Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Good Words 1860
Reminiscences of Mission-Work in Ireland


It was on the 2d of January 1849 that I set out on the missionary preaching tour, of which I shall give a brief account, through three counties of the south of Ireland. I had all my arrangements made through the committee of the Irish Society before I set out, and I continued my work for sis weeks. It was my desire to secure the full, open, and public attention of the Roman Catholics, and affectionately to solicit their attendance, and I accordingly sent to every place before me printed placards and notices. My proceedings, consequently, attracted considerable attention from the Romish priests, and I was, of course, denounced from the altars far in advance of my progress. My first meeting was with sixty Romanists in one of the principal cities of the south, all with open Bibles. I hope on a future occasion to give some account of the character of these meetings, and the examinations and observations made at them, as they are an essential feature of the work. The following day I met one hundred and fifty of these men in another town twenty miles distant, in the open day, and for three hours we read, examined, and discussed the Holy Scriptures together, the whole of these teachers having been once, and most of them at the time still, Romanists. They were all invited, as were the public, to hear me preach in the very large parish church on the following evening, to prove that "Romanism was not the old religion." I was denounced by name at the three several masses on the previous Sunday, and the Romanists warned against attending, as they had been invited to do. It was all in vain; there never were so many people on any former occasion as flocked then to the church. Several gentlemen, among them the members of a noble family resident in the neighbourhood, did the office of sexton. The pews were crowded in double tiers, the people were packed in every part of the aisles where a human being could stand. The Romanists listened with reverence to the singing and the worship generally, and were heard to express their approbation of the Liturgy. The sermon was long, and was listened to with breathless attention. I knew the usual device of the priests was likely to be resorted to. I exposed the folly and fraud of sending men twenty miles to the Romish bishop for a ticket, on the usual pretence that such sins as hearing the Word of God may not have absolution from the priest in the confessional without the written permission of the bishop, while theft, drunkenness, and every other sin. which was only a breach of God's ten, and not of the Church's six additional commandments, found absolution without difficulty. I represented the spiritual condition of the poor, wearied Romanist, returning after his walk of forty miles with the pretended pardon rolled up in his pocket, which could only be obtained, in reality, from the Father of Mercy. It had the desired effect, and, to my great surprise, no one was sent for a ticket in this instance; the feeling of the people, to which the priests have always to yield when it is unmistakable, was too strong—so strong, indeed, that it several times during the sermon had audible expression, after the manner of our simple people in country parts. 1 had to return a second, and again a third, time to meet the awakened interest in the place. After meeting, in several towns and villages, large numbers of teachers and pupils of the Irish Society, I arrived at a small town on the western coast, and was received by an old and tried friend, the Rev. E------S-------. He-has been named, and with great propriety, the Felix Neff of the south; and if twenty-five years of the most devoted, laborious, and self-sacrificing missionary service, to which I know nothing similar, is a good title to the name, he richly deserves it. Mr S------announced by placard before my arrival that I was to preach on "The Pope's retreat from Rome." Many of the simple people of the place had not heard of the event, and the announcement caused considerable sensation. As large a number of Protestants and Romanist? as could find admission assembled in the parish church, The service had only commenced, when the Rev, Arthur O'Leary, a Roman Catholic priest, stood up in one of the pews, and addressed me as, " Mr Preacher," and put a question which, owing to the agitated state he appeared to be in, was quite unintelligible. I replied, lifting up my hand, and in a quiet tone,—"Sit down, air, don't interrupt our worship." He begged pardon, and resumed his seat till the conclusion of the service; when Mr S------, addressing the congregation from the desk, said that no interruption should be allowed during my sermon, but that when the sermon was over, Mr O'Leary might, if he desired, reply as long as he pleased; and that if there was not sufficient time fully to discuss the matter, we should be ready to adjourn for another evening. He said he was not annoyed but gratified that Mr O'Leary had come forward and set a good example to the Roman Catholics of the parish. I no sooner ascended the pulpit, however, than Mr O'Leary advanced to the centre of the aisle, in a state of great excitement, and addressed me. He was understood to say, that, having seen the placard, he begged to ask whether it was to be a spiritual or a political lecture. I told him the subject had an important spiritual bearing, and that the fact had, of course, great political importance also, but I must decline answering any more questions till I had concluded my sermon, when he might fully avail himself of Mr S------'s offer to reply, or might name time and place, and we should invite all to be present. He then said, "The Roman Catholics who attended me here understand Irish better than English; you must address them in that language." I replied, "Sit down, then, and I shall do so." Upon this Mr O'Leary made a sudden and precipitate retreat, crying out to the Roman Catholics, as he hastened down the aisle, with his right hand elevated, and brandishing a whip,—"Shulig, shulig, shulig," i.e., come along, come along. They did not, however, accompany him in his retreat, and I had two hours without further interruption to improve the subject, and the circumstances. I sent a Roman Catholic messenger next day, who fully made known his errand, to invite him to come forward before all, and make what defence he could for the Popedom; but, to the great disappointment of the people, he did not turn up at the time appointed, nor after; his own flock were heard to say, "it was a mighty queer thing for his reverence to go there at all, and not to stand his ground better than he did."

