A message from our Chairperson.
Welcome again all Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum to this our ninth Article on local and Museum History. Again we wish you, your family and friends well and know you are looking forward to meeting up in less restrained circumstances as the restrictions around Covid 19 are easing. We wish to send good wishes to Bronwyn Mutton and her two cousins Fiona and Gordon, who were scheduled to arrive in Mountmellick this week, however Covid has dictated a change of plan unfortunately. In the interim we are delighted to receive emails and messages of support from Bronwyn and all Friends of The Museum in Australia, New Zealand, USA and of course within Ireland itself, we look forward to welcoming you all back another time. Bronwyn is a direct descendent of Joseph Beale and who kindly donated a special sampler to our Museum (See previous articles by Bridie Dunne / Marie Walsh for details).
Thank you as always for your interest, and welcome feedback which our weekly articles are receiving. In previous articles you will hopefully have seen how the fortunes of Mountmellick ebbed and flowed from poverty to relative prosperity and decline again during and after the famine times. The industrial growth also contributed to an increase in the population of the town which at the height stood at around eight thousand people. This growth in population also witnessed an increase in the number of churches who administered their spiritual services to a growing congregation, and as we shall see attracted some very high profile individuals to Mountmellick. In a previous Article Anne Sands, a long term museum committee member outlined the history of two of these churches (Protestant and Catholic Churches). Continuing on this theme Anne now continues with the history of two more of the remaining four established Churches in our Town with an impute from the Reverent Clodagh Yambasu (Methodist Church) and Paul Lawlor, Manager of the now Forum Hostel, formerly the Presbyterian Church).
Enjoy the read and do tune in next week for another article of interest, please share any of the articles published with your friends who may be interested.
Over to you Anne.
During these difficult and uncertain times I would like to start by sharing a reflection which was received in relation to post Covid 19 aspiration, composed by Fr Tom Roche who teaches at Damien High School Leverne in California USA:
“May we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be – We were called to be – We hoped to be – and may we stay that way – Better for each other – Because of the worst “–
“May we return to a world of possibility and promise and face the future together with Gods love”.
The Methodist Church was founded by Rev. John Wesley, whose father, Rev. Samuel Wesley was Rector of Epworth, a village in Lincolnshire. John Wesley was born at the Rectory on the 17th June 1703. He attended Charterhouse School, London, and in 1720 entered Christchurch College, Oxford at the age of sixteen, becoming a fellow of Oxford University and a founder of the holy Club. Experiencing a spiritual conversion on the 24th May 1738, in a room on Aldersgate Street, London, he began a ministry during which he travelled widely in England, Scotland and Ireland. He crossed the Irish Sea twenty-one times and there is scarcely a town he did not visit. John Wesley visited Mountmellick on eighteen occasions between 1748 and 1789. In the course of his second visit to Ireland (1749) his keen eye observed several ruined buildings in the town, so he likened the inhabitants of Mountmellick to some of the ancient quotes from Horace
“ such is the amazing fickleness of this people. Almost everyone who has his fortune in his hands, pulls down, builds up, changes square things into round, and leaves those monuments of his folly to succeeding generations “.
John Wesley’s main mission was to preach to the poor, working class people, and he was rebuked many times for his outspokenness. He believed that “Faith without Action is dead”. He had moments that changed his life and he lived his internal faith out. His earning was used to build schools, hospitals, and to give to the poor. John Wesley visited Mountmellick first in 1748, and preached to what he described as the largest congregation he has seen in the midlands. He returned later to address an even larger gathering which he indicated was the largest crowd he preached to, outside of Dublin. His address was given from the market house in the square which was also attended by some local Quakers living in the town. Wesley’s last visit to Mountmellick occurred in 1789 when he was eighty-six years old.
