Knockbreda is the oldest active Church of Ireland parish church in Belfast. We continue to proclaim the gospel of Christ and seek to build his kingdom just as we have done for over 280 years. While always looking to the future we are mindful of our remarkable heritage.
Knockbreda owes its existence to Anne, the Dowager Viscountess Midleton (grandmother of the Duke of Wellington), who proposed its construction at her own expense, and to her son Arthur Hill, the local landlord, who promised an acre of ground for its site just to the east of his Belvoir demesne. Lady Midleton was a pious believer who was sympathetic to John Wesley and the early Methodists. There is no record of Wesley preaching at Knockbreda when he was in Belfast, however Lady Midleton did build the evangelical Bethesda Church in Dublin for one of Wesley’s friends, Rev James Smyth.
‘Lady Midleton’s offer to provide a new parish church had to overcome some influential opposition when it was proposed in 1733. The parish of Knockbreda had been created by the union of the separate parishes of Knock and Breda in the 1650s. With the old church of Breda having been in ruins since the early seventeenth century, the dilapidated church at Knock served the united parish, but not it alone, for Knockbreda was at the time also joined to the parish of Dundonald, and therein lay the difficulty.
Lady Margaret Ikerrin of Castle Hill fumed at the proposed location of the new church at the western side of the large parish, which she deemed inconvenient. Notwithstanding her humiliation at being out-voted on the issue at a vestry meeting chaired by Bishop Hutchinson, Lady Ikerrin appealed to the primate. Archbishop Boulter, however, believing the site ‘more convenient for the greatest part of the parishioners’, recommended his approval to the government. Designed by the famous German architect, Richard Cassell, within four years the church was completed.
Knockbreda was consecrated by Francis Hutchinson, the Bishop of Down and Connor, on Sunday 7 August 1737.’ (‘History of the Parish of Knockbreda’ by Dean Carmody, 1929).
Daughter Churches Planted by Knockbreda
The original parish of Knockbreda was very large – it ran from Drumbo to Holywood. As the population of Belfast expanded, particularly in the 19th century, new churches were planted within Knockbreda’s boundaries. These included: Ballymacarrett (Christ’s Church, 1827), Ballynafeigh (St Jude’s, 1873), Knock (St Columba’s) and St Clement’s (1897).
A history of the parish is available: ‘Set on a Hill’ by Ernest Wood.