And later, just further up the road, a Temperance hotel was built to accommodate them, described as having  splendid accommodation for visitors, containing numerous large, lofty, and well-ventilated Drawing, Dining and Bedrooms .


The railway arrived in 1859 bring a flood of tourists from Presbyterian Belfast and in 1873 a new church was built for them at Spa, funded by a Belfast Presbyterian by the name of McCutcheon.


More and more tourists


In 1840, another member of the Ker family built a ball-room at Spa called the assembly rooms, now known as the Spa road-house. Originally the health tourists came and stayed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation in houses around the Spa district, but by the early 19th Century it was deemed insufficient for the great numbers descending on the area.

In the Beginning...


It is perhaps hard to imagine that Ballynahinch was once a centre for tourism, with visitors flocking to the town to take advantage of the much lauded health benefits from the three wells at Spa. The medicinal properties of the water had been rumoured upon since the 18th Century, with many people reporting how drinking it had cured them of their ills. Walter Harris, in his history of County Down in the 1740 s told the story of a Presbyterian clergyman afflicted with psoriasis and arthritis, who after spending a week at the Spa wells and drinking the waters, was soon cured and back to full health.


At the turn of the century, David Ker, with his financial instincts, saw the commercial possibilities of the Spa, and resolved to use this natural resource to bring prosperity back to a town badly in need of it after the ravages of battle. Historically, modern tourism is reputed to have begun after Napolean s invasion of Egypt in 1798, an event which alerted Europe to the culture of the near East and to other places in general. If this is true, then Ballynahinch and Spa were in at the start of the tourist revolution, as it was in 1810 that David Ker installed two pumps at Spa to bring the water to the surface and to the health needs of the masses.


According to Horace Reid, these pumps are still in existence, having been restored by Councillor Harvey Bicker. On the front there is a little brass plate which states that they were installed by David Ker having been imported from Joseph Branagh in London, who of course was a pioneer of the flushing lavatory. These pumps would have been the latest in cutting edge technology during the regency period. As the wells became popular, Ker developed the leisure amenities in the area, installing a maze in 1815. So, after a morning drinking the waters, the patients could continue their bid for good health by exercising in the maze. The recommended regime for the waters was to drink between three and six pints per day. It was described as tasting like burned gun-powder and in Walter Harris words,  Some it vomiteth, some it purgeth . Horace jokes that perhaps you had to be in good health in the first place in order to survive the regime.




The end was in sightAlas, all good things come to an end, and with the arrival of the railway in Newcastle, the popularity of the wells began to wilt. Newcastle was now accessible to Belfast tourists and the beach became preferable to the wells. However the tourist industry at Spa continued right up to the dawn of the second world war and collectors in Ballynahinch have postcards sent from that period. The industry adapted and catered for every whim of the tourists as it came along, providing croquet lawns and building a golf course, still thriving today. The hotel became known as the Spa Hydro hotel, and Horace jokes that this was perhaps one of the world first Jacussi’s.

The Presbyterian Church in Spa

This church is at the crossroads in the village of Spa. The following information was kindly sent to me by Mrs. Isabel Keenan.




















On 16th July 1872, the Meeting house was dedicated by The Right Reverend William Johnston, the Moderator of the General Assembly. The following Sunday saw the start of the Sunday School. For 2 years the church had visiting ministers fron the Comber Presbytery.

In 1872 the first baptism took place of John Robert McQuiston McCoubrie, infant son of William and Annie of Mount Pleasant. On 11th December 1873 leave to call a minister was granted and on 5th May 1874 Mr. William Wilson of Belfast was ordained as first minister. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Communion) was first celebrated on 25th October 1874 with 120 communicant present. The manse was built some time between 1874 and 1879. In 1879 Mr. James Knowles was installed as minister. In 1895 Rev. John McAdam was installed. During his time here, central heating was installed and the grounds were enclosed by
a wall and railings. (They had been enclosed by trees). The minister in 1910 was Rev. J. McAdam..

In May 1925, Rev. McAdam resigned and the 2 congregations of Magherahamlet and Spa were joined under one minister. In 1925 Rev. S. D. McKee was installed then in 1946 Rev. Munce Drennan was installed following the death of Rev. McKee. In 1955 Rev. Cecil Adams was installed then in 1964 a pipe organ was installed. In 16th April 1987 Isabel's husband Rev. John L. Keenan was installed.

The church hall (The Arnold Hall) was build in 1954 and a major extension and refurbishment was carried out in 1999. The
new hall was dedicated by Right Rev. John Lockinton and opened by Mrs. Keenan in January 2000. The Rev. John Keenan died suddenly 19 Feb 2005. Rev David Hyndman was installed in Apr 2007.

Records available 1875-1986; graveyard in the grounds



"In the 1880's The Spa was a fashionable health resort. The waters properties had been values by locals for 200 years before that. In 1873 Robert McQuiston, who was a wealthy merchant from Belfast and a regular visitor , decided to provide a Meeting House for visitors and locals.

The foundation stone was laid

by Rev David Edgar on 27th July

1871. The building was designed

by Messrs. Young McKenzie of

Belfast and the builder was John

Russell of Newcastle.