A society was formed in 1749 by Robert Swindells. John Wesley paid 13 visits between 1752 and 1789, having been prevented in 1750 by the presence in the city of Nicholas Butler from Cork. Mrs. Elizabeth Bennis wrote to Wesley about the work there and persuaded him to change his plans for the stationing of preachers there. The 'Catholic mob' which he mentions in a letter to Charles Wesley in 1773 was in Waterford.


John Wesley's Journal:

September 1752: 'I preached at Waterford…

[Next day] Mr. [Thomas] Walsh began preaching in Irish in the market-house. It being market-day, the people flocked from all sides.` Many of them seriously attended. A few of the rabble cursed and swore, but did not make a considerable interruption.

'At five I went to the court-house and began preaching, but the mob was so numerous and noisy that few could hear. Perceiving the noise increase more and more, I walked through the midst of the mob to my lodgings. They hallooed and shouted, and cursed amain; hitherto could they come, but no furrther.'

May 1756: 'After preaching, I earnestly exhorted the society to "love as brethren." On the same subject I preached in the morning, and spent great part of the day in striving to remove misunderstandings and offences. It was not lost labour. Six-and-twenty were left in the morning; before night seven-and-fifty were joined together.

'T[homas] Walsh preached at five, but, the room being too small, they were obliged to go into the yard. In the evening we had high and low, rich and poor, both in the yard and adjoining gardens. There seemed now to be a general call to this city, so I thought it best the next morning, to leave Mr. Walsh there…'

July 1760: 'We rode in the afternoon to Waterford, where our friends had procured a commodious place, inclosed on all sides. I preached there three evenings, with great hope of doing good. Our large room was full every evening.'

July 1762: 'In the evening I preached at Waterford, in a court adjoining to the main street…

'On this and the two following days God remembered poor Waterford also. Several backsliders were healed, many awoke out of sleep, and some mightily rejoiced in God their Saviour.'

July 1765: 'I rode to Waterford, and preached in a little court, on "our great High-Priest that is passed into the heavens" for us. But I soon found I was got above most of my hearers: I should have spoke of death or judgement. On Tuesday evening I suited my discourse to my audience, which was considerably increased: but much more the next evening:; and deep attention sat on almost ever face. The room was well filled on Thursday morning; and the poor people were so affectionate that it was with difficulty we were able to break from them, among abundance of prayers and blessings.'

June 1767: 'Here I found a small, poor, dead society, and but a handful of even, dull, careless hearers. However, I preached in the yard, and found more life among them than I expected. In the morning I spoke to the several members of the society, some of whom seemed much devoted to God. I desired Mr. Morgan to preach at noon. God gave him acceptable words, and the whole congregation, rich and poor, appeared to be greatly moved. They seemed to be still more affected in the evening. What a pity that this should pass away like a cloud!'

June 1769: 'Never was the prospect more gloomy here than at present. Through the continual neglect of the preachers, the congregation was reduced almost to nothing; and so was the society. Yet I found much liberty of speech in the evening, and a strong hope that God would revive His work…

[Next day] 'The room was quite filled in the morning. In the evening I preached in the court to thrice as many as the room would contain; and all were not only quiet but attentive.

[Next day, Sunday] 'The congregation at eight was still larger. But not many seemed to be affected. In the evening the court was filled, and I believe God opened both the understanding and the hearts of many. Afterwards I met the society, and endeavoured to lift up the hands that hung down. Light began to spring up. Misunderstandings vanished away, and the spirits of many revived.

[Next day] I laboured to reunite the poor, shattered society, and to remove the numberless offences which had torn them in pieces.

[Next day] 'In the evening God began to answer for Himself. I scarce ever saw a more deep and general imporession made on a congregation. At the meeting of the society likewise, He refreeshed us with "the multitude of peace".'

April 1771: '… The house tolerably well contained the congregation; so it generally does the first night I am here.

[Next day] 'I laboured to calm the minds of some that had separated from their brethren, but it was labour lost. After two or three hours spent in fruitless altercation, I was thoroughly convinced that they would not and ought not to be reunited to them.

[Sunday] 'At eleven, and again in the afternoon, I went to the cathedral, where a young gentleman most valiantly encountered the "grievous wolves", as he termed the Methodists. I never heard a man strike more wide of the mark. However, the shallow discourse did good, for it sent abundance of people, rich and poor, to hear and judge for themselves. So that the court, at the top of which I stood, was filled from end to end.'

April 1773: 'I … began preaching without delay on "My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

[Next day] 'I had much satisfaction, both morning and evening, in the number and seriousness of the congregation.

[Sunday] 'Word being brought me that the mayor was willing I should preach in the Bowling Green, I went thither in the evening. A huge multitude was quickly gathered together. I preached on "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." Some attempted to disturb, but without success, the bulk of the congregation being deeply attentive….'

April 1775: 'I went on to Waterford, where the rain drove us into the preaching-house - the most foul, horrid, miserable hole which I have seen since I left England. The next day I got into the open air, and a large congregation attended. I had designed to set out early in the morning; but doubting if I should ever have another opportunity (the major of the Highland Regiment standing behind me, with several of his officers, many of the soldiers before me, and the sentinel at the entrance of the court), I gave notice of preaching at ten the next morning and at four in the afternoon. I did so to a well-behaved congregation…'

April 1785: 'I preached at Waterford in the court-house, one of the largest in the kingdom. A multitude of people quickly ran together, which occasioned some tumult at first; but it was quickly over, and all were deeply attentive. Surely God will have much people in this city.

[Next day, Sunday] 'At eight I preached in the court-house, to a larger congregation than before. At eleven I went to the cathedral, one of the most elegant churches in Ireland. The whole service was performed with the utmost solemnity…

'At four I preached at the head of the Mall to a Moorfields congregation, all quiet and attentive.

[Next day:] The congregation at five in the morning was larger than that on Saturday evening; and all of them appeared to have (for the present at least) a real concern for their salvation. Oh that it may not pass away as the morning dew!'

May 1787: 'At six I preached in the court-house to an immense congregation, while a file of musketeers, ordered by the mayor, paraded at the door. Two or three hundred attended in the morning, and gladly received the whole truth. In the evening the congregation was larger than before, and equally attentive.

[Next day] 'I took my leave of this earnest, loving people…'

  • D.A.L. Cooney, Asses Colts and Loving People (Carlow, 1998)