The chief port and city in the South of Ireland was visited by Charles Wesley in 1748 and by John Wesley 17 times between 1749 and 1789. In 1749 and 1750 for a period of 14 months the Butler riots subjected Irish Methodists to their severest and longest persecution. Members and their property were attacked my mobs incited by a ballad-seller named Nicholas Butler. The civil authorities refused to defend the Methodists and the Grand Jury blamed Charles Wesley and the Methodist preachers for being the cause of the disturbance, praying that they might be transported. The Assize judge was more wisely persuaded. It was, however, the support of the Army for the Methodist preachers that eventually discouraged the rioters. The Methodist Conference which meets in Cork about once in ten years is the only governing body of an Irish Church to meet so far south.
Charles Wesley's MS Journal:
21 August 1748: 'Much good has been done already in this place. Outward wickedness has disappeared, outward religion suceeded. Swearing is seldom heard in the streets. The churches and altars are crowded to the astonishment of our adversaries. Yet some of our clergy and all the Catholic priests take wretched pains to hinder their people from hearing us. 'At five took the field again, but such a sight I have rarely seen! Thousands and thousands had been waiting some hours, Protestants and Papists, high and low… I cried after them for an hour to the utmost extent of my voice, yet without hoarseness or weariness. The Lord, I believe, hath much people in this city. Two hundred are already joined in a Society.'
August 24: 'I designed to have met about two hundred who have given in their names for the Socety, but such multitudes thronged into the play-house that it occasioned great confusion. I perceived it was impractical, as yet, to have a regular Society.
Sept. 1: 'I met the infant Society for the first time in an old playhouse. Several were there from two in the morning… The peope are now ripe for the gospel, which I therefore preached from Isaiah 35, to the poor hungry mourners.'
John Wesley's Journal:
May 1749: 'Our way [from Rathcormack to Bandon] lay through Cork. We had scarce got into it (though I had never been there till then) before the streets and doors and windows were full of people; but the mob had not time to gather together till we were quite gone through the town.'
May 1750: 'Understanding the usual place of preaching would by no means contain those who desired to hear, about eight I went to Hammond's Marsh. The congregation was large and deeply attentive. A few of the rabble gathered at a distance; but by little and little they drew near, and mixed with the congregation; so that I have seldom seen a more quiet and orderly assembly at any church in England or Ireland.
'In the afternoon, a report being spread abroad that the mayor designed to hinder my preaching on the Marsh in the evening, I desired Mr. Skelton and Mr. Jones to wait upon him and inquire concerning it. Mr. Skelton asked if my preaching there would be disagreeable to him, adding, "Sir, if it would, Mr. Wesley will not do it." He replied warmly, "Sir, I'll have no mobbing." Mr. Skelton replied, "Sir, there was none this morning." He answered, "There was. Are there not churches and meeting-houses enough? I will have no more mobs and riots." Mr. Skelton replied, "Sir, neither Mr. Wesley nor they that heard him made either mobs or riots." He answered plain, "I will have no more preaching; and, if Mr. Wesley attempts to preach, I am prepared for him."
'I began preaching in our own house soon after five. Mr. Mayor meantime was walking in the 'Change and giving orders to the town drummers and to his serjeants - doubtless to go down and keep the peace… When I came out the mob immediately closed me in… But many of the congregation were more roughly handled, particularly Mr. Jones, who was covered with dirt, and escaped with his life almost by miracle. The main body of the mob then went to the house, brought out all the seats and benches, tore up the floor, the door, the frames of the windows, and whatever woodwork remained, part of which they carried off for their own use, and the rest they burned in the open street.'
[On his return to Cork later in the month] 'When we came over the South Bridge a large mob gathered; but before they were well formed we reached the barrack gate, at a small distance from which I stood and cried, "Let the wicked forsake his way." The congregation of serious people was large; the mob stood abou a hundred yards off. I was a little surprised to observe that almost all the soldiers kept together in a body near the gate, and knew not but the report might be true that, on a signal given, they were all to retire into the barracks; but they never stirred until I had done. As we walked away, one or two of them followed us. Their numbers increased until we had seven or eight before, and a whole troop of them behind.; between whom I walked, through an immense mob, to Alderman Pembroke's door.'
September 1752, Sunday: 'At eight the house would not near contain the congregation, yet I judged a small congregation with peace preferable to a large one with noise and tumult.
'On Monday and Tuesday I carefully examined the society, put away those who did not walk according to the gospel, and found about three hundred who still strive to have 'a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.'
September 24: 'I proposed to the society the building of a preaching-house. The next day ten persons subscribed an hundred pounds; another hundred was subscribed in three or four days, and a piece of ground taken.'
May 1756: In the evening I preached in the new house at Cork, very near as large as that in Dublin, and far better furnished in every respect, though at four hundred pounds less expense.'
July 1758: 'I began speaking severally to the members of the sociey. Many of them, I found, very truly alive to God. Old misunderstandings were removed, and I had the satisfaction of seeing them so united together as they had not been for many years.
[Two days later] 'In the evening I assisted the society in renewing their covenant with God. It was to many a season of great refreshment, and the fear of God was upon all.'
July 1760: 'The house was well filled; but I expect small increase of the work of God till we preach abroad.'
June 1762: 'I returned to Cork, and in the afternoon preached on the Barrack Hill. The congregation was such as I had not seen at Cork for at least twelve years… The top of the walls, being covered with soldiers, made a solemn appearance. Let this preaching be continued, and the work of God will quickly revive at Cork.
'On Monday and Tuesday the congregation at the house was far larger than on any week-day before, and there was much life among the people, which perhaps was increased by the epidemic disorder.'
June 1765: 'In the evening I came to Cork; and at seven was surprised at the unusual largeness of the congregation. I had often been grieved at the smallness of the congregation here; and it could be no other, whilke we cooped ourselves up in the house. But now the alarm is sounded abroad, people flock from all quarters. So plain it is that field-preaching is the most effectual way of overturning Satan's kingdom.
[Five days later] 'About five I began in Georges Street, at Cork, the opposite corner of the town from the new room. Many of the chief of the city were of the audience, clergy as well as laity; and all but two or three were not only quiet, but serious and deeply attentive. What a change! Formerly we could not walk through this street but at the peril of our lives.
'Monday and Tuesday I spoke, one by one, to the members of the society. They are now two hundred and ninety-five - fifty or sixty more than they have been for some years. This is owing partly to the preaching abroad, partly to the meetings for prayer in several parts of the city. These have been the means of awakening many gross sinners, of recovering many backsliders, of confirming many that were weak and wavering, and bringing many of all sorts to the public preaching.'
May 1767: 'Two years ago I left above three hundred in the society; I find a hundred and eighty-seven. What has occasioned so considerable a reduction? I believe the real cause is this:
'Between two and three years ago, when the society was nearly as low as it is now, Thomas Taylor and William Penington came to Cork. They were zealous men, and sound preachers; full of activity, and strict in discipline, without respect of persons. They set up meetings for prayer in several places, and preached abroad at both ends of the city. Hearers swiftly increased; the society increased; so did the number both of the convinced and the converted…
'But misunderstandings crept in between the leaders and between some of them and the preachers. And these increased sevenfold, when one of the leaders was expelled the society; some believing him faulty, some not, and neither side having patience with the other… [T]he flock was scattered. When they are convinced of their sin, and humbled before Him, then, and not before, He will return.'
[Whit Sunday] 'The weather turning fair, between four and five in the afternoon I began preaching in Georeges Street to such a congregation as that in the Old Camp at Limerick. A solemn awe sat on the faces of the whole assembly while I explained, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." Surely some of them found the promise fulfilled, and did drink of the living water!'
May 1769: 'I soon heard how cold and careless the people were. I asked, "But are not the society at least alive?" "No, these are the coldest of all." "What then? Are we to be careless too? Nay, so much the more let us stir up the gift of God that is in us." I began in the evening to speak exceeding plain, and I presently saw some fruit. The congregation at five in the morning was not much less than it was in the evening. Many saw their loss: God gave me again very sharp, though loving words.'
[Four days later] 'I returned to Cork. The rain drove us into the house, which was once more thoroughly filled. I scarce ever spoke so plain as I did both this and the two following days; yet for many years the congregations had not been so large. Wednesday and Thursday I visited the classes. Decreasing still! Seven years ago we had near four hundred members in this society; five years since, about three hundred members. Two years ago, they were two hundred; now one hundred and ninety.'
May 1771: 'I spoke severally to the members of the society. Two years ago they were reduced to about a hundred and ninety. They are now only a hundred and seventy; and yet the work of God deepens in those that remain. I found many growing in grace, many rejoicing in the pure love of God, and many more who were earnestly panting after the whole mind that was in Christ.'
April 1773: 'We had a solemn watch-night at Cork. I believe the confidence of many was shaken while I was enforcing "Though I had all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love,I am nothing." A hard saying! But yet absolutely necessary to be insisted on, particularly among the people called Methodists. Otherwise, how many of them will build on the sand, on an unloving, unholy faith!'
May 1778: 'I returned to Cork and met the classes. Oh when will even the Methodists learn not to exaggerate? After all the pompous accounts I have had of the vast increase of the society, it is not increased at all; nay, it is a little smaller than it was three years ago. And yet many of the members are alive to God. But the smiling world hangs heavy upon them. '
May 1785: '… after endeavouring to confirm those that were much alive to God, on Friday the 13th, with some difficulty, I broke loose from my affectionate friends…'
May 1787: 'At six in the evening the preaching-house would ill contain the congregation, and many of the rich and honourable were among them! Who hath warned these to flee from the wrath to come?
[Sunday] 'We had an evening congregation at seven, whom I warned to order their conversation aright. At three in the afternoon I preached on the road to a numerous congregation; but many of them, especially the genteeler sort, were rude as colts untamed. We stowed the people together in the evening as close as it was possible; but still many were constrained to go away, finding no place even at the door.
[Next day] 'The congregation at five in the morning was little inferior to that we used to see on Sunday evening. This time also we had many of the gay and honourable, who seem, at present, almost persuaded to be Christians… On Tuesday likewise the congregations were exceeding large, and deep attention sat on every face.'
May 1789: 'After preaching, I administered the Lord's Supper to about four hundred and fifty communicants. I was enabled to speak with power in the evening to more than the house could contain, and afterwards to the society. May God write it on all their hearts! I am now clear of their blood.'