Donegal's part in the birth of Presbyterianism across North America is to be celebrated in a heritage tourism initiative linking the University of Ulster's Institute of Ulster Scots Studies and the International Fund for Ireland.
The achievements of two of Donegal's most famous sons, Francis Makemie and William Gregg as towering figures in the growth of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and Canada, will be centre-stage in an educational and interpretive centre to be built in the cradle of Irish Presbyterianism ??? the Laggan district in the north-east of the county.
The old manse at Monreagh near St Johnston is just five miles from the Donegal-Derry border will be converted into the new centre, containing 17th and 18th century artefacts and displays that tell the story of how Presbyterian communities fled Ulster seeking freedom of religion and a new life in the New World.
" This centre will not be a staid mausoleum. It will be a living attraction which will celebrate an Ulster Scots heritage that will attract tourists and generate income in the north-west. It will be a significant addition to the many reasons for visiting this area," said Professor John Wilson, Director of the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies. "Tourism Ireland has developed a deliberate strategy to woo the Scots-Irish. We think lots of people will be interested to travel to the centre as a way of establishing a link with forebears, many of whom sailed as entire congregations for North America," he added.
The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) is giving a ???374,000 grant to the centre and the building project is expected to begin early next year. The Institute for Ulster Studies will recruit a project manager to lead the first year of the project. Denis Rooney, IFI Chairman said: "The development of sustainable tourism based on the history and heritage of the Ulster-Scots/Scots-Irish is now an integral part of the tourism strategy for the border region.
Tourism Ireland is launching a direct marketing campaign aimed at the 26 million Scotch-Irish Americans of this heritage in the USA.
The first tours based on the history and heritage of the Ulster Scots arrive this year.
The Laggan district lies between Loughs Swilly and Lough Foyle, and is centred on the towns of Lifford, Raphoe, Carrigans, St Johnston, Stranorlar and Newtowncunningham. The first Irish Presbytery was founded at Carrickfergus in 1642 among the Scots army. The Presbytery of the Laggan, an area of Scottish and Presbyterian settlement, was the second formed in Ireland. Founded in 1644, Monreagh is the oldest of five congregations founded in the Laggan and the oldest Presbyterian community in the Republic of Ireland.
Donegal has a proud Christian heritage from the time of St Colmcille whose heritage is a meeting point for all denominations today. His great missionary achievements were continued into the New World by Makemie and Gregg and the new centre will reflect this historic evangelism," Prof Wilson said. "Coming closer to modern times, it will be asking what it was about Presbyterians from an Ulster Scots background that had such an influence in North America, an influence that was even mirrored in the American Constitution and the fact that at least 17 Presidents claim an Ulster Scots heritage."
The establishment of heritage and education centre in Donegal to commemorate Makemie has been under consideration for four years. Initial research by the Institute for Ulster Scots Studies received seed funding of ??18,000 from the Ulster Scots Agency and a ???10,000 from the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Republic.
Francis Makemie is recognised as the founder of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Born in Fanad near Ramelton of Scottish parents in 1657-8. The Penal Laws disbarred students from studying in Ireland and would not permit the establishment of a Presbyterian College and so Makemie, like his other contemporaries, took his degree at Glasgow University.
It is in many senses very appropriate therefore that the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies is based at Magee Campus of the University of Ulster, as this was the first Presbyterian College in Ireland.
Ordained at St. Johnston in 1682 with a view to missionary work in the new colonies, Makemie went first to the West Indies and afterwards arrived in Maryland in 1683. He set about organising scattered congregations into a structured church.
Makemie became Moderator of the first Presbytery, which met in Philadelphia in 1706. He died aged 50 and is buried in Virginia.
William Gregg was born at Killycreen near Ramelton in 1817. After studying theology in Edinburgh, he was licensed by the Free Church Presbytery in 1846 and was immediately sent to Canada on missionary work. Ordained there in 1847, he was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, usually called the Free Church, in 1861 when union took place between it and the United Presbyterian Church of Canada.
For further information contact: David Young, Department of Public Affairs, University of Ulster, Jordanstown, Tel: 028 9036 6178.