis Fremy. The gift reminds us
that Dr Clarke was chosen by his Majesty's Commission of Public Record as the most
competent man to edit the State Papers of the Empire in the reign of George III.
When Dr Clarke gave up this immense task, owing to ill health, the Duke presented him with
the bell for one of his churches.

The "Russian Bell"

Today the bell is no longer rung and is on show inside the vestibule of the church. The bell is
reputed to have passed from the possession of a Russian slave-owner, who used it to
summon his serfs, to the household of Emperor Alexander. The great originator of the Holy
Alliance gave the bell to the Duke of Newcastle, British Ambassador at the Russian Court,
who was a friend of Dr Clarke. Hence the name "the Russian Bell".

In 1859, the centenary of the birth of Dr Adam Clarke, it was proposed to erect a statue to the
great commentator on the site of the adjoining school. An English sculptor was given the task
of making the sculpture and was paid in advance. He was tardy about its completion and
when the date for the unveiling came round the ceremony had to be performed with a plaster
figure doing duty on the base of the monument. The sculptor ended in the bankruptcy court
and the plastic figure was never replaced on the stone statue. A tall obelisk, reminiscent of
Cleopatra's needle was built instead. The obelisk had originally been built on a high mound in
Eglinton Street but was moved to the green in front of the church in 1916.

In 1871 a manse was built at Causeway Street and in 1887 the foundation stone of the church
which was dedicated in 1887 was laid by the Duke of Abercorn. Dr John Kerr who went to
America to collect monies to build the church raised most of the money for its construction.
The church is a notable example of Irish ecclesiastical architects. The building is in Hiberno -
Romansque style which Ulster shows to advantage in many of its churches. Compact beauty
is its predominant merit and it seems exactly fitted to its commanding situation high on the
ridge of the Portrush peninsula at a point where three roads meet.

A hall and shops adjoining the church were built in 1931 to coincide with the centenary of the
building of the little schoolhouse.

Nigel Creighton,
4 Sept 2013, 15:02