20 October 2017

A church with a story
going back to the early
days of Methodism

The Methodist Church on the corner of Victoria Place and Queen Street was built in 1839 and is now a united Methodist and Presbyterian church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

While I was walking around Galway last week, I noticed for the first time the United Methodist and Presbyterian Church on the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Place.

This unusual building is just a few steps immediately south of Eyre Square, tucked into a cosy corner beside the Victoria Hotel and Queen Street Bar. I probably never noticed the church before because it stands on a busy traffic route from the city centre onto the docks, close to the train station and it is often screened from view by coaches and taxis stopping outside the hotel.

The building dates from 1839, and was built on this corner site as a combined Methodist church and school sharing the same fa├žade.

The building has simple classical details in its round-headed openings and its unusual design adds significantly to the architectural streetscape of Galway. The asymmetrical arrangement of the windows and the varied openings to the porch and the top floor of the school make this one of the interesting buildings in the area around Eyre Square.

John Wesley first came to Co Galway to preach in May 1748 during his second visit to Ireland. He preached at 5 a.m. on Sunday 5 May in Athlone, and then rode 20 miles to Aughrim, Co Galway, where he attended Morning Prayer at noon, and heard a ‘warm’ sermon against enthusiasts, in other words, the Methodists.

After the service, he preached in the open to the whole congregation, and then dined with Samuel Simpson of Oatfield, before riding back to Athlone. He returned to Aughrim the next day, and then on Tuesday he travelled on to Ahascragh, where he preached at the door of the rectory. On Wednesday, he preached again, and then rode on to Eyrecourt, where he preached in the Market House.

But Wesley did not visit Galway City for the first time until 1756. He returned in May 1757, when he rode 50 miles in the rain from Castlebar to Galway, before moving on to Ballinrobe. A small Methodist society was formed in Galway in 1760, and John Wesley returned many times.

The preaching room used by Wesley in 1765 was described as a cellar in a miserable back lane surrounded by herring stores.

A new Wesleyan chapel was built in Galway in 1812 with money raised by a Mr Maberly in London (£250) and William Reilly (£150), and given to the Revd Gideon Ouseley (1762-1839) to build Methodist chapels in Galway and other parts of Ireland.

A new Methodist Church just off Eyre Square at Victoria Place opened in 1839, and was built on land donated by Hedges Eyre, and was built once again through the efforts of Gideon Ouseley.

Gideon Ouseley, the distinguished Methodist preacher behind building both these churches in Galway, was born in Dunmore, Co Galway, in 1762. His father hoped he would eventually be ordained in the Church of Ireland, but eventually provided him with an extensive farm.

He married early and lived a dissolute life, in which he gambled away his young wife’s fortune and lost an eye in a shooting during a pub brawl. But in 1791, through contact with Methodist soldiers in the 4th Dragoon Guards at Dunmore, he was converted and so set out on a career of incessant itinerary preaching.

He was fluent in the Irish language and preached throughout the west and south of Ireland, travelling on horseback and making converts to Methodism. When he died in Dublin in 1839 at the age of 77, he was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. His widow survived for another 14 years.

The way in which these two buildings are joined suggests the school is a later structure.

At the south-west end, the church has a three-bay gable-front and a projecting gabled porch to central bay, while the entrance door to the two-bay three-storey school to the north-east is on the first floor level.

The front elevation has round-headed windows, with limestone sills, surrounds and voussoirs. There are blank lined-and-ruled rendered walls to the south-west elevation, and these have dressed limestone quoins. There are blank raised plaques above the end windows of the church and a third plaque between the upper floors of the school inscribed ‘School House.’

The pointed-arch door opening at the porch has a tooled chamfered limestone block-and-start surround with limestone steps and double-leaf timber panelled doors. The corners of the porch have low buttresses. The square-headed window openings at the side of the porch have tooled limestone sills, block-and-start surrounds and stone lintels.

Recent concrete steps lead up to the round-headed door opening for the school on the first floor. This has a limestone surround and voussoirs, with timber panelled door and spoked fanlight. The top floor of the school has stone lintels.

There is a spired pinnacle with a metal weather vane on the pediment of the church. The pitched slate and artificial slate roofs on the school and church have cut limestone pediments.

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian meeting house on Nun’s Island had opened four years earlier in 1835. But there had been a Presbyterian congregation in Galway city since the 1600s.

The Presbyterians in Galway invited the minister of the congregation in Limerick to visit them in 1698 and to administer Holy Communion. When the Revd William Biggar arrived in Galway, he was put in prison and sent to Dublin for ‘dividing the Protestant interest.’ He was later released, he was warned not to return to Galway.

James Cusack of Merchant’s Road, Galway, was the architect of the Presbyterian church on Nun’s Island. He also deigned a Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral on Nun’s Island and the Bank of Ireland in Galway, and remodelled the Franciscan Church.

The Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in Galway were united in 1980, and began worshipping together in the Methodist Church on Victoria Place.

The church has grown over the past 20 years with the arrival of people from different countries. The church has an alternating ministry scheme, alternating between a Methodist and a Presbyterian minister.

The present minister is the Revd Helen Freeburn. Previously she had been a pastoral assistant in Lucan Presbyterian Church, Dublin, and the assistant minister at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church, Lambeg. She was installed in Galway in June 2013.

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