A History of Derryloran Parish Church
By Canon RJN Porteus

The site of the original, old church and graveyard at Blackhill was taken over by the DoE Historic Buildings Section and given a facelift in the mid 1990's. Inside there is a substantial mausoleum of the von Stieglitz family. Outside, the ground falls away steeply some 15 - 20 metres to the banks of the Ballinderry river. It must have been an impressive sight some three or four hundred years ago standing in splendid isolation atop the Blackhill.

The Early Church

Rev H B Carter in his "History of Derryloran Parish" 1891 suggests there were five churches in the Tyrone district in the 6th century. They may have been even older, existing from the time of St Patrick in the 5th century.

These could have been Donaghendry, Donaghrisk, Ardtrea, Tamlaght, Magheraglass, Lissan and Derryloran. The first two can be identified because they partially retain their ancient names. All of them are mentioned in numerous histories and references since the 6th century.

In the 'Annals of The Four Masters', AD, 1123 and 1136, Derryloran is spelled Doire-Luran. In the roll book of Armagh the spellings are Doirelauran, Derrylauren and Derryloran. The name came from the fact that the area was covered with oak woods (Doire) but it is not certain whether the rest came from a saint called Lauran or Laurance who lived in the area.

The Church at Blackhill

On 7 August 1449 Derryloran took into its care the church at Drumcraw. Both found it financially impossible to exist separately. It was thought that some of the mullions of an extremely antique pattern were transferred from Drumcraw church or Tullagh Temple as it was then known to Derryloran old church at Blackhill in 1449 when the parishes were joined. It is likely that this Derryloran Church was replaced in 1622. The remains of this new church are probably the ruins of a church still standing to this very day at Blackhill to the south of Cookstown. It lies beside the Ballinderry River, close to the bridge at Blackhill on the main Cookstown to Omagh road.

It is interesting to note that when the growing population necessitated more accommodation this particular church was not repaired and enlarged despite the fact that it lay on an ample site on the outskirts of the town. It is thought that this was not due to the fact that a more central site was needed, rather that the building had little of architectural significance to inspire its retention.

Photo of the Church at Blackhill

The John Nash Church

In 1822 the church at Blackhill was replaced by a new one at Gortalowry – “The field of Loran”. It is in the traditional cruciform shape and was built using local quarry stone. The design was by John Nash and the cost was £2769.4s.7d The characteristics of this important centre of religious worship are its simple Gothic style with plain octagonal spire and castellated exterior walls. The interior is of the Saxon style including a vaulted vestibule.

The church was consecrated on 8 August 1822. We are extremely fortunate to have several sketches of the Church by Nash at the Rectory, Cookstown, on paper dated 1814. These confirm a church in traditional cruciform style with an impressive window over the communion table which faces east. The spiral stone staircase to the tower and spire is in the porch. Just beyond the interior entrance doors are the four plain pillars to carry the balcony. The whole building is large and spacious with ample aisles, a circular chancel and large sanctuary. The pulpit is proposed to be at the entrance of the north transept and it is likely that the baptistery would have been located in the centre of the church were the main aisle bulges out.

Large stone buttresses supporting the building are found at each exterior corner. The drawing of the front elevation of the church details the battlement like tops to the tower of cut stone. There is a pinnacle on each corner of the tower which then extends upwards into an impressive octagonal stone spire. The Gothic arches to the main entrance door and louvres on the front face of the tower combined with the Saxon styled battlement feature on the tower top confirms the mix of styles favoured by Nash at the time. The remaining work of Nash is of important architectural significance and part of the legacy of a talented architect who Mr William Tait M.P. said in 1857 at a meeting of the RIBA in London, "Deserved the gratitude of his generation".

1831 - 1859:

Between 1820 and 1830 Cookstown's population quadrupled, mainly because of the new linen industry. This population growth obviated the need for increased seating capacity within the local church. At Derryloran this need was met by extending Nash's church on the Gortalowry site in 1831 during the incumbency of Dr Bardin.

Interestingly, we are able to tell what this first extension since Nash consisted of by looking at drawings dated 1859. These particular drawings were prepared by Mr Welland, the Diocesan architect in Armagh. His reason for drawing them was in preparation for a further extension proposed in 1859 by the then rector, Mr Maloney. who had decided that yet more accommodation was required. In order to begin his task of drawing the proposed 1859 extension, Welland obviously needed to first make drawings of the building as it existed at that moment in time.

