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.)
Rory Delany August 2021