The first recorded mention of a congregation of Presbyterians in the Parish of Banagher was in 1753 in the Minutes of the Sub-Synod of Derry. It was agreed to erect a congregation out of members already part of Cumber Congregation. So Banagher became an extension of Cumber as she, herself, had been an extension of Glendermott in 1717.
A Sabbath day’s journey for Presbyterians in this locality prior to the erection of Banagher (or Ballyhanedin as it was then known) was 15 miles. The nearest congregations were Cumber and Boveva.
The first and longest serving minister of Banagher was Reverend John Law, who was minister from 1756 to his death in 1810. He was buried in the graveyard of the Old Priory in Dungiven where his tombstone proclaims a man of God, “Upright in life and free from guilt and crime”.
Banagher like most newly erected congregations in eighteenth century Ulster was a weak and struggling cause for many years. Presbyterianism was a Church tolerated rather than approved by the Protestant Church and State of the time. Times were so tough for our forefathers economically, religiously and civilly that many Presbyterians left Ireland for North America in the eighteenth century to carve out a great name for the Ulster-Scot in the history of the formation and early development of the great experiment called the United States of America.
Just as Presbyterians in Ulster were an extension of the Church of Scotland so the Presbyterian Church in America became an extension of the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster. Reverend Francis Makernie of Ramelton was Moderator of the first Presbytery in America and is being honoured this year, 300 years from his ordination and commission to undertake mission work in Maryland, by a Postal stamp issued by the Post Office in the Republic of Ireland. He has earned for himself the name of ‘father of American Presbyterianism’.
The Synod of Ulster in 1780 directed the Presbytery of Derry to make a collection for four of its struggling congregations and one of them was Banagher. In 1804, in the Minutes of the Synod of Ulster, we find that Banagher was catalogued in Class 3 of its congregations, that is the poorest and least influential of them, and entitled only to £50 of the annual Royal Grant (the Regium Donum) divided out among the congregations of the Synod. This token support of the Synod was instituted first by King Charles II in 1672 to help cushion the plight of Presbyterian ministers deprived of their livings in the era of enforced religious conformity.