Ballintoy means 'town of the north' and the parish church, located a short distance from the town, appropriately enough, is one of the most northerly in the diocese of Connor. Modern day Ballintoy ecclesiastical parish is located in the barony of Cary, County Antrim, and comprises 27 townland denominations.
The church as it now stands is a replacement for an older structure and was completed in the year 1813 under the auspices of Revd Robert Trail to a plan drawn by Henry Wynne. In design, it is two bays in length, with a single north transept, the tower being retained from an earlier building. With passing years improvements and embellishments were added to the parish church. In June of 1857, a new organ was installed by Dublin based firm Telford & Telford, at a cost of £37 met by voluntary subscription. A very extensive renovation was undertaken in 1883 under the direction of Revd John McNeice. At this time, a new pulpit, pews, flooring, tiling, and heating were added, as well as repairs to the roof and spire. Further repairs needed to be made to the roof following considerable damage caused by a hurricane of December 1894. It is probable that the steeple, which was also damaged in this storm, was not replaced on the church tower at this time. Aside from the regular appendices one might expect to find adorning the walls of a church building, Ballintoy has a sundial affixed to the exterior wall on the west corner. Apparently, it has also been used to record tidal movements and is dated 1817. Given its date, it most probably was an instrument placed there by Revd Robert Trail, whose memory is immortalised in a beautiful stained glass window in the chancel, designed by Watson of Youghal and installed in 1902.
Although there is no precise date of construction it may be surmised that a place of worship was built on the present site at Ballintoy sometime during the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It is very likely that it functioned as a chapel of ease to nearby Ballintoy Castle which is built on the townland of Ballintoy Demesne. Since the church at Ballintoy is located on the northern extreme of the wider parish area, it is thought that worshippers may have attended at Billy, the official parish church prior to the formation of Ballintoy as a separate parochial unit. A much older religious establishment at Templastragh, possibly of pre-reformation origin, may also have served those in the vicinity of Ballintoy for a period up to the establishment of the first church there, or beyond. The first recorded incumbent of Ballintoy church is James Blare who served there in 1635. It is not certain if he was still there in 1641 when members of the parish and other local Protestant settlers came under attack from a group of insurgents led by James McColl MacDonnell. For those in the Ballintoy locality during the 1641 Uprising, the Castle and parish church were the safest places of refuge. Those seeking sanctuary here held out for four months, with the assistance of benevolent Father McGlaime, a Roman Catholic priest who covertly assisted with food supplies, until military relief arrived under Lord Antrim in May 1642. In the year 1663 Ballintoy church was rebuilt and was subsequently granted full parochial status, the area being formed out of the parish of Billy. At that time the number of townlands in the parish of Ballintoy amounted to 61, a figure that has been reduced to 27 in the modern parish due to re-alignments and boundary changes.
Ballintoy Castle must have been a very important local focal point and from 1630 to mid eighteenth century, it was home to the 'Stewarts of Ballintoy' a family descended from Sir John Stewart of Bute and with blood connections to the Dalriadic Kings of Scotland. Archibald Stewart, first resident of the Castle, acted as agent to the Earl of Antrim in 1630 and it is likely that his patronage was instrumental in the erection of a chapel of ease a little distance from his fortified home. Just to reinforce the link between the parish and the Stewart family, Revd Archibald Stewart of that branch, acted as Church of Ireland incumbent to the parishes of Ballintoy and Billy, 1718-37. Earlier, he had served as chaplain in the British Army during the War of the Spanish Succession. Upon his father's death, Revd Stewart became heir to the family estates at Ballintoy and Acton. About 1760 Ballintoy Castle and estate were purchased by Alexander Fullerton, who left the property to his niece Catherine, whose son, it was stipulated, was to retain the family name Fullerton. Upon her marriage to Dawson Downing of Londonderry, the extended surname Downing Fullerton was adopted. Interestingly, a close ancestor of her husband, Sir George Downing who held property in London, gave his name to that street which is now synonymous with the seat of British Government - Downing Street. Ballintoy Castle was disassembled in 1795 and from it an oak staircase, beams and panelling were transferred for use in Downing College, University of Cambridge.
Memorials & Tombstones
There is much of historical and genealogical note contained in headstone and commemorative plaques found within the stone walls which encircle Ballintoy parish church. As to the graveyard itself, it would appear that by the late eighteenth century the existing area around the old church had became inadequate and additional burial ground was donated by Alexander Fullerton of Jamaica, in 1805. It would appear that the oldest stone in the cemetery belongs to James McKinlay who died in February 1696. Notable landed families whose names appear on gravestones here include Stewarts of Ballintoy, Downing Fullerton and the Stewart-Moore family. Rectors who served in the parish are also found interred here such as Revd Henry Carter, D.D., who died February 1867; and Revd Robert Trail who died June 1842 having given 66 years of his life as incumbent to Ballintoy. A small number of additional memorials are located within the church building and on its walls. Two of these are situated beneath the Holy Communion table and are amongst the most ancient in the parish: a freestone slab dedicated to Barnarda Stewart who died in 1663, and one to a child Nicholas Stewart who died in 1667, probably her son. A further interesting stone is attached to the outside of the church tower with full coat of arms in memory of three members of the Stewart family who deaths occurred during the eighteenth century.
Amongst the most celebrated treasures held by the parish are the solid silver communion plate and paten, both of which were presented in 1684 by Sara Stewart of Ballintoy Castle. The communion plate or chalice is thought to have been manufactured some time previous to 1638 by Dublin silversmith James Vanderbeg or Vanderbeck, while the provenance of the paten is less clear since it is stamped only with date of presentation to the church. Of further curiosity is the old church bell which bears the following inscription:
'Archibald Stewart gave me: Charles, his son, re-cast me, anno 1686 and
Archibald the son of Charles re-cast and augmented me anno 1718'
The bell no longer calls parishioners to worship but may be still viewed in the church tower.