It is clear from Welland's plans of the 1859 church that in 1831 the south transept had been made much larger than the existing south transept designed by Nash in 1822. The space between the two windows in the south wall had been used to maximum effect. The pulpit and prayer desk look as though they have been moved to the north wall so that they faced the newly extended south transept. It is reported that the wealthy parishioners had their seats there. Most probably they contributed to the extension and were given pride of place in the new transept.

A robing room was also built between 1822 and 1859 adjacent to the north transept. The whole extension was carried out with care and retained the integrity of Nash's original design. The exterior plan shows that the new extension had a pitched roof in keeping with the rest of the church and Nash's favourite battlement style wall top was extended along the new building. The window on the south side of the tower's lower section has been reduced in size while the window in the south transept appears larger than in Nash's drawings. After the 1831 extension no appreciable deviation from the original style intended by Nash has occurred.

1859: The Welland Plans

The Diocesan Architect, Mr Welland, prepared drawings showing two proposals for extension in 1859. His first plan was to accommodate 562 people and was quite reckless. The whole building was to be turned 90 degrees to the north. In order to achieve this Welland proposed major structural internal relocations. Had it gone ahead, this renovation would have drastically altered the building from the original Nash design. Inside, the Saxon style ceiling would have probably disappeared.

Welland's second plan was less ruthless. This is probably the reason why it was accepted. The church was simply made longer and wider. The transepts were moved further to the east, the south transept being reduced in size. The chancel and sanctuary remained in the normal east position. Additional windows were placed in each longer nave wall and the robing room, pulpit and prayer desk were re-sited. It was estimated that the whole building could hold 575 people, even bigger than plan A.

The new drawings clearly show how in effecting the 1859 extension most of Nash's original building was demolished. Indeed, all that remains of Nash's church today is the section from the balcony pillars to the west external door, including the tower and spire. However, looking at the church today this is not apparent. Over the years the members recognised the heritage Nash had left them and they have extended and repaired with care and attention to detail so much so that if Nash were alive today he would still recognise the building as one of his own both outside and inside.

Photo of the John Nash Church covered with snow circa 2004

Guided Tour

As you enter the church through the west outer door you are immediately surrounded by the work of John Nash. The entrance porch and the first few feet of the church are all that remains of the original building Yet this suggests that something special awaits you.

Photo taken inside the main entrance

Passing through the west inner door the full beauty and spaciousness of the whole church is striking. The aisle stretches for almost one hundred feet to the sanctuary in the east with its impressive new east window. This marks the end of Nash's building. The next pew is longer to fit the wider body of the church extended under Welland. A few feet in front of this rests the baptismal front which is said to have been brought from the former church at Blackhill.

As you look around this point several impressive memorial tablets adorn the walls. The most magnificent to generous benefactors and former rectors of the church. As we continue down the aisle we note an impressive array of stained glass windows which were donated down through the years. Moving towards the east end the north and south transepts are visible. The north transept has the old east window as a feature. At this point the pulpit, in memory of Sarah Jane Craig 1892 and brass lectern can be seen in greater detail The ornately carved oak case of the organ lies behind the carved stone pulpit on the north side. The tiling on which the lectern rests was donated in memory of parishioners who died in World War 2.

We have now reached the chancel area with the choir seats leading to the sanctuary with an impressive oak reredos and magnificent window featuring St John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Christ and Joseph of Arimathea.

Finally, as we turn to face the congregation a fine view of the church from east to west shows many of the features we have seen in our walk from the west door. This includes the impressive arched Saxon style oak beams in the ceiling and the narrower west end where the balcony used to be and where Nash's remaining section of the church is slightly narrower than the extended part.

The parish has continued to the present day with only one further structural alteration. This was the addition of a choir vestry and clergy vestry in 1950 between the north transept and sanctuary walls. Even here the building is of the highest quality using local stone to blend with the old as well as Gothic arched windows. In addition, in the 1990s major remedial work was carried out on the spire, belfry and lightning conductor. The cost of putting right all these defects was £13800 - five times the cost of the whole original building.

Present Day

So today, as we enter a new millennium we look to the present trustees and parishioners of Derryloran Parish Church to preserve this Nash Heritage for a new era. A major restoration work was completed in early 2000 at a cost of over £500 000.

The project was funded with the assistance of the National Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department of Environment Historical Buildings Branch. The work took 8 months to complete and entailed:

  • Removal and restoration of the stained glass windows
  • Re-roofing of the church
  • Storm glazing
  • Cleaning, re-pointing and replacement of defective stonework
  • Repair of balustrades and spire
  • Interior redecoration
  • Erection of a new boiler house and provision of a new boiler
  • Landscaping
  • Improved parking facilities

Provision of a Garden of Remembrance

At the same time two new stained glass windows were installed, the Millennium Window by subscription of the Parishioners and the Gregg Memorial Window in memory of the late Eric and Lily Gregg.

During 2001/2002 many other improvements have been made to the church including: Carpets for the aisle, choir vestry and clergy vestry Grand Piano Communion Vessels new chairs in the choir vestry. Other gifts to the Church include new Prayer Books, Hymnals and Pew Bibles. More recently a Loop System has been installed for those with hearing difficulties.

Canon Norman Porteus, Rector from 1998, updated the various historical strands that make up our rich history in a very readable volume – “The Oak Grove of Luran” in 2001.

Mission Statement

The Parish of Derryloran today seeks to meet the spiritual needs of the modern community and world – proclaiming the eternal gospel to those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 14.6). Its Mission Statement, drawn up by members of the Select Vestry at a special seminar in 2006, declares:

Derryloran Parish Church aims to

  1. promote Christ’s teaching and love in all aspects of our daily lives;
  2. welcome with a sense of openness all members of our community as we grow together as God’s family;
  3. create fellowship, prayer and understanding by living the Christian Faith;
  4. to share the Christian Faith worldwide.

It also adopted the motto “Growing together in Faith” – as we together look to the future…..

Parish Organisations

The Parish Halls are in use continually throughout the week with a wide range of activities:-

  1. Mothers’ Union, Ladies’ Flower Guild, Men’s Society;
  2. Rainbows, Brownies and Guides;
  3. Squirrels, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts;
  4. Youth Club, Archery Club, Badminton Club, Bowling Clubs.

Special Community Project

In 1993 the neighbouring Gortalowry House came on the market, and was purchased by the Parish for £75,000. Built around 1764 for Hugh and Samuel Faulkner, who had established a weaving factory at Wellbrook, the house was subsequently let to Baron von Stieglitz, a German business man, whose vault is in Derryloran Graveyard, dated 1828, with the Latin inscription - Spes Mea in Deo - "My hope is in God".

The Parish, in association with local community groups, embarked upon an ambitious project of providing a purpose-built Community Resource Centre for the people of the Gortalowry area and beyond. The old house, having been previously vandalised, was demolished to make way for the new centre which will have so much to offer the community in the 21st Century. The Parish is closely involved in the Project with 4 members of the Parish sitting on the Management Committee along with the Rector.

Click here for further information on the Gortalowry House project

Missionary Link

For many years the Parish had as its prayer partners Bishop John and Julie Ellison of Paraguay, and this was further developed in 2003 when the Rector led a parish group to Paraguay where part of the Project was to build a church at San Juan, near Concepcion. This led in turn to the Parish twinning with out Paraguayan counterparts.

In 2004 he led a group from Armagh Diocese to work in 2 successful projects – at San Juan and Asuncion, and other parishioners have since spent short-term placements in Paraguay. The new Bishop, Peter Bartlett, has requested that this prayer link should continue.

Click here for further information on Project Paraguay


Ulster Architectural Heritage Society List of Historic Buildings 1970 Rev Oram, P J Rankin

History of Derryloran Parish and its Churches, Rev H B Carter D.D 1891.

The Parish of Derryloran, Rev T P R Kenny.

Topographical Dictionary of Ireland - S Lewis.

John Nash. The Prince Regent's Architect. Terence Davis.

The Life and Work of John Nash, Architect. John Summerson.

The Oak Grove of Luran – Rev Canon R J N Porteus 2001