Some of the streets near the church have names connected to the Reformation in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries. Three examples are within a five minute walk of the church.
During the 17th century thousands of Lowland Scots migrated to the North of Ireland, principally during the Plantation of Ulster in 1610. Many followed in subsequent years because of the good farmland in Ulster and the comparative freedom to practice their faith. Most of these people from Scotland were Presbyterians.
At that stage Belfast was little more than a village, Carrickfergus being the main town in the North. However, during the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century, Scottish people began pouring into Belfast making Belfast’s population predominately Presbyterian.
These people named the new Belfast streets after their spiritual heroes in Scotland. These heroes were men whose faith and sacrifice ensured that Presbyterianism would not only survive, but flourish in Scotland and the North of Ireland, and subsequently in many parts of the world.
(Cargill Street, off Townsend St.)
Donald Cargill was born in the town of Rattray in Perthshire. After education in Aberdeen and at St. Andrews University, he yielded to God’s Call to be a preacher even though he felt unworthy of such a high calling and trained under Samuel Rutherford. He was ordained minister of the Barony Church in Glasgow in the Spring of 1655.
Following Cromwell’s death, Charles II became king. He introduced intimidating measures against Presbyterian ministers and Donald Cargill became a fugitive but continued to preach in barns, on hillsides, and on the moors all across the South and West of Scotland.
For twenty years he evaded capture but one night in a remote farmhouse near Biggar in South Lanarkshire he was arrested and taken to Edinburgh. He died on the scaffold on 27th July 1681 saying it caused him less fear than any of his preaching engagements.
(Cameron Street, off Botanic Avenue)
Richard Cameron was born in Falkland in Fife. After his university training he became a school teacher in his native town. Soon he heard the Call to preach and was licensed to preach the gospel in 1678.
Like Cargill, Cameron preached across the hills and moors of Scotland to thousands of people, in all kinds of weather. He quickly became the most popular preacher in Scotland. Despite being a hunted man, he was fearless and became known as ‘The Lion of the Covenant’.
Eventually the Dragoons caught him and a group of his friends at a place called Ayrsmoss. Cameron and the friends resisted arrest and in the battle that followed he was killed along with 28 others. His head and hands were hacked off and taken to his father Allan who was a prisoner in Edinburgh.
“I know them, I know them’, he said. ‘…Good is the will of the Lord…’
(Renwick Street, off Sandy Row)
With the deaths of Donald Cargill and Richard Cameron the scattered remnant of persecuted Covenanters were left without any ministers. They formed into a group, collectively known as the ‘United Societies’.
However, at that time a young student in Edinburgh was so taken with the dying testimony of Donald Cargill that he resolved to become a minister. His name was James Renwick. He was forced to train for the ministry in Holland and returned to Scotland in 1683 and formally accepted the Call of the United Societies to be their minister. The person and work of Christ was his constant theme and, as his parish was literally the length and breadth of Scotland, he had an onerous and debilitating task.
This last preacher of the persecuted remnant of Covenanters did not escape the hangman’s noose, betrayed and captured in Edinburgh in 1688 at the age of 26.