Irish Presbyterianism had its origins in Scottish migrations to Ulster in the early seventeenth century with the first presbytery formed in 1642. In Presbyterian Christian worship, the preaching of the Word of God is central, in a setting of prayer and praise. There is no fixed liturgy. Prayers and hymns, psalms and paraphrases, Scripture reading and sermon are adapted to the needs of the occasion. Ministers and members must share in the organising and running of every aspect of the Church’s work.
In 1834 there were 672 were Presbyterians in the diocese of Meath with churches in Enniskeen, Laracor, and Mullingar. In 1881 there were 323 Presbyterians in county Meath. Today there are churches at Kells and Ervey within the county.
The first congregation in Meath was established at Summerhill by the local landlord, Lord Langford. Dean Swift, rector of nearby Laracor, was displeased that Lord Langford erected a new church for the Presbyterian community and nailed up the windows of the building. While at Laracor Swift seems to come to some compromise with the Presbyterian members of the community as he writes to Stella about his “old Presbyterian housekeeper.”
The earliest known minister at Summerhill was Rev. Alexander Wood who served for thirty-seven years until his death in 1747. He is buried in Agher churchyard. During the famine. the minister Samuel Craig acted as secretary for the relief committee which was charged with feeding a thousand starving people on a daily basis. By 1849 there were fourteen families and 20 communicants at Summerhill and as these numbers were maintained until the 1870s there was an attempt to establish a school. However by 1901 the community had fallen to six families and ten communicants and a decision was made to amalgamate with Lucan.
John Martin, who was MP for Meath before Parnell, was a member of the Presbyterian church. Martin progressed from early militant support for the Young Irelander movement in the 1840s to non-violent alternatives such as support for tenant farmers’ rights and eventually as the first Home Rule MP for Meath. As a result of his nationalism he served five years in Van Diemen’s Land. He was commonly known as “Honest John Martin” and in parliament spoke strongly for Home Rule for Ireland.
Kells became a missionary station in the middle of the nineteenth century and in 1869 it was organised into a congregation with James Maconaghie as its first minister. Many of its members were drawn from the Scottish workers on the Headfort estate. The church was erected in 1871 on a site granted by Lord Headfort. Rev. William Fearon had a manse built for the minister and also preached at Navan on alternate Sundays. George Woodburn who was minister in the 1890s became professor of English and Logic at Magee College. In the 1930s the church made a union with Ervey. In 1958 the congregation erected the Iona Hall, a much used community facility.
Breakey was the first Presbyterian congregation in east Cavan and served the community in Kells and Moynalty as well as the local area. The first minister appointed was John Lee in 1703. The first church was in what is now the old graveyard. Over two hundred years the Presbyterian congregation of Breakey decided to replace their meeting house and erected a meeting house with session room attached, a school with stables, a house for the school teacher and a burial ground on the shore of Ervey Lough. Although located a few metres inside Co Meath, Ervey church also serves the town of Kingscourt in Co. Cavan.