John Wesley paid his first visit to Dublin on arriving in Ireland for the first time in August 1747. A Methodist society had been formed there by an officer of the British garrison. Their first meeting place was later attacked and the furnishings burnt. Charles Wesley visited the city later in 1747 to restore calm and extend the work. It was here that the Methodists were first called 'Swaddlers'. In all John Wesley's 21 visits to Ireland, Dublin was his principal base. There was a dispute with John Cennick and the Moravians over the use of a former Baptist chapel in Skinners Alley between 1748 and 1752.
In 1752 the Methodists built a chapel in Whitefriar Street and later enlarged the site to include a Boys' Free School, a Book Room, a Widows' Almshouse, a Female Orphan School and houses for two ministers. When the lease expired in 1843, these moved to various sites, with the congregation rehoused at Centenary, St. Stephen's Green (burned down at Christmas 1968), where the headquarters of the Church were also located. The Widows' Almshouse continues today. In 1786 the Rev. Edward Smyth became the chaplain of the Bethesda Chapel, built for him by his brother William. Though never under Methodist control, it was at first regarded in the city as both Methodist and Church of Ireland (i.e. Anglican).
In 1818 the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists took over Wesley Chapel, Great Charles Street (1805), which was later reconsecrated as a Church of Ireland chapel of ease. In 1820 they built their headquarters in South Great George Street. In 1893 this was renamed George's Hall and adapted for the Dublin Central Mission, serving the local poor. In the twentieth century it pioneered housing projects for the elderly and the rehabilitation of offenders, before closing in 1963 when the work was transferred to Lower Abbey Street (1821; rebuilt 1902).
A MNC society met at various times in Weavers' Hall, Plunket Street Presbyterian Church, Summerhill, and Tailors' Hall, before acquiring a chapel in Aungier Street in 1811. This closed c.1854 and was demolished. Welsh Calvinistic Methodism opened Bethel chapel in Talbot Street in 1838. It closed in 1939, was sold to a shoe merchant and then became a gambling hall. Dublin Methodists managed several primary schools (of which one continues), established Wesley College for secondary education, and for some years ran a teacher training college in Hardwick Street.
John Wesley's Journal:
August 1747: 'I met the society at five, and at six preached on "Repent and believe the gospel." The room, large as it was, would not contain the people, who all seemed to taste the good word…
'Between six and seven I went to Marlborough Street. The house wherein we then preached was originally designed for a Lutheran church, and will contain about four hundred people; but four or five times the number may stand in the yard. Many of the rich were there, and many ministers of every denomination. I preached on "The Scripture hath concluded all under sin," and spoke closely and strongly; but none at all semed to be offended…
[Two days later] 'I purposely delayed examining the classes till I had gone through the Rules of the Society, part of which I explained to them at large, with their reasons of them, every morning…
'I continued preaching morning and evening, to many more than the house would contain, and had more and more reason to hope they would not all be unfaithful hearers…
[Monday, 17]: 'I began examiining the society, which I finished the next day. It contained about two hundred and four score members, many of whom appeared to be strong in faith. The people in general are of a more teachable spirit than in most parts of England; but, on that very account, they must be watched over with the more care, being equally susceptible of good and ill impressions.
Charles Wesley's Journal:
8 September 1747: 'Here the first news we heard was that the little flock stands fast in the storm of persecution, which arose as soon as my brother left them. The popish mob has broke open their room, and detroyed all before them…' Sept. 9th: 'Walked at five in the evening to the shattered room in Marlborough Street, where a few people were met, who do not fear what men or devils could do unto them. God has called me to suffer affliction with his people. The popish mob, encouraged and assisted by the Protestant, are so insolent and outrageous that whatever street we pass through it is up in arms. The mayor would assist us, but cannot. The grand jury have had the plainest evidence of the riot laid before them: that a mixed rabble of Papists and Protestants broke open our room, and four locks, and a warehouse, stealing or destroying the goods to a considerable value; beat and wounded several with clubs, etc.; tore away the pulpit, benches, window-cases, etrc., and burned them openly before the gate; swearing they would murder us all. Yet it is much doubted whether the grand jury will find the bill…'
'Sept. 10th: 'We dined with a gentleman, who explained our name to us. It seems we are beholden to Mr. Cennick for it, who abounds in such like expressions as, "I curse and blaspheme all the gods in heaven, but the babe that lay in the manger, the babe that lay in Mary's lap, the babe that lay in swaddling clouts," etc. Hence they nicknamed him "Swaddler, or Swaddling John". And the words stick to us all, not excepting the clergy.'
