Rev. Thomas Witherow, the Presbyterian minister, traces the origin and progress of the movement in this district.
“On Thursday the 2nd of June 1859 the first indications of the presence of the revival appeared at Maghera. On that day a young man called Thomas Campbell, came over from the County Antrim to see his friends at Culnady, a village two miles from this town, on the way to Portglenone, and, while describing at the fireside to his relatives and neighbours the strange scenes which, for sometime past, he had witnessed at religious meetings held beyond the Bann. Suddenly the servant-boy in the family was affected with all the usual symptoms, while those present gathered round him in astonishment and alarm, the servant-girl was affected; and soon afterwards, the brother of the speaker, George Campbell, a young lad of some seventeen years of age. The prostrations that occurred on this occasion could not have arisen from excitement. It was understood that, up to the evening in question, none of these persons had been under religious concern; no attempt had been made in the neighbourhood to produce a revival; public attention had not been drawn to the subject further than by a narrative of the work going on at Connor and Ahoghill, given from the pulpit on the previous Monday by Rev. Jonathan Simpson, which it is not probable any of the parties referred to had been present to hear. The place where they were struck down was the fireside of a farmhouse, when they were listening to the conversation of the friend, who, in the district of the County Antrim where he lived, had witnessed prostrations, but had never been prostrated himself. There was no exposition of Divine truth, no appeal to the passions, no excitement beyond what the novel and interesting incidents related might be supposed to produce. Word of what had occurred soon spread through the village, neighbours gathered in, and the whole night was spent in prayer and in singing praises to God.
“Early in the morning a message was despatched for me, and about ten o’clock I reached the spot in company with a friend. Groups of people, with anxiety and terror pictured on their faces, were collected on the streets of the village, waiting our arrival, and discussing among themselves, in subdued tones, the strange things that had occurred. The first case which we saw was a poor woman—the mother of a number of young children, who had that morning gone to visit those who had been stricken on the previous night, and who had instantly been affected herself. She was an ignorant woman of her class, who had been living an irreligious life and had not been in the habit of attending any place of worship. We found her stretched upon the bed in her little cabin in a state of great physical weakness, but talking incessantly about her sinful life and about Satan, ‘that beast,’ as she called him, who sought her destruction, and about Christ, who had saved her from ruin. She talked in a wild incoherent way, reminding the bystanders of one who was ‘drunk with new wine,’ and quoted so many texts of Scripture as surprised us all, who knew she could not read and had not the advantage of public instruction for many years. The servant-girl, who had been affected the previous night, was found by us apparently exhausted, but in a quiet state, and not seemingly disposed to communicate her feelings. On seeing me enter she lifted her head from the pillow of the bed on which she had stretched herself, and said, ‘O Sir, God has been with us this morning.’ The servant man did not say much, but gave us to understand that the burden of sin, which he said was pressing on his heart, was not yet removed. It was different with George Campbell, the young lad previously mentioned. He had enjoyed the advantages of better instruction in the Scriptures than any of the others, and now the previous knowledge he had acquired became available. We found him sitting on his bed, surrounded by the neighbours who had gathered in, and singing the 20th Psalm with a heart and spirit such as I have seldom heard thrown into a song of praise. After prayer, he exhorted the friends who had crowded in, telling them how God had delivered him from his sins and made him a partaker of His grace. ‘Oh,’ said he, in the most earnest and impassioned manner, ‘there was a mountain of sin pressing on my heart, but God in mercy sent the arrows of His love and pierced that mountain through and through, and it is gone.’ Then he warned all against sin, especially the sin of drunkenness, denouncing the public house as ‘the broad road to hell’; and striking with great violence the Bible which he held in his hand, he shouted in a voice of thunder, ‘Who would dare to ask me to enter a public house now?’ He called on all present to renounce their sins else they would be lost, and spoke to them of Christ with a pathos and energy that drew tears from many eyes. This address, coming from a young lad, who, one day before, would not have ventured to open his lips to any human being on the subject of religion, evidently made a deep impression. The news of these things spread over the whole district in a single day. As my friend and I returned home in the afternoon, the people in the fields threw down their implements of labour, and ran to the wayside to speak to us as we passed; and to each party in succession we had to stop and tell the wonderful things we had seen and heard. This was the origin of the movement at Maghera.
“No means that could be supposed useful in fostering the revival were left untried. Prayer in the family and in the public congregation was offered without ceasing for the outpouring of the Divine Spirit. The instructions of the Sabbath bore, more or less, on the subject. A weekly congregational prayer meeting was started. Large public meetings were called, and addressed by young converts, as they were usually designated, from Portglenone, Bellaghy, Ahoghill, and Connor. One of these meetings was held in the Presbyterian church on the 9th of June, at which there were a thousand present; another in the Flax market on the 17th; and another in the Presbyterian church, at which Messrs. McQuilkin and Meneely from Connor, delivered addresses. Two others were held in Maghera early in July, and another on the 18th at Knockelogbrim Hill, at which it is estimated there were five thousand present, and where, for a whole afternoon, the Presbyterian ministers of the district spoke to the people on matters pertaining to the great salvation.”
In this neighbourhood the work of Grace made manifest in the Revival, still goes on. The meetings for prayer are still kept up, and nearly as well attended as when there was more excitement... In this locality, the effects of a blessed Revival are most apparent, and there is reason to believe that there has been a large number of genuine conversions. Coleraine Chronicle, Jan 28.
From ‘The Revival Newspaper,’ Volume ii, p43/4 Feb 11th 1860.
"The work of the Spirit is more apparent in this town and neighbourhood at present than during any former period. In the absence of any physical excitement whatsoever there are people brought under conviction every day followed nearly in every case, so far as man can judge, by a change of heart and life. Prayer meetings are held every evening, and scarcely a meeting passes without someone being brought under conviction or some anxious enquirer being enabled to lay hold of Christ. Christians here have zeal, but it is a good cause — it is for the conversion of souls and not for the encouragement of extravagance of any kind that might tend to mar the real work of God, or lead pious and shrewd men to doubt that there is a great work of God going on at present. As yet we have seen no cases of deafness or dumbness, nor have we talked with any person who has said he has seen a vision, and we trust we shall be long so as we have no desire at present for new revelations.
"The Banner of Ulster" 17th September 1859