The first Methodist Church was built in Mountmellick in 1765 in Church Lane on a plot of land leased from Richard Deverill, a clothier. This building was used until 1882. The present Church was opened in 1882, and is now following extensive renovations named the “ Gideon Ouseley Memorial Church” to honour the memory of Gideon Ouseley, one of the first general Methodist missionaries appointed in 1799. He was born in Dunmore Co Galway, was said to have a photographic memory, he acquired a fluency in the Irish language which he used extensively to preach his sermons. There is reference to him preaching in Mountmellick in April 1839. In the summer of 1824 the average attendance at this church was males 83 and females 70. The Methodist opened a Sunday School about the year 1810, James Baskerville was the Superintendent. The school was supported by way of an annual subscription from the congregation. In the intervening years to date the congregation was similarly reduced by those factors which affected Mountmellick in general in those turbulent times i.e. famine, unemployment, emigration, all contributed to a decline in numbers. There is still however an active Methodist congregation in Mountmellick which is the home Church of Reverent Nigel Gill who now covers Birr, Athlone, and Tullamore. Local Methodist services are led by the Rev. Clodagh Yambasu who also coordinates a regular programme of bible studies, a parent and toddler group, children’s club. During the present lockdown continuity is maintained through the use of zoom events to maintain contact with the congregation.
Not very far from Mountmellick and nestling in a fold of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is the small Methodist Church located at Ballyhuppahaun, a remote isolated region, which is devoid of any major concentration of buildings or habitation. This was built in 1795 and in that year 150 people gathered to hear Adam Averell (1754–1847), a prominent Irish Wesleyan clergyman preach. He returned again three years later this time accompanied by Charles Graham . They found the countryside strangely deserted, but this was 1798 (the year of the rising / insurrection), and they thought that many of the inhabitants had gone to join the insurgents. There were however a sufficient number remaining in the area to form a large congregation to hear the two evangelists preach. There still exists a Church on this site which is credited with a building date of 1848, which suggests a reconstruction or restoration on the original site at that time. This Church is now on the National Heritage List off preserved Buildings.
The Presbyterian community started in Mountmellick around 1710, the initially small community held their meetings at a house in Patrick Street. The rebellion of 1798 scattered Presbyterians and Mountmellick among other congregations became extinct. In 1820 a Mission Station was established in Mountmellick which after a time discontinued, it was however re-established in 1826 under the leadership of the Reverent Alexander Millwaine. Over the next twenty years the fortunes of the church were mostly in decline until 1845 when the congregation was reformed and revived under the care of the Reverent David Greer who founded a first class classical and mercantile school in the town. He resigned in 1849 and once again Mountmellick became a mission station under the care of Reverent Henry McManus, a fluent Irish speaker who had served in Kerry but for Health Reasons has moved North to Mountmellick. During his Ministry the present church building was established. The plans for the Presbyterian Church were drawn up by a local architect and a member of the congregation Murdock Campbell, (Free of charge) who was also responsible for the follies in the grounds of the now famous Ballyfin Demesne, (now a World Famous Hotel) such as the round tower and the caves at the lakeside. Judge Gibson who was also a member of the congregation used his influence to procure a site for the church and manse in the centre of the town. A building fund was established. The foundation stone for the new church was laid on the 6th of September 1853 by Mr William Todd (Builder) in the presence of the Murdock Cambell and the then Minister Henry McManus. The Church was opened on the 27th August 1854 by Dr Morgan of Fisherwick Church, Belfast who also preached the first sermon to a packed audience. The cost of the church and manse were just over one thousand pounds. Just three years later in 1857, Minister Mc Manus declared the building free from all debt.
In the intervening years the congregation declined along with the industrial decline within the area. In more recent years the numbers declined to such an extent that they were unable to sustain the church and its by now costly upkeep, and it fell into disrepair. A decision was taken to sell the Church and its Manse which was taken over by a local entrepreneur Eugene Conroy who with the support of Laois Partnership Group carried out extensive works on the buildings, and in the process retained as many of the original features as possible. Both buildings have protected structured status and have been sympathetically redeveloped with modern conveniences and amenities to provide a high standard of budget accommodation known as The Forum Hostel. This restored building is now used by the many visitors to Mountmellick. The Original commemorative plaque found buried in the foundations during the restoration process, is now on display in The Forum Hostel.
The Presbyterian congregation continues to worship and hold their services in the Methodist Church.
Thank you for joining me this week.