Having done a review last night of my 306 posts which have had a very pleasant response of over 20,000 views in total, I discovered I had not yet written anything about County Limerick or twelve other counties in Ireland, including all of Connacht. So I am taking the first opportunity to correct the geographic imbalance since the start of the year, which has tended to favour Ulster. Having written yesterday about the Church of Ireland, I am now returning to the subject of Methodism.
I was in Bristol in March and visited the ‘New Room‘, the first Methodist building in the world, where John Wesley began preaching. I wrote about one of his Irish followers, the theologian Adam Clarke from County Londonderry, who is commemorated in the Dr Adam Clarke Memorial Church in Portstewart and after whom a nearby road is named.
It happens that my grandmother was baptised in the nearby Agherton Church of Ireland parish church. Her surname was SHIER, and her father who was stationed there at the time in the RIC came from County Limerick. His family was among those who left the Palatinate (Rhineland) in Germany around 1709 and arrived in Ireland during the reign of Queen Anne.
I have yet to visit the Irish Palatine Museum and Heritage Centre at Rathkeale, but I know when I get around to doing so I will be sure to find more information about my forebear Hans. Looking at some of the genealogical sites I believe he was born in 1674, and settled in Court Mattress (Courtmatrix) on the estate of Sir Thomas Southwell. 2nd Baronet Southwell of Castle Mattress (Courtmatrix). Adam died at Courtmatrix on January 4th 1758.
On the Palatine website you will find a list of over 120 surnames (or variants) that include Switzer (as in the former department store in Dublin), Bovenizer, Shouldice, St John and Becker. There is also an excellent article by the Reverend Dudley Levistone Cooney about how the German settlers came to embrace Methodism:-
“Early in 1749 the first Methodist preacher to visit Limerick came to that city attracted by the fact that a detachment of the Black Watch had been moved there from Dublin, and had a number of Methodists among its junior officers. The preacher was Robert Swindells, and one of those who heard him preach in the open air was Thomas Walsh, a native of Ballylin between Adare and Rathkeale. Later that year Thomas Williams, another Methodist preacher came to the city. He was heard by a number of Palatines who had come from the Rathkeale area to attend the Assizes, and whose immediate reaction was ‘This is like the preaching we used to hear in Germany!’ Among them was the Burgomeister and schoolmaster of Ballingrane, Philip Guier.”
Cooney tells us that John Wesley paid his first visit to the Palatines in the course of his sixth Irish tour in 1756, when he visited Ballingrane and the nearby village that he at different times calls either Newmarket or Pallas(kenry). He described those he met as ‘a plain, artless, serious’ people. In other words they were straightforward and free of deceit. He subsequently came to the area in the course of thirteen other tours, sometimes including Courtmatrix, Killeheen, Kilfinnane, and on one occasion Adare. On occasion he noted that in their communities there was ‘no cursing or swearing, no Sabbath-breaking, no drunkenness, no alehouse’, and that ‘their diligence turns all their land into a garden’.
There was also a direct connection between the Methodist community in this part of County Limerick and the foundation of the first Methodist congregation in New York. I remember a few years ago visiting the financial district of Manhattan for the first time and coming across a small chapel at John Street near Wall Street.
This was founded in 1766 by the preacher from Ballingrane Philip Embury along with his cousin Barbara Heck. Below the sanctuary, the Wesley Chapel Museum displays many artefacts from 18th and 19thC American Methodist history in the city of New York. These include church record books, the Wesley Clock (a gift of John Wesley, 1769), love feast cups, class meeting circular benches, the original 1785 altar rail, the original 1767 pulpit made by Philip Embury, and his signed Bible. The various Methodist Churches in the United States of America now have a community of over 29 million, according to Cooney.