The Chinese Labour Corps – new publication added to PHSI Library

For those interested in the First World War you may be interested in a recent acquisition to the PHSI library.

Book Cover ImageThe Chinese Labour Corps:
The Forgotten Chinese Labourers of the First World War”
is the fascinating and relatively unknown story told by Mark O’Neill of the contribution of thousands of Chinese labourers who supported the Allies war effort.  Largely illiterate they came to Europe to make a better life for themselves, totally unaware of the conditions under which they were going to have to work in.  Many died or were either injured or traumatised as a result of their experiences in digging trenches, working in factories, mines and repair shops and toiling in the fields and forests.

Mark O’Neill was inspired to write this story after learning that his grandfather the Rev WFS O’Neill was one of the missionaries in China who worked with the Chinese Labour Corps alongside the YMCA who organised for Chinese speaking missionaries and others to provide education, recreation and spiritual comfort to the Chinese labourers.

Also by Mark O’Neill:

Frederick – The Life of My Missionary Grandfather in Manchuria
The Rev FWS O’Neill, an Irish Presbyterian Missionary served in Faku, a small town in Manchuria from 1897 to 1942 and witnessed many of the great events that convulsed China including the Boxer Rising, the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. He also served with the Chinese Labour Corps in France in World War 1 for which he was awarded the Order of the Striped Tiger by the Chinese government.

(This book is available from PHSI  – cost £16.00 plus postage of £2.00 within the UK.)

New Book on the life of Irish Presbyterian missionary Very Rev Frederick W S O’Neill – PCI Mission Overseas news (archive).

Interview with Mark O’Neill on RTHK Radio 3 Bookmarks website (archive).

Other publications available from PHSI.

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

Return to Cahans – walks and talks

The 2014 ‘Return to Cahans’ event commemorates the ‘Cahans Exodus’ of 1764 – see the Cahans Project website at for more information about the history of the Cahans community.

The next stages of the commemoration progress are -

Saturday June 14 – walk leaves Bessbrook 2pm and arrive Second Newtownhamilton Presbyterian for 8pm meal and talk on the home linen industry in the early 1700s. Also David and Debby Moore from Salem, New York, will give an audio visual presentation on Salem church and community.

Saturday June 28 – walk leaves Newtownhamilton 2pm and arrive First Castleblayney Presbyterian 8pm for meal and talk by the Rev Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick (Union Theological College) on Scots Presbyterians and their experience in early 18th Century Ulster.

Saturday July 26 – walk leaves Castleblayney 2pm and arrive Cahans 8pm for meal and talk on the early 1700s from a child or young person’s perspective by Brian MacDonald. (The 1764 party arrived at New York 28 July).

Anyone can join one or more of the walks, walking the whole way or part of it – all to commemorate 250 years since the ‘exodus’ people walked from Cahans to Narrowwater to sail to America. Some from Salem plan to take part, and others from the Cahans diaspora. Please let us know if you plan to share in any of the walks (

(The congregation and community in Salem will hold a commemoration there on Sunday 27 July, details of which are not yet available.)

Transcript extract about the Cahans Exodus – from the DIPPAM Irish Emigration Database.

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

Paupers, Presbyterians and the Poor Law in nineteenth century Ulster

The next event in the Society’s programme is on Thursday 22 May 2014
in Union Theological College, Botanic Avenue, Belfast, at 8.00pm:

The Robert Allen Memorial Lecture
Paupers, Presbyterians and the Poor Law
in nineteenth century Ulster
- by Dr Olwen Purdue

 Lecturer in Irish Social and Economic History
at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Speaker’s details on the QUB staff information page

About the Robert Allen Memorial Lectures

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

St. George’s Belfast – Annual Lecture 2014 – 8 May 2014

Flyer for St. George's Annual Lecture 2014

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

PHSI Field Trip 2014 – Itinerary and Programme

Field Trip to visit
Churches and Sites
in the Belfast Area
Saturday, 14 June 2014

10.15 am Belfast City Hall in the Bobbin Coffee Shop for morning coffee
11.00 am Guided tour of Assembly Buildings
12.00 noon Guided tour of Belfast City Hall
1.00 pm Lunch and talk/tour of May Street Presbyterian Church
2.15 pm Coach to Balmoral Cemetery for a guided tour (weather permitting)
3.15 pm Coach to Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church for a guided tour
4.00 pm Coach to Knockbracken Reformed Presbyterian Church, College, Library and Bookshop for a guided tour
5.00 pm Coach to Orangefield Presbyterian Church for a guided tour and evening meal

Cost – £25 for the ‘Wheels and Meals’ option, £20 for the ‘Meals Only’ option.

