Thursday, 11 January 2018

A small house in Mallow Street
is home to the Limerick Brethren

Mallow Street Hall is home of Mallow Street Christian Fellowship (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford
I was writing earlier today about the Independents or Congregationalists, who were the spiritual and theological heirs of the Puritans and the Cromwellians. From the early 19th century they had a chapel in Bedford Row, Limerick, and later moved to a purpose-built Congregationalist Church at the Pery Square end of Hartstonge Street, Limerick.

Another evangelical group that arose in Limerick in the first half of the 19th century is the Brethren or Plymouth Brethren, who owe their origins to the preaching of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).

Today, the Brethren continue to be represented in Limerick in the Mallow Street Christian Fellowship, which has its roots in gatherings that were known as ‘Bible Readings’ or ‘Reading Meetings’ that were held in Limerick from about 1830 to 1850.

John Nelson Darby was born in London, and was given his middle name in honour of his godfather, Lord Nelson, at his baptism. His family returned to Ireland in his early childhood, and although there is no evidence that he ever studied theology he was ordained deacon in the Church of Ireland in 1825 and priest in 1826.

He was appointed a curate in Delgany, Co Wicklow, but he resigned in 1827 during a dispute with Archbishop William Magee(1766-1831) of Dublin, and left the Church of Ireland in 1831, the year Archbishop Magee died.

By then, Darby was preaching from a chapel in Aungier Street, Dublin, and travelling throughout these islands. In 1831-1832, he visited Oxford, Plymouth, Cork and Limerick, and in Limerick and Cork he occasionally preached in the pulpits of the Church of Ireland.

These visits mark the beginning of the Plymouth Brethren in Limerick, and their meeting house in Limerick was built some time between 1850 and 1880, around the corner from the site of the former Saint George’s Church, and close to both Trinity Episcopal Church on Catherine Street and Saint Michael’s Church on Pery Square.

The poet Robert Graves (1895-1985), who was stationed in Limerick with the Royal Welch Fusiliers during World War I and the Irish War of Independence, heard the owner of an old antique shop named Reilly claim that ‘everyone died of drink in Limerick except the Plymouth Brethren, who died of religious melancholy.’

The hall on Mallow Street remained open until the early 1950s, but then closed briefly because of a lack of members and leadership. The remaining family joined with a similar group that had been meeting in the former Quaker Meeting House in Cecil Street Hall for over 30 years, later the Red Cross Hall.

In February 1953, that group moved into Mallow Street Hall and resumed the original functions of the Gospel Hall.

The meeting house is a two-storey building that looks as though it is squeezed between the two Georgian townhouses of each side. The original windows have been replaced with PVC and the premises are still fronted with railings. The fa├žade has decorative quoins and lettering near the top of the parapet roof spelling ‘Mallow Street Hall.’

The original apex roof inside is still visible in the gallery. The baptismal bath in the floor is said to be similar to the one that had served in the Baptist Church on Quinlan Street.

The congregation now calls itself Mallow Street Christian Fellowship, and meets for Sunday worship at 11 am and on some Sundays at 7.30 p.m. with mid-week prayer meetings at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.

The Brethren or Plymouth Brethren trace their presence in Limerick to the visits of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) around 1831 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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