Northern Lights 1


The roots of Unitarianism in Dublin can be traced back to the middle of the 17th century and to some of the English Presbyterian and Independent congregations that put down religious foundations in the city. However, much of the subsequent building and maintenance of Unitarianism in the city (particularly through the Wood Street / Strand Street congregations) can be attributed to the prominent and vital role that men and women from Ulster have played in the history of our church since the early 18th century. The compilation of the list of ‘Notable Unitarians’ for our revamped website once again illustrated for me the depth and length of our connections with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism of counties Antrim and Down. Of the thirty- five people who make up our website list of ‘Notable Unitarians’ because of their connections with one or more of the Dublin congregations, more than half were either born in Ulster or were from families who came from there. Over the next few editions of the Oscailt I hope to provide more information about some of these ‘Northern Lights’ who illuminated Unitarianism in Dublin in so many different ways.

Sir Andrew Marshall Porter 1837 -1919

With the possible exception of the Wilson window under which it is situated, the panel of plaques containing the Beatitudes is the most familiar internal feature of our church building. It was presented as a gift to the church in 1910 by Belfast man Sir Andrew Marshall Porter. Andrew Marshall Porter came from an Ulster family that was immersed in the history of the Unitarian / Non- Subscribing strand of Presbyterianism. His father, his grandfather, and his uncle were all Presbyterian Ministers. His father, Rev John Scott Porter, spent a period of his ministry in London before he returned to Ireland in response to the call from the 1st Presbyterian Church (Rosemary Street) Belfast. (A large portrait of Rev John Scott Porter was presented to our congregation in 1910 by Mr.J.Murray of Belfast. It is currently in storage downstairs in the church vestry awaiting repair to the frame before being re-hung). His ministry at Rosemary Street coincided with the ministry of his cousin Rev. John Porter at 2nd Presbyterian Church Belfast (now All Souls in Elmwood Avenue, the church where the Rev.Chris Hudson, a former Chairman of the St Stephen’s Green congregation, is currently the minister).


Andrew Marshall Porter had an illustrious family history but he is a very interesting historical figure in his own right. Porter was born in Belfast in 1837 and was educated at the Belfast Academicals Institute. He went on to study and qualify in law and was called to the Bar in 1860. By 1872 he had become a Queen’s Counsel and he developed a successful legal practice that eventually brought him to reside in Dublin where he became an active member of the St. Stephen’s Green congregation for many years. A Liberal Unionist, Porter was an ardent supporter of William Gladstone. In 1881 Porter was elected to Westminster as Member of Parliament for the County Londonderry constituency. Serving under Gladstone he was appointed as Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1881 and then as Attorney-General for Ireland from 1882. In his capacity as Attorney-General he was deeply involved in the trials and prosecution of the Phoenix Park assassins of Lord Cavendish. He resigned his Westminster seat in 1883 when he was raised to the bench as Master of the Rolls in Ireland, a post in which he served until his retirement in 1906.

Porter married Agnes Hosbrugh in 1869 and for much of their marriage they lived at 42 Merrion Square, Dublin. When Porter received a baronetcy from King Edward in the 1902 coronation honours list he took the title of 1st Baronet Porter of Merrion Square. (The baronetcy still exists and the current holder of the title, Sir Andrew Alexander Marshall Horsbrugh-Porter, is the 5th Baron of Merrion Square.)
          Andrew and Agnes Porter had six children: Helen, Margaret, John Scott, Alexander, Andrew Marshall, and William Francis. The 1901 census returns for 42 Merrion Square state that five of the six children were still living. The religion of Helen is recorded as Church of Ireland, the religion of her mother, but the religion of the four other Porter children resident in the house is recorded as Unitarian. Interestingly though, only the baptisms of two of the children, Alexander (1872) and William (1878) are recorded in the Stephen’s Green Baptismal Register. However, the marriage of Margaret Porter to Captain Cuthbert Vernon in 1905 is recorded as having been solemnised in the church.
          The child of Andrew and Agnes who was no longer living in 1901 was Andrew Marshall Porter (1874 -1900) who had died the previous year. On 21st June 1900 The Irish Times reported that a meeting of the (Trinity) College Historical Society held on the previous night had resolved that; “the memory of the late Andrew Marshall Porter, who fell at Lindley, South Africa, on 31st of May last, should be perpetuated, the Auditor to be invited to form a Committee to take the necessary steps to carry this desire into effect, and to decide what form such memorial should take”.
          Like his father, Marshall Porter had also studied for law but he came to public prominence because of his sporting achievements. He represented Ireland in Cricket and in Hockey but a promising sporting and legal career were cut short when he joined the British Army to fight in the Boer War. He was killed during the fighting in South Africa in 1900. The resolution of the Historical Society was acted upon and when the new Graduates Memorial Building opened in Trinity College in 1902 it contained a stained-glass window dedicated to the memory of Andrew Marshall Porter. He is also remembered in Trinity College through the Marshall Porter Memorial Prize for students of the classics.
          By the time of the 1911 Census Sir Andrew Marshall Porter had moved to Malahide Road in Clontarf. All the other surviving members of the family provided the same information for religion as they had for the 1901 census but, at a time when he was still active in unitarian church affairs and just a year after making his gift of ‘The Beatitudes’ to the church, Sir Andrew declared his religion as Non- Subscribing Presbyterian. There was really nothing contradictory or unusual in this declaration. It is just one more example of how so many of our predecessors in both parts of Ireland seemed to have viewed both labels as complementary and interchangeable.
          Rev.Savell Hicks officiated at Porters funeral at Dean’s Grange cemetery in January 1919. The funeral was well attended by the leading legal figures in the city but it says quite a lot for the reputation of Porter that the Rev.Dr.William Walsh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, was in attendance to pay his respects to a Presbyterian/ Unitarian and one time Unionist M.P.

Rory Delany                                       August 2021
Dublin Unitarian Church