Ballymore Parish Church was mentioned in ecclesiastical records at least 650 years ago.  In 1343 Roger Sampford held possession of a Prebendary of Armagh for the Parish Church of Tamlackikieth with its churches and chapel.  Afterwards it was called Tonlegee which means “back to the wind” and from which the present town name of Tandragee derives.  We cannot fix a definite date for the founding of Ballymore but this information would indicate that by 1343 the church may have moved to its present magnificent site.

There is however, one clue which may suggest an earlier origin of the Parish.  In 1634 the Tythes of Kilnasaggart (which we are told had become separated) were restored to the newly formed Parish of Ballymore.  We are aware that an inscribed pillar-stone survives in the South Armagh townland of Kilnasaggart dating back to not later than the year 714 and perhaps even earlier.

Churches are sometimes named after the townland in which they are situated but even more frequently such townlands take their name from ancient ecclesiastical foundations.  In this area we still have names such as Shaneglish meaning “old church” or Terryhoogan meaning “the church of the low lying or marshy ground”.  We can assume that our Parish Church stood on different sites throughout the ages.  The name Ballymore itself means “big townland”.

In February 1812 it is understood that the Church on the site was pulled down in order to build a bigger Church as the existing one had become too small for the congregation.  During the building, parts of the old walls were disclosed and found to be over 4 foot thick and made of brick.  The loopholes and embrasures showed evidence of a fire which records say took place in 1641.

The Church was built by means of a loan of £1,384.12s.31/4d from the old Board of First fruits to which Lady Mandeville added £700.  It was dedicated to St Mark and had seating accommodation for 600.  In the middle of the nineteenth century it had an average weekly attendance of from 500 to 700.  At that time there were over 500 Church families with today’s figure being 340.

In 1846 the transepts and chancel were added.  In 1884 inside renovations were carried out and a new organ, the gift of the 7th Duke of Manchester was placed at the side of the chancel.  The building is cruciform and originally had old fashioned boxed seats and a gallery at the west end.  There were also two large enclosed pews, one in each transept; the Rectory pew in the North and the Duke’s pew in the South.  A fireplace adorned the wall beside the Duke’s pew but no such luxury was afforded to the Rectory family.

A number of renovation projects and additions to the Church were undertaken during the early 20th century including the gift of some of the present valuable stained glass windows from the “Manchester’s” and also from parishioners in memory of loved ones.

External renovations and structural repairs were ongoing in the 1900’s and include pebble dash being removed from the outside walls in 1926 and the stones pointed.  The discovery of dry rot in 1962 necessitated major repairs including the complete replacement of the roof.  The gallery was removed at this time.

At the end of the 20th century the external walls were re-pointed and damaged sandstone mullions around some of the stained glass windows were replaced.  Our current project in 2006 is the remodelling of the porch and treatment of damp on the internal walls of the tower.

All of this work has been carried out to help preserved the legacy left by parishioner down through the centuries, so that our children and grandchildren may appreciate and continue God’s work in the Parish of Ballymore.

(Extracts from “A Guide and Brief History of St Mark’s Church, Ballymore Parish” compiled by Roy Tilson.)