Participants with special dietary requirements should advise the Society of these by Thursday 5 June 2014.

For booking of places on the Field Trip or any related enquiries – please contact
The Librarian, PHSI, 26 College Green, Belfast BT7 1LN,
by email to or by telephone on 028 9072 7330.

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

A Soldier of the Great War?

Flyer - World War I Soldier
A talk giving an overview of some of the many resources for finding your World War I ancestor.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 1.00 pm
in Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place, Belfast.

This event is free and open to all.

View the Facebook post.


Some useful websites to get you started


Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website

Rev Henry Montgomery and the Shankill Road Mission

Remembering the Reverend Henry Montgomery
Founder and First Superintendent
of the Shankill Road Mission

Montgomery Blue Circle Plaque On Monday 10 March 2014 the Ulster History Circle placed a plaque at the Albert Hall, 110-120 Shankill Road, Belfast, in memory of the Rev Dr Henry Montgomery, 1847-1943, founder of the Shankill Road Mission.  There were speeches from Chris Spurr, Chairperson of the Ulster History Circle, from William Humphrey, MLA, and from the Rev Jack Lamb, minister of Townsend Street Presbyterian Church and a member of the Shankill Area Social History Group (SASH) who did the unveiling of the plaque.

Those who gathered at the event were then invited to an illustrated lecture in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church Hall given by Stuart Irwin whose MA dissertation was on the Shankill Road Mission and who provided a fascinating insight into the work of the Mission and the inspirational role of the Rev Montgomery in meeting the spiritual and practical needs of the people on the Shankill.

Cover of Henry Montgomery BookletThe occasion was also an opportunity to distribute a booklet “Shankill Road Shepherd” produced by SASH about the Rev Henry Montgomery.  A copy of this booklet is now available in the Presbyterian Historical Society Library and Archive.  A fuller account of the history of the Shankill Road Mission can be found in “Shankill Road Mission: 100 Years of Caring” which can also be consulted in the Society’s Library and Archive.

The massive increase in the population of Belfast during the 19th century from 19,000 to 250,000 resulted in a boom in church building but despite this increased provision there remained many working class families who were unconnected to any church. Stirred by the large number of non-church going people as he walked one Sunday evening from Royal Avenue to the Shankill Road, the Rev Montgomery was convinced of the need to reach these people with the message of life.  He got involved in the work of the Belfast Town Mission and through his ministry in Albert Street Presbyterian Church sought to reach out the thousands of people who were flooding into Belfast to work in the textile mills.

To further his urban mission work he established a tent mission in 1896 and with money raised largely by his congregation a permanent building was built that opened in 1898.  The plans incorporated a large assembly hall – the Albert Hall – capable of seating 2000 people, a Sunday school, medical facilities, a soup kitchen, classrooms and recreational areas.

Shankill Road MissionIn 1902 Montgomery resigned as minister of Albert Street congregation and became a full-time worker with the Shankill Road Mission which then became an organised congregation in 1907.  By 1912 the church had grown to 500 families and in that same year Montgomery, in recognition of his work with the Mission, was made Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.  From the beginning Montgomery’s vision was not only to evangelise the people but also to meet their physical needs.  For example – there was an annual Christmas supper and distribution of Christmas parcels; and he organised trips to the seaside to enjoy the fresh air at Bangor.

The many tributes paid to the Rev Henry Montgomery on his death in 1943 is indicative of the respect and esteem in which he was held by the people on the Shankill Road.

“Many people lined the streets in the area where Dr Montgomery had spent a long life of devoted service; blinds were drawn, doors of business premises were shut, and there were other evidences of the deep respect in which citizens, without distinction of creed, held the memory of the man who had long ministered to their spiritual and temporal needs.”

Even to this day the work of the Rev Montgomery is still fondly remembered in the area and he remains one of the great inspirational figures of Belfast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is only fitting that a plaque should be placed to commemorate the Rev Montgomery, affectionately known as the “Shankill Shepherd”, and to acknowledge the many lives that he touched throughout his life.

Ulster History Circle website

The Dictionary of Ulster Biography

Shankill Road Town Mission: Religion and philantropy in Belfast – Stuart Irwin

Go to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland website


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