Monday Books: Uncovering Roots of Ulster Church; the Presbyterian Church in Ireland: A Popular History by Prof Finlay Holmes. Published by Columba Press, Dublin. Pounds 6.99

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IRISH Presbyterianism is a broad church which can comfortably embrace conservative and radical forces, both in the religious and political sense.

Former Presbyterian Moderator Professor Finlay Holmes is well versed in his Church, and in this excellent study he explains Presbyterian identity and ethos, the Church's theological and political conflicts and its role in Irish history.

Paradoxically, Professor Holmes relates, some Presbyterians were prominent in the United Irishmen's struggle, yet most members have been ardent unionists since the early 19th Century.

Quoting historian T Moody, he writes: "The stronghold of Ulster Protestantism has always been the Presbyterian Church, rooted in the Scottish Reformation and maintaining close and continuous contact with Scotland."

Presbyterians remain the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, with a much smaller presence in the Republic, and their considerable influence in America from the early 18th Century came about as a result of the emigration of a quarter of a million of the dissenting flock.

The 170-page book closely examines the laying of the foundations for Presbyterianism in Ulster during the 17th Century Plantation years, and, interestingly, lists areas of the Province which within a few years became strongholds of the creed, with Presbyterians outnumbering Church of Ireland members and Roman Catholics.

These areas included Antrim, Ballymena, Ballywalter, Cairncastle, Carrickfergus, Comber, Dervock, Donaghadee, Holywood, Killyleagh, Larne, Newtownards, Portaferry and Templepatrick. …