From this place we visited several islands, among them one called Cape Clear, on which he had settled down to reside for many years after, away from friends and comforts, and from civilisation, to work in connexion with the Islands and Coasts Society, which has so long, and with such abundant blessings from above, laboured for them and the other desolate islands (140 of them) which surround the coast of Ireland. This island is the extreme south-western point of Ireland, and is full of interest, from its magnificent scenery, its ruins, the great difficulty of reaching it across the dangerous sounds, and the character of its superstitions, and of its inhabitants, all which it would take too much space to describe. It had additional interest to me as the scene of many former missionary labours with a beloved brother, now successfully advancing the same truth in a heathen land, amidst the "devil-worshippers" of dark superstition. We often presented the gospel to them in their own loved tongue, in the midst of difficulties and dangers. Mr S------ and I proceeded to the missionary station of the Islands Society, along an almost impassable road, for nearly two miles after landing. I was surprised to see how changed everything was; there was a beautiful little church of ancient Irish architecture, lifting itself above the magnificent south harbour, which looks into the Bay of Biscay, in a place where, a few years before, it would require great ardour of faith to predict its appearance for all time to come. There was also a comfortable school-house and teacher's residence. We were accompanied, on landing, by a naval gentleman, who, at the time, in the exercise of true Christian self-denial, had excluded himself from civilised life to reside among the islanders, and spend his income in doing good to their souls and bodies. There were ninety-five persons present at prayer and sermon in Irish, eight only of these were originally Protestant, and who were not natives, all the others were either converts or inquirers, assembled, too, in open day, though the Romish priest was walking up and down before the door, a few yards distant, stick in hand. In my sermon, which our naval friend did not understand, I was enabled by his case, and that of the priest outside, to illustrate the difference between the " works which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification," and "those done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit." It was late at night before we reached our boat, the poor people carrying fire before me, to throw light upon the rugged path.

The following day Mr S------- accompanied me to another of this group of islands, called Hare Island. This, too, had its special interest for me, as, in attempting to carry the gospel to its neglected inhabitants, some years before, the little yacht in which I sailed was upset in a gale of wind, and went to the bottom, leaving me to swim a mile before I reached this very island, where the people saved me from being dashed to pieces upon the rocks, swathed me in their flannel jackets, rubbed the heat into my exhausted body, and afterwards sent me safely to the main-land. On the last occasion, I told them I was the person to whom they had acted so humanely, and that I was come to make a grateful return, by declaring to them very glad tidings in their own tongue. The seed sown so oft before had in the meantime sprung up there too. I found a congregation of converts gathered out of Popery, in spite of every exertion of the priests and their wonted auxiliaries. It was several years before this that I placed there a reader, one of the first in the neighbourhood who left the Church of Rome. He was then the only Protestant on the island. I found him there still—his name is Dan Carty. He had relatives on the island, was much liked, and truly eloquent in his own language. Many a storm has the poor fellow weathered there, in more than one sense, and many an alternation of success and reverse has he witnessed. When the local priest failed, there was a visit from the bishop, and a procession of many priests, all in full pontificals, to curse through the eyes as well as the ears, in a way to impress and frighten the simple inhabitants. They cursed any who should speak to him. On one occasion, I asked one of the people, who was always on friendly terms, was it true that he refused to speak to Dan Carty? He said it was true, because he did not wish to have the priest's curse; "but, for all that," said he, "I never pass him by without putting the pipe (doodeen) into his mouth to smoke." This was a mark of unchanged friendship, and a silent yet eloquent protest against the intolerance which enslaved them. On another occasion several who resisted the curse were sent off for tickets, about twenty miles, to the bishop, but on their way back they met Dan on the main-land, they dined together, and one of them slept in the same bed with him, but of course never spoke a word to him, and they gave him a seat in the same ferry-boat to the isle—and all this when returning with their ticket of pardon for speaking to him before! Are they not a kind people in spite of the priest? Dan, however, had full liberty to speak to them, and he used the opportunity. It is no wonder that a religion working by frauds and superstition should in the long run fall before the more permanent influence of the understanding and affection, and that, after Romanism had wasted itself in turbulent passion, Dan Carty had fifty children in attendance at the school the day of my visit, and a teacher named Mr M'Sweeney, who could give them, as he said himself, a "litheral definition of geography." I asked Dan Carty, "Is that school the priest has built in opposition to you open yet?" " It is, sir," said he; "it is open in the roof, your reverence," alluding to the children of the islanders having deserted it for the scriptural school, and the slates having been blown off by a gale of wind. As may well be supposed, I had an interesting congregation to preach to. The wife of Dan Carty, still a blind Romanist, was induced, for the first time in her life, to come to hear a sermon from a Protestant minister. I fear it was more the result of her good feeling towards myself than of any higher motive. The kitchen, where I stood to preach, was full, and the little bed-room also, divided off by a low mud partition. There was a round hole in the mud-wall of the house, which did duty for a window, and an

old hat shut out the wind and rain when light was not wanted. In the little huts in which many of the peasantry live glass is not used, in some places not known. I was actually present when a boy broke a single pane of glass, which one of the decenter sort got up (without sash, of course,) as a window, by throwing a stone at it; and when the row began for this piece of mischief, the boy's old grandmother declared that "he thought it was a piece of ice." But to return. I was preaching about half-an-hour, contrasting the Scripture way of salvation with the multitudinous plans invented by the Church of Rome, when I heard a stir in the little room. The interruption was caused by Mrs Carty, who, in her efforts to escape from the sermon, which she could no longer stand, got stuck midway in the little window, her head hanging down outside unsupported, and the grosser half on the inside. "Oh, hone! Mrs McCarthy!" This was an urgent matter, and I had to stop till Mrs Carty was extricated, and allowed to pass through the congregation, and by the open door, when I was allowed to proceed without interruption.

Having taken leave of my friend, Mr S------, I proceeded along the coast, preaching everywhere, according to appointment; and, having witnessed much calculated to cheer