Ballycarrickmaddy National School

Preacher, Doctor, Lawyer … Hula hoop maker
by “The Digger”

Read about a family’s recent visit from California to the Magheragall area in a search for the burial place of the Reverend Joseph Kelso…

Della Peterson

California resident, Della Peterson visiting Magheragall Presbyterian Church where her great great great grandfather the Reverend Joseph Kelso was ordained as the first minister in 1809

Admittedly a different combination from the usual ‘tinker, tailor, soldier sailor’ rhyme, but they all have something in common, together with a flavour of local interest, in particular centering around the Magheragall area, in the north west area of Lisburn, County Antrim.

The common link between the preacher, doctor, lawyer and hula hoop maker is the surname ‘Kelso’.

Arthur Kelso Melin, known as Spud Melin, from California, who died in 2002, was recently inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame with his business partner, Richard Knerr. They were the founders of the Wham-O company who were credited for the manufacture of a number of revolutionary toys including the Hula-hoop and the Frisbee.

Arthur’s daughter, Della Peterson accompanied by her husband Jim and two sons, arrived in the Lisburn area a number of weeks ago from California in her search for the burial place of her great great great grandfather, the Reverend Joseph Kelso. He was the first minister of Magheragall Presbyterian Church having been ordained in 1809. Della was following in the footsteps of her great grandfather, Thomas Pomeroy Kelso, who had travelled from North America to Ireland over a lifetime ago in search of his ancestors. At that time he recorded his experiences in a private publication titled “Tales of Papa Tom.” They included taking a jaunting car from Belfast to visit Magheragall and visiting the graveside of his grandfather, the Reverend Joseph Kelso. He records that the headstone bore the names of the Reverend Kelso and his first two wives. He also visited the old school at Ballycarrickmaddy, a short distance from the church, where his own father, Thomas Kelso attended in the mid-19th century prior to his emigration to Ontario. He eventually moved to Kansas. Thomas was surprised by the lack of conveniences that the school offered the pupils in comparison with his own experiences across the Atlantic. “A touch of remorse came over me when I thought of the lavish way father educated me and his other children.” Thomas was the son of the Reverend Kelso and his second wife.

Ballycarrickmaddy School

Ballycarrickmaddy School

Della was unable to locate the original headstone that her grandfather had viewed. It appeared to have been removed, although an inscription to the Reverend Kelso was found on a family headstone dating back to 1975. “Rev. J. Kelso died April 1862.” The Ordnance Survey Memoirs dated 1832-1838 record that the Kelso surname was inscribed on a headstone in the graveyard at Magheragall Presbyterian Church at that time.

The Peterson family met with the current minister, Angus McCullough at Magheragall Manse, and it was there that the story of the Reverend Joseph Kelso was unravelled to his American descendants and notes were compared. Della also met with Elizabeth Mairs, the great great granddaughter of the Reverend Kelso by his first wife, Rebecca Johnston.

Joseph Kelso had been married three times, firstly to Rebecca Johnston, succeeded by Elizabeth Mairs and Jane Dawson. During the course of three marriages it is believed that he had 16 children. Della learnt that she was the descendant of the second wife. The Reverend Kelso’s first born was John Johnston Kelso, a surgeon and chemist, born in 1809. He died in 1879 and is buried in Lisburn Cemetery. The third son, Joseph Kelso, left Ireland in the 1840 period and he became a Judge in Iowa. At least eight other children of the Reverend Kelso left these shores to seek their fortunes elsewhere across the globe.

In 1842 he made the headlines in the press when a case of bigamy was heard in the local courts. They had been united in marriage by the Reverend Kelso. He was examined in court and he stated that he was a pastor of the congregation for upwards of 20 years before resigning. He did not consider himself having ceased being a minister after leaving Magheragall and he believed he could carry on with his duties as he saw fit. On this occasion he had married a couple at his home and he admitted to having carried out other marriages, baptisms and preaching at a neighbouring homestead. The court questioned his reasons for resigning from his clerical position and he informed those present that his sight had failed, he could not make a sufficient living and charges of intemperance were levelled against him. During cross-examination it was put to him that in fact he had been suspended prior to his resignation. He informed the court he could not remember, casting a shadow of doubt over his character.

The Kelso name hasn’t left the Magheragall area completely. The locals still refer to “Kelsey’s Hall.” This is a local reference to the orange hall situated at the corner of the Glenavy Road and Whinney Hill. It is of course situated on land once owned by the Reverend Kelso, who resided on the opposite side of the road.

Della would be pleased to make contact with any other descendants of the Reverend Kelso. She can be contacted through “The Digger” via our Contact page.

Thanks to the Rev. Angus McCullough, his wife Julie, and the Mairs, Clarke, Brown and Begley families for their assistance in facilitating the visit.

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