When St. Patrick came to Ulster it is reputed that one of the early results was the building of 3 little churches on the banks of the streams in the wooded glens of South-East Antrim – Shankill, Ballynamanagh (Monkstown) and Coole (Carnmoney).
The churches of Shankill and Monkstown were destroyed in the 16th century and were never restored, but the present Church at Coole can claim to stand on the only site between the Lagan and the Sixmilewater where devine service has been celebrated continuously since the early days of Christianity – a period of approximately 1,500 years.
Carnmoney, or Carn of the Bog, parish is the union of seven medieval parishes which lay between the large parish of Shankill and the Sixmilewater. In the seventeenth century a portion of the Parish of Shankill was added to Carnmoney which at its greatest extent contained some 20,0000 acres.The present Parish Church, consecrated in 1856, is the latest of a long succession of churches that have stood near the north bank of the little river now known as the Glas-na-Bradden which has been translated as “Little St. Brigid’s River, and the name of the stream points to St. Brigid, the pupil and disciple of St. Patrick in Dalaradia as a possible founder saint. The ancient well at the rear of the church known as “St. Brigid’s Well would tend to reinforce this belief.
The Church of Coole was situated at the western extremity of the ancient City of Coole which extended along “Ye Olde Irish Highway” (now the O’Neill Road) to the church at Whiteabbey (The Whiteabbey, the site of which is in a field behind Abbot’s Cross and Whiteabbey Hospital).
The town of Coole suffered severely in the wars of the Bruces, and was burnt and destroyed completely by a Norman baron, John De Logan, and other enemies of the king in 1333 and although rebuilt it never regained it’s previous importance. .
It was quite a prosperous and well established town when the Anglo Normans arrived in the 1170’s. They established a borough town known as Le Coule. There were also Norman settlements at Whitehouse, Whitabbey, Ballycraigy and Ballyhenry.
The old church that stood to the East of the present church and was demolished in 1856,was according to the OS memoirs in 1838 was, “a portion of the ancient church of Coole, the foundations of the remainder of which were at its west end and extend for 25 feet longer than the present church. The church at that time measured on the outside 64 feet long by 25 feet 10 inches and the walls were 3 feet thick and from their irregular surface seemed to be of very ancient standing. It had a lofty but plain steeple attached to the west end with a bell, which was said to be of a great age.
George Chichester Smythe, who was born in Coole Glebe in 1826, son of Samuel Smythe who was vicar at Carnmoney from 1808 until his death in 1849, succeeded his elder brother as curate of Carnmoney in 1843, and after his father’s death he carried on the work as curate-in-charge and vicar until his death in 1903. It was largely due to his efforts and generous financial support that the present “handsome” church was built to replace the plain post-reformation building, which was unsuited to the “modern” needs of the parish.
The new church was consecrated by Dr Robert Knox, the then Lord Bishop of the Diocese, on the 23rd of December, 1856, and was named “The Church of the Four Evangelists” after the east window which probably a gift of the Smythe family. In subsequent years the church has been enriched and beautified by gifts of members of the congregation and improvements during various restoration works.
Maurice Atkinson, July 2004