IRISH METHODISTS

John Wesley

John Wesley

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.

Dr Adam Clarke Memorial Church, Portstewart

Dr Adam Clarke Memorial Church, Portstewart

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.” 

Barbara Heck (Irish Palatine Association)

Barbara Heck (Irish Palatine Association)

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’.

John Street Methodist Church New York: Photo: © Kevin Staley-Joyce

John Street Methodist Church New York: Photo: © Kevin Staley-Joyce

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.

Philip Embury (Irish Palatine Association)

Philip Embury (Irish Palatine Association)

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.

ADAM CLARKE: LEADING METHODIST

John Wesley's Chapel, Bristol

John Wesley’s Chapel, Bristol

During a visit to Bristol, I went to visit an important place for the Methdist Church in Britain and Ireland. John Wesley established a new chapel in the city centre in 1739, when it became the first Methodist building in the world. It was called the “New Room” in the Horsefair. I referred to it in a previous blog.

Pulpit

Pulpit

The two-decker pulpit followed the custom of those days. The upper part was used for the sermon and the lower part for the rest of the service. The present upper part is a replica. The communion table is that which was used by Wesley. The people sat on plain benches. Wesley gave the clock. The Snetzler Chamber Organ of 1761 on the right hand side of the gallery, as you face the pulpit, was brought here in the present century. Wesley presided at eighteen Conferences here.

Upstairs is the Common Room, with quarters for the Methodist preachers who came to Bristol. The bedrooms contain displays about the history of the Church and the spreading of Methodist teachings to the USA and elsewhere.

On one of the walls, I found a portrait of another significant figure in Methodism, Adam Clarke. A note beside it said he was born in Ireland and on checking a reference book, I discovered he was from County Londonderry.

Adam Clarke

Adam Clarke

Clarke was born in Moybeg Kirley, a townland on the edge of Tobermore off the road towards Draperstown, in the parish of Kilcronaghan, gateway to the Sperrin Mountains. His father was a schoolmaster and farmer. John Wesley invited him to become a pupil at a seminary he established at Kingswood in Bristol. He went on to become an eminent scholar and theologian. He is best known for his commentary on the Bible: “The Holy Bible: containing the Old and New Testaments, according to the authorized translation; with all the parallel text and marginal readings. To which are added, notes and practical observations, designed as a help to a
correct understanding of the sacred writings” (1810-1837).

Thanks to a former Belfast TV news colleague David Blevins for pointing out that there is a memorial to Adam Clarke in Portrush, Co.Antrim. A biography, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Clarke (JW Etheridge, 1859) says in a footnote p.399 that:-

The Adam Clarke Memorial, (under the patronage of the Right Hon. the earl of Antrim, and John Crombie, Esq., J.P., D.L.,) is to consist of a “school, church, and minister’s house, at Port-Stewart, and an obelisk and statue at Port-Rush, near Coleraine.” The foundation stone of the obelisk was laid in September, 1857, with great public solemnities. The base is seven feet square and eight feet high, from which the monument will rise to a height of forty-two feet; which, taking the elevation of the site, will be equal to one hundred and twenty feet above the level of the sea. Close to the base will be the statue of Dr. Clarke, contributed by public offerings in America”.

The Francis Frith collection of photographs has an interesting picture of the obelisk beside the Methodist church at Portrush in 1897:

Photo of Portrush, Adam Clarke's Memorial 1897, ref. 40407

Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Willie Duffin has more recent photographs (2009) of the information plaques on the side of the obelisk and also a circular plaque on the wall of the church.

Adam Clarke Obelisk Plaque

Adam Clarke Obelisk Plaque © Copyright Willie Duffin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Adam Clarke Obelisk Plaque © Copyright Willie Duffin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Adam Clarke Obelisk Plaque © Copyright Willie Duffin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Adam Clarke Plaque © Copyright Willie Duffin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Adam Clarke Plaque on Church Wall           © Copyright Willie Duffin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

BACK IN BRISTOL

Many years ago in 1975 I worked in Bristol for a few months on an attachment with the BBC regional newsroom. I haven’t been back to the city until today, and will spend a weekend there with friends. So I expect to notice some changes, in particular the area around the former docks.

Bristol was once an important centre in the slave trade, a past it probably wants to forget. Anti-slavery campaigners, inspired by non-conformist preachers such as John Wesley, started some of the earliest campaigns for abolition of the trade. The campaign itself proved to be the beginning of movements for reform and women’s emancipation.

John Wesley

John Wesley

Wesley founded the very first Methodist Chapel, The New Room in Broadmead in 1739, which is still in use in the 21st century. Wesley had come to Bristol at the invitation of George Whitfield. He preached in the open air to miners and brickworkers at Kingswood and Hanham, on the eastern outskirts of the city (Wikipedia). Bristol has an importance second only to London in the history of Methodism.

Bristol is also known as an important centre for the aircraft and aerospace industry. When I arrived here at St Augustine’s Reach, I was reminded that this was also a major city for shipbuilding. The area around the old harbour has been developed with bars and restaurants and is now a very lively place, compared to what it was like over 35 years ago!

St Augustine's Reach

St Augustine’s Reach