As the foreword to the 1982 History of Congregations pointed out, the idea of compiling a historical account of each Presbyterian congregation in Ireland was not new. In 1886 the Revd W. D. Killen, Professor of Church History at the Presbyterian College in Belfast, published A History of Congregations, a work that dealt only with congregations of the General Synod of Ulster and, in the main, ministries that began before 1840.
Then in 1890 The Revd Dr C. H. Irwin published A History of Presbyterianism in Dublin and the south and west of Ireland.
This was followed in 1912 by the Revd James McConnell’s Presbyterianism in Belfast which contained histories of each of the congregations in the Belfast Presbytery.
In 1950 the congregations of the former Secession Synod received attention with the publication of the Revd David Stewart’s The Seceders in Ireland, with annals of their congregations.
Finally in 1982 A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1610-1982 appeared. It was the work of many hands and was ultimately brought to completion by an editorial committee chaired by the Revd W. D. Bailie.
In a work of this scale there were always going to be errors and omissions. It was also felt that an index was needed. The Revd. R Buick Knox undertook the daunting task of preparing a supplement for publication. This was published in association with the Ulster Historical Foundation in 1996 as A Supplement of additions, emendations and corrections with an index. This volume also included a section listing ministers of those Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregations that were part of the General Synod of Ulster prior to 1829.
In his Foreword to the Supplement the Revd W. D. Bailie acknowledged that a second supplement dealing with the period from 1982 onwards would soon be needed or perhaps even a new edition of the History of Congregations.
The idea to digitise the congregational histories, combining the History of Congregations and the Supplement, and make them available online came from the Revd Brian Kennaway in 1995. This work did not progress due to a lack of technical skills and finance on the part of the PHSI. This matter was revived in 2005 when the PHSI made a presentation of their work to the Ulster Scots Agency.
The digitisation project has received financial support from the Ulster-Scots Agency and was carried out with the assistance of the Ulster Historical Foundation and BRS Systems.
The online History of Congregations database is available to members of the Society.