Sunday, October 25: 'Passed three hours at St. Patrick's, under my usual burden among the dry bones of the house of Israel. I seldom enter this place but they are ready to drag me out as a profaner of the temple. The dean [Francis Corbet, Jonathan Swift's successor] I must except, who has always treated us with great courtesy; looks pleased to see us make the bulk of the communicants; appointed us a set by ourselves; and constantly administers to me first, as the rubric directs.
'Opened our new house at Dolphin's Barn by preaching to a great multitude within and without.'
John Wesley's Journal:
March 1748: 'I began preaching at five in the morning - an unheard-of thing in Ireland. I expounded part of the first chapter of the Acts, which I purpose, God willing, to go through in order.
[Next day] 'I inquired into the state of the society. Most pompous accounts had been sent me from time to time, of the great numbers that were added to it; so that I confidently expected to find therein six or seven hundred members. And how is the real fact? I left three hundred and ninety-four members, and I doubt if there are now three hundred and ninety-six!...
[Nine days later]: 'I preached in Marlborough Street at five, to the largest congregation I have yet seen in a morning. At two I began in Ship Street, where were many of the rich and genteel..'
April 1748: 'I preached at Skinners Alley, both morning and evening. About four I went to St. Luke's Church, being very near us. When I came out I had a large attendance, even in the churchyard, hallooing and calling names. I am much mistaken if many of the warmest zealots for the Church would ever come within the doors, if they were thus to run the gauntlet every time they came. Would they not rather sleep in a whole skin?'
May 1748: 'Observing a large congregation in the evening and many strangers among them, I preached more roughly than ever I had done in Dublin on those awful words, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" '
April 1749: 'I examined the classes, and was much comforted among them. I left about four hundred in the society; and after all the stumbling-blocks laid in the way, I found four hundred and forty-nine.'
June 1750: 'I rode over to Dublin and found all things there in a more prosperous state than ever before.'
July 1750: 'I returned to Dublin, and on Sunday the 15th preached on Oxmantown Green, to such a congregation as I never saw in Dublin, nor often in Ireland before. Abundance of soldiers were of the number. Such anotherr congregation I had there between two and three in th afternoon … and all were attentive.'
July 1752: 'The house here [Whitefriar Street] is nearly of the same size, and of the same form, with that at Newcastle; but, having deep galleries on three sides, it will contain a larger number of people.
[Sunday]: '… Between five and six our house was nearly filled, but great part of the hearers seemed utterly unawakened. I marvel how it is that, after all our labours here, there should still be so little fruit.
[Two days later] 'I inquired into the state of the society, still consisting of about four hundred and twenty members, though many had been much shaken, chiefly by various opinions, which some even of our own preachers had propagated.'
April 1756: 'In he evening our house was crowded above and below, yet many were obliged to stand without. The whole congregation appeared staid and solid. Do even the people of Dublin know the day of their visitation?
[Sunday]: 'I met about a hundred children, who are catechized publicly twice a week. Thomas Walsh began this some months ago, and the fruit of it appears already. What a pity that all our preachers in every place have not the zeal and wisdom to follow his example!
[Good Friday] 'Near four hundred of the society met, to follow the example of their brethren in England, and renew their covenant with God. It was a solemn hour. Many mourned before God, and many were comforted.'
April 1758: 'I was informed that the preaching at five had been discontinued for near a year and a half. At eight likewise, Sunday the 2nd, the congregation was small. I took knowledge that the people of Dublin had neither seen nor heard much of self-denial since T. Walsh lef the kingdom.
'All the evenings of the following week we had numerous congregations. Nothing is wanting here but rigorous discipline, which is more needful in this than in any other nation…
[Monday, 17th] 'We met in the evening to renew our covenant with God. It was a glorious season. I believe all that were present found that God was there.'
April 1760: 'I never saw more numerous or more serious congregations in Ireland than we had all this week. On Easter Day I introduced our English custom, beginning the service at four in the morning.
[Next day] 'I began speaking severally to the members of the society, and was well pleased to find so great a number of them much alive to God. One consequence of this is that the society is larger than it has been for several years.'
April 1762: 'Monday and Tuesday I was employed in visiting the classes, and I was much comforted among them; there was such a hunger and thirst in all who had tasted of the grace of God after a full renewal in His image.'
July 1762: 'I rode to Dublin, and found the flame not only continuing, but increasing… The person by whom chiefly it pleased God to work this wonderful work was John Manners, a plain man of middling sense, and not eloquent, but rather rude in speech; one who had never before been remarkably useful, but seemed to be raised up for this single work…'
July 1765, Sunday: 'Between eight and nine I began preaching in the Barrack Square, to such a congregation as I never saw in Dublin before; and every one was as quiet as if we had been in the new square at Bristol. What a change since Mr. Whitefield, a few years ago, attempted to preach in this place!'
July 1767: 'On Wednesday and Thursday we had our little Conference at Dublin. Friday we observed as a day of fasting and prayer, and concluded it with the most solemn watch-night that I ever remember in this kingdom.'
April 1769: 'I laboured to allay the ferment which still remained in the society. I heard the preachers face to face, once and again, and endeavoured to remove their little misunderstandings. And they did come a little nearer to each other; but still a jealousy was left, without an entire removal of which there can be no cordial agreement.
'On Monday and Tuesday I visited the classes, and the result of my closest observation was (1) that out of five hundred members whom I left here, only four hundred and fifty remained; (2) that near half of the believers had suffered loss, and many quite given up their faith; (3) that the rest were more established than ever, and some swiftly growing in grace. So that, considering the heavy storm they had gone through, if there was cause of humiliation on the one hand, there was, on the other, more abundant cause of thankfulness to Him who had saved so many when all the waves went over them.'
March 1771: 'I immediately set myself to inquire into the state of the society in Dublin. It was plain there had been a continual jar for at least two years last past, which had stumbled the people, weakened the hands of the preachers, and greatly hindered [the work of God].I wanted to know the ground of this; and, that I might do nothing rashly, determined to hear the parties separately first, and then face to face… On Friday I appointed an extraordinary meeting, at which some spoke with much warmth. But I tempered them on each side, so that they parted in peace.
[Next day] 'I preached at the new preaching-house, near the barracks, about six in the evening. Many attended here who cannot, and many who will not, come to the other end of the town. So that I am persuaded the preaching here twice or thrice a week will be much for the glory of God.'
July 1771: 'The number of members in the society is shrunk from upwards of five hundred to benath four hundred in two years; but I trust they will now increase, as the offences ae removed, and brotherly love restored.
March 1773: 'On Monday and Tuesday I examined the society, a little lessened, but now well united together.'
June 1773: 'I left three hundred and seventy-eight members in the society, and found four hundred and tweve, many of whom were truly alive to God.'
April 1775: 'The good old Dean of St. Patrick's desired me to come within the rails and assist him at the Lord's Supper. This also was a means of removing much prejudice from those who were zealous for the Church.'
[September/October 1777]: 'Having abundance of letters from Dublin informing me that the society there was in the utmost confusion by reason of some of the chief members whom the preachers had thought it needful to exclude from the society, and finding all I could write was not sufficient to stop the growing evil, I saw but one way remaining, to go myself, and that as soon as possible…
'At ten I met the contending parties, the preachers on one hand, and the excluded members on the other. I heard them at large, and they pleaded their several causes with earnestness and calmness too… Meantime, in order to judge in what state the society really was, I examined them myself… Four-and-thirty persons, I found, had been put out of, or left, the society; but, notwithstanding, as there were last quarter four hundred and fifty-eight members, so there are just fiur hundred and fifty-eight still. At the desire of the members lately excluded, I now drew up the short state of the case, but I could in no wise pacify them. They were all civil, nay, it seemed, affectionate, to me; but they could never forgive the preachers that had expelled them; so that I could not desire them to return into the society; they could only remain friends at a distance.'
April 1778: 'I daily conversed with many of the society, and had the satisfaction to find them both more united together, and more alive to God, than they had been for some years…
[Sunday] 'Meeting the society in the evening, I largely explained the reasons of the late separation, and strongly exhorted all our brethren not to "render railing for railing." '
July 1778: 'All this week I visited as many as I could, and endeavoured to confirm their love to each other; and I have not known the society for many years so united as it is now. [But] … I visited many of those who had left the society; but I found them so deeply prejudiced that, till their hearts are changed, I could not advise them to return to it.'
April 1785: 'I found such a resting-place at our own house as I never found in Ireland before: and two such preachers [James Rogers and Andrew Blair], with two such wives, I know not where to find again. In the evening, and so every evening beside, we had Sunday evening congregations; and in the morning they were larger, by a third part, than those I had when I was here last.
'On Tuesday and the three following days I examined the society. I never found it in such a state before; many of them rejoiced in God their Saviour, and were as plain in their apparel, both men and women, as those in Bristol and London. Many, I verily believe, love God with all their hearts; and the number of these increase daily. The number of the whole society is seven hundred and forty-seven. Above three hundred of these have been added in a few months - a new and unexpected thing! …
'The number of children that are clearly converted to God is particularly remarkable. Thirteen or fourteen little maidens, in one class, are rejoicing in God their Saviour; and are as serious and stayed in their whole behaviour as if they were thirty or forty years old. I have much hopes that half of them will be steadfast in the grace of God which they now enjoy.
[Sunday] 'We had such a number of communicants at the Cathedral as was scarce ever seen there before. In the evening many were cut to the heart; and, I believe, not a few comforted. A lovefeast followed; at which many spoke what God had done for their souls with all plainness and simplicity.'
July 1785: 'We concluded our Conference. I remember few such Conferences, either in England or Ireland; so perfectly unanimous were all the preachers, and so determined to give themselves up to God.'
April 1787: [Easter Day] 'I preached in Bethesda, Mr. Smyth's new chapel. It was very neat, but not gay; and, I believe, will hold about as many people as West Street chapel… It was thought we had between seven and eight hundred communicants; and indeed the power of God was in the midst of them. Our own room [Gravel Walk] in the evening was well filled with people; and with the presence of God. Afterwards we had a lovefeast, which I suppose might have continued till midnight if all had spoken that were ready to speak.
[Three days later] 'By conversing with many of our friends, I found they were still increasing in grace as well as in number. The society now contains upwards of a thousand members; so that it has outrun all in England, but that of London. After this amazing flow we must expect an ebb. It will be well if only two hundred of these fall away.'
June 1787: 'I began visiting the classes… We fiound it necessary to exclude one hundred and twelve members; there remained eleven hundred and thirty-six.'
March 1789: 'I had letter upon letter concerning the Sunday service; but I could not give any answer till I had made a full inquiry both into the occasion and the effects of it. The occasion was this: About two years ago it was complained that few of our society attended the church on Sunday, most of them either sitting at home or going on Sunday morning to some dissenting meeting. Hereby many of them were hurt, and inclined to separate from the Church. To prevent this, it was proposed to have service at the room; which I consentd to, on condition that they would attend St. Patrick's every first Sunday in the month. The effect was (1) that they went no more to the meetings; (2) that three times more went to St. Patrick's (perhaps six times) in six or twelve months than had done for ten or twenty years before. Observe! This is done not to prepare for, but to prevent, a separation from the Church…
[Easter Day]: 'We had a solemn assembly indeed, many hundred communicants in the morning, and in the afternoon far more hearers than our room would contain, though it is now considerably enlarged. Afterwards I met the society, and explained to them at large the original design of the Methodists, viz. not to be a distinct party, but to stir up all parties, Christians or heathens, to worship God in spirit and in truth; but the Church of Englkand in particular, to which they belonged from the beginning…'
June 1789: 'I preached and administered the Lord's Supper, in the conclusion of which "the o'erwhelming power of grace divine" overshadowed the congregation. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I visited the classes, now containing a little above a thousand members, after I had excluded about a hundred…
July 3: 'Our little Conference began in Dublin and ended Tuesday the 7th… I had much satisfaction in this Conference, in which, conversing with between forty and fifty travelling preachers, I found such a body of men as I hardly believed could have been found together in Ireland; men of so sound experience, so deep piety, and so strong understanding.'
'Wesley Chapel is large and elegant; but they are about to sell it, as they cannot raise the interest of the money upon it. Whitefriar Street Chapel is about the size of Cherry Street Chapel, [Birmingham] a dull, heavy old place where a man cannot be heard unless he has a voice like that of a bull. The galleries, which are almost as flat as a house floor, are supported by huge pillars sufficiently strong to prop up St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey.'
Jonathan Edmundson to his wife, 9 June 1819 (Original at Duke University Library)
Entry written by: DALC
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