This little girl is the only one of my ancestors, back to 1800, not born in south Ulster.

It brings to mind another little girl, her great-grandmother, who was born in India about 1794 and married 11 years later.

Picture of Elsie Henry
Family Genealogy By Peter Morell McWilliam

McWilliam of Creggan

Photograph of Freeduff Presbyterian Church

From John Donaldson
The Meeting-house of the Presbyterian congregation of Creggan is about 2 miles north of Creggan in the townland of Freeduff, convenient to the road from said place to Newtownhamilton, from whence it is distant about 4 miles. It is situated on a small hill or eminence in a plain or valley of rich alluvial soil, through which the river which runs into the sea at Dundalk traverses, and forms a part of the eastern boundary of the Meeting-house yard ( from Lewis).
About the year 1733 several landed proprietors of the then parish of Creggan {above} invited Presbyterians to settle in their respective estates: great part of same being waste, and but thinly inhabited; and other parts being under stuck?; and for their encouragement also invited the Rev. Alexander McCombe, a licentiate of the then Presbytery of Killileagh in connection with the General Synod of Ulster, to become their minister, which invitation he accepted of and was ordained at the Fews Barracks.
The 1st Meeting house (Rev. Alexander McCombe) was erected in 1734, and a short time afterwards burnt down by Roman Catholics. The present Meeting-house erected ca. 1760.

In its early stages Newtownhamilton Presbyterian church was a joint charge with Creggan. In 1833 Rev. Daniel Gunn Brown was installed to the joint charge. In 1835 they were separated and Rev. Thomas McWilliams was installed in Creggan at the beginning of 1837.

Skeleton Family Tree  McWilliam of Creggan

Rev Thomas McWilliams
1826 - Aughnacloy committee examined and certified Thomas McWilliams - going to college for 1st time
[NB His father died in this year]
Public examination in Belfast Institution - Greek, Latin, Logic - Thomas McWilliams
1834 Tyrone Presbytery last Feb licensed Rev Thomas McWilliams as a probationer for the holy ministry

1836 - Rev Thomas McWilliams having received a unanimous call from Creggan & the Presbytery considering his credentials unsatisfactory agreed unanimously to refer this case to the Synod for advice and direction

He was ordained in 27th April, 1837; he was married on 14th January, 1837


Cullyhanna Meeting: Monday 2 April 1838: (from Newry Commercial Telegraph, 12 April, 1838)

This meeting was addressed by the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr William Crolly, a number of local Catholic priests, two Presbyterian ministers, Rev DG Brown & Rev Thomas McWilliams, and a number of lay people, both Protestant & Catholic, including RG Wallace, Joseph Donaldson & James Jenkins. The last four named were either direct ancestors or relatives of mine.
The Newry Telegraph reported that, 'a numerous and highly respectable meeting of the inhabitants of the Parish of Lower Creggan and others interested in the tranquillity of the country was held at the village of Cullyhanna on Monday 2nd instant. The assemblage was immense, nearly 3,000 persons of all classes and creeds being congregated'.
The primary purpose of the meeting was to try and create a more peaceful climate in an area that had seen a considerable amount of agrarian and sectarian violence over the previous few years.

The Rev Thomas McWilliams moved the fifth resolution. This motion was simply a vote of thanks to Fr Michael Caraher for the trouble he had taken to organise the meeting. This motion was seconded by another local Presbyterian, Mr Joseph Donaldson, probably the man who was Clerk of the Kirk Session in Freeduff.

McWilliams said:
I stand forward here on the present occasion to use my influence as a minister of the Gospel, in endeavouring to unite all parties in the bond of love and affection. (Cheers). From my earliest days, I have done all that I possibly could to live in peace with my fellow-man, and from y childhood, I and my family repudiated party exhibitions of every kind. I love my countrymen of all denominations. I love my country with all her faults. (Loud cheers). But I complain that whilst you are enduring misery and poverty, without any fault of yours, you should also be calumniated. I have heard with regret that disturbances have taken place – that outrages were committed in this neighbourhood. Fools that you are, will you thus put yourself in the power of your enemies? Will you not co-operate to the utmost of your power to preserve peace and order? (Cries of we will, we will, we will). For my part, I have travelled through the country at all hours, early and late, and I never was afraid. (Cheers). I am not actuated by any motive save anxiety for the good of my country, in making these remarks, I see what I have long hoped for – a beginning of better days for Ireland. I trust that you will abstain from entering public houses, and putting yourselves in the way of mischief and temptation. You will join with me most cordially in expressing our obligation to the Rev Mr Caraher for calling this meeting. (Loud Cheers)

Rev McWilliams remarks were interesting in the context of his background; he was born near Aughnacloy.

Aughnacloy with a population of 1,841 was home to eight Orange lodges in 1839. Only about 400 of these would have been Protestant males eligible to join the Order which gives some indication of its popularity. Assuming that the situation was similar twenty years earlier it would appear that the family of Thomas would have been in the minority.
Orange meetings, which themselves might have been peaceful enough, sometimes became unruly after the members had refreshed themselves.
The Ordnance Survey Memoirs (ca. 1834) describe Aughnacloy 'as a small dirty town with not more than 4 good houses. The remainder are generally small with broken windows, and no attention at all paid to cleanliness. Almost every house in the town is [licensed?] to sell ale or spirits'. Another contemporary source states that there were 33 whiskey shops in the town.

While it does not seem that Thomas was a member of the Orange Order it appears that he was involved in the temperance movement.

Newry Telegraph 5/1/1839
To the editor of the Newry Telegraph
Sir,- It will afford pleasure to the advocates of this useful reforming society to learn, that the Rev Thomas McWilliams, Presbyterian Minister of Freeduff Meetinghouse, near Cullyhanna, in the Barony of Upper Fews, County Armagh, has succeeded in establishing a branch, which promises the most happy consequences. Lord Brougham was right when he instanced the immense good even one well educated man might accomplish in his neighbourhood. Every active Clergyman is, therefore, a treasure, when his energies are applied to the advancement of human happiness as well on this side, as beyond the grave. Indeed the exertion of Mr McWilliams is beyond the reward of praise, for he has laid the foundation of a reform of manners and habits in a district where many looked upon improvement as nearly hopeless. The extensive bogs and mountainous tracts of Upper Fews were so favourable to illicit distillation, that it has not yet been routed out – and the ancient customs of the inhabitants, who impoverished themselves by lavish expenditure for whiskey on weddings, christenings and funerals, all tended to demoralise the rural population to such a degree, that drunkenness has produced misery and wretchedness which description could not readily exaggerate. Now a change is passing over the scene. An intelligent friend of mine requests you to insert the following brief notice of a

“On Friday evening, the 28th ult,; upwards of one hundred neighbours of both sexes, met & sat down to tea in the School-house of Tullinavall, near the village of Cullyhanna. After tea the Rev Thomas McWilliams was called upon to take the chair, & from it he eloquently and powerfully addressed the assemblage, on the baneful effects of intemperance, exhorting all to abstain from spirituous and intoxicating liquors. The Rev Wm McAlister, and Mr Simon Nelson, a student of the Belfast Academy also addressed the meeting, at considerable length. Upwards of thirty names were added to the list, which now consists of about sixty members. The arrangements were admirable – regularity and harmony undisturbed by disorder and confusion prevailed, and the company separated soon after eleven o’clock, highly gratified with the night’s entertainment.

The following exchange from a murder trial at Armagh Assizes gives a further indication of Mr Mr McWilliams' non-sectarian attitude and hints at the price he might have paid for it. (Dr Cooke was a Tory and an influential member of the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster to which Mr McWilliams belonged.)

Trial Details

Newry Telegraph 1/8/1839
Character witness for Peter & James Wade accused of the murder of Bryan McCreesh

Rev Thomas McWilliams, Presbyterian minister, sworn by uplifted hand – knows the two Wades; has known them from observation for two years, and generally for three years; he thought them honest, industrious people; had said to others if they were as industrious as Wade’s son they would be as well in the world as the Wade’s are; has occasion on his Ministerial duties to pass their house frequently, and has seen them regular.
Cross-examined by Sergeant Curry – Heard the elder Wade was charged with stealing arms, but he was honourably acquitted; witness was speaking to Alexander Donaldson, a pious hearer of his, who said he thought Wade was not guilty of stealing arms, as had been alleged.
Sergeant Curry – You may go to Creggan, Mr McWilliams. Have you seen Dr Cooke , lately (A laugh)

Rev McWilliams appears to have been prepared to cooperate with local priests throughout his life. In 1850, with Rev Michael Lennon of Crossmaglen, he visited the agent of a local landlord, Ralph Jordan, seeking an abatement of rents for tenants in Cloghog & Freeduff townlands. They were successful and their success was celebrated at a dinner in Crossmaglen (11/12/1850) attended by Jordan, Lennon & McWilliams.

The Tenant League appears to have been founded at a meeting in Ballybay (I & II) on Tuesday 1st October, 1850. Rev David Bell of Derryvalley, Ballybay was one of the organisers. Rev Daniel Gunn Brown was on the platform and spoke. He also chaired a soiree held that evening. Father Lennon was also present.Thomas McWilliams was not listed among those present but in January, 1851 he was on the platform of a meeting held outside the county gaol in Armagh. Brown took the chair but both Lennon & McWilliams proposed resolutions.

The folowing exchange at the Synod of Armagh (27/01/1857) suggests that not all of Rev McWilliams' colleagues were comfortable with this sort of activity. Note that the Moderator, Rev David Bell, was also active in the Tenant League and indeed appears to have resigned his ministry and joined the IRB. The Rev Charles Lucas Morell, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1868, was a brother of Rev John Harris Morell, Thomas' brother-in-law. Both Thomas & John Morell were 2x great grandfathers of mine:

Mr CL Morell:
When the people saw their ministers walking arm-in-arm with Popish priests, dining at the same table, the priest saying grace and the miniser returning thanks, they felt disgusted, and many determined to walk no more with them
Moderator (Mr Bell):
I call Mr Morell to order he has attacked the character and conduct of certain individuals, some of whom are not present to defend themselves. This is not right.
Mr Morell:
It is not you character, sir , I attack. It is the character of the Presbyterian church I am anxious of preserving. It has been greatly injured, and the injury is progressing.
Mr McWilliams:
The character of the ministers has not been injured by what Mr Morell alludes to. Quite the contrary.

Synod of Armagh (Page 1 & Page 2)

I have described this dispute between my 2nd great grandparents, Rev Thomas McWilliams & Rev John Harris Morell and the rift between the Liberal & Evangelical wings of the Presbyterian Church in an Article for Creggan Historical Society.

Photograph of Creggain Manse
Photograph of Slieve Gullion from Creggan Manse

From Freeduff Session Minutes

Mr McWilliams also purchased a farm of 12a 3r and erected and constructed a manse on it in the year 1842 leaving a debt of £40 on it due his heir, to be paid by his congregation.

Being for some considerable time previous affected with Paralysis, on the 5th June, 1859 he preached his last sermon to the congregation and died June 15th 1863 aged 59 years at the Manse, Cloghog.

Typical entries from Freeduff Session Minutes

1837: 1st Communicants
Betty Anne Donaldson
Eliza Donaldson
Matthew Donaldson
Charlotte Donaldson
Signed: Thos McWilliams, minister & Jos Donaldson, Session Clerk

18th Nov. 1837: Alexander ----- and Mary ----- expressed sorrow and repentance for sin of fornication. They both separately received a suitable reproof and admonition and were again admitted into communion with the Presbyterian Church.
Signed; Joseph Donaldson, Clerk & Rev Thomas McWilliams

One of the striking features of the Session Minute Book is the absence of any reference to the famine

Mar 25th 1847; Joseph ----- appeared before the Session to submit to the discipline of the church for the sin of fornication; after a suitable rebuke & exhortation he was restored to Church fellowship and privileges, which was subsequently reported to the Congregation.

Presbytery of Ballybay

1853 - Visitation of Creggan.
Some members of session said they thought their minister's preparation ought to exhibit more care.
£240 are due on manse to Rev Thomas McWilliams
80-90 families belong to the congregation (30 have emmigrated within the last 6 years)
120-125 at Lord's Supper; 7-9 baptisms/year
Psalmody is in a good state
1859 - 7th June - Rev DG Brown to tell Creggan it is in a position to choose an assistant and successor.
1860 - 17th July - Rev Thomas Croskery as assistant and successor to Rev Th McWilliams

McWilliam Gravestone in Freeduff

         Erected In Loving Memory
The Reverend Thomas McWilliam Minister of Creggan,
who died 15 June 1863 aged 59 years
and of his children
Thomas James
Twins Helena and Charles Primrose
From his wife

     “And they shall be mine saith the Lord
of Hosts in that day when I make up my jewels”

             Anna Russell
Wife of the Rev Thomas McWilliam who departed this life
22nd May 1905 in her nintieth year

         "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes"


Photograph of McWilliam grave in Freeduff Presbyterian Church












While Thomas is remembered on this gravestone, he is in fact buried in the McWilliam family grave in Coolshannagh graveyard in Monaghan town.

In addition to the children mentioned above another, Russell, died aged 30 and is buried in Carlow.

Photo of JR McWilliam

The eldest son, John Richardson McWilliam, emigrated to Australia in the 1850s. A descendant of his, Jill Glover, has documented his life & family

Photo of Anna McWilliam


The only surviving daughter, Anna, went to Argentina as a governess soon after her father's death where she appears in Buenos Aires in the 1893 census.

She returned to see her mother through her last years and both appear in the 1901 census in Bray.




Photo of William McWilliam


William qualified as a solicitor, probably apprenticed to Joseph Dickie in Dundalk towards the end of 1873 and moved to Monaghan where he set up his practice.

William's youngest son, Jack (Rev John Morell McWilliam) wrote short memorials of his father & grandmother. However the best record of the time comes from a long letter written by the youngest child, Thomas to his eldest brother, John Richardson in Australia.







Links to main Family Index / McWilliams of Carnteel / McWilliam of Monaghan / Russell of Newry / Morell of Ballybay / Donaldson of Creggan

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