History - Virginia Group Church Of Ireland

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A little about the history of the 4 churches...

Before 1972, when the four churches amalgamated under one incumbency to become the Virginia Group of Parishes they operated separately under their own ministry. Killinkere is the oldest church in the group built in 1817 and serving a mainly farming based community, where flax was once grown and linen production was an important part of the local economy. The church at Virginia referred to as Lurgan (Virginia) was built in 1821, in what was then becoming a thriving market town and replaced a much older church located within the town land of Lurgan believed to have been built around the thirteenth century and served as an Anglican place of worship when English and Scottish settlers arrived during the seventeenth century. The Munterconnaught church provides worship for Anglicans who live on the other side of Lough Ramor and was built in 1831 as a Chapel-of-Ease. People then used to cross the lake in boats to get to Virginia, but in winter this became more difficult as was the long trek by road around the lake. The Billis church dedicated to St. Bartholomew was built around 1844 to serve a large Anglican community at the west of the extensive Killinkere parish.

During the nineteenth century the Church of Ireland Board of First Fruits was influential in providing loans for the building of these churches which was repaid through tithes and gifts to the respective churches from prominent parishioners. The Virginia church caught fire on Christmas night of 1830 and traces of burnt timber can still be seen within the tower as the roof was completely destroyed by fire. While the church was undergoing repair worship was held in the Virginia market house (now the courthouse) where it went recorded that weddings and baptisms also took place during this period and a new bell was then installed within the church tower from the foundry of well known English bell maker John Rudhall of Gloucester. Other features include a marble reredos and fine Clayton & Bell stained glass windows that were added later in the century.

Surviving vestry records from the period of the Great Famine tell of great hardship in the locality and the churches central role in providing assistance to the needy as well as being involved in the Virginia Famine Relief Committee in providing extra rations of Indian meal to prevent starvation. Doctors were also enrolled through the involvement of the Committee. The dis-establishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 meant that churches had to be self financing from means other than glebe rents and tithes. Emigration and the Great War has also had its toll on communities through creating de-population in some areas.

Education also represents an important part of the churches function and it went reported that the Billis primary school first opened during 1826 and started as a multi-denominational school from an education scheme operated by the Kildare Place Society, a for-runner of the National School system. The Headfort school in Virginia also taught classics, while Munterconnaught had their own school similar to the Billis model. Today the Billis school is central to all of the Protestant communities in the area and continues to expand in the 21st century to meet the rising needs for children's education in the locality.

 
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