A Presbyterian congregation was established in Rosemary Street in 1644. By the 1720s, there were three Presbyterian churches in Rosemary Street named the First, Second and Third Presbyterian Churches.
The current First Presbyterian church was dates from 1783 and is the only one of the three churches remaining. It is a rare example of Georgian architecture in Belfast. The church’s classical portico was altered beyond recognition in 1833. However, the elliptical interior of the original late 18th century building remains.
The church contains several artifacts of historical note. The Al Hidaya Plaque was placed in the building to remember Charles Hamilton for his work in translating an Islamic law text in the 1780s that was by British colonial administrators in India to help adjudicate in legal disputes regarding sharia law. Pew 33 is where Thomas McCabe sat; in 1786, he was instrumental in persuading a group of wealthy business men not to become engaged in the slave trade.
Throughout the years, congregation members have played a big role in the history of the city. Always a liberal congregation, members helped to fund the first Roman Catholic Church, St Mary’s Belfast, with collections taken to finance St Mary’s Church in 1784. In more modern times, EJ Harland, co-founder of Harland & Wolff in 1861, was a member, as was the ill-fated Thomas Andrews, chief engineer of HMS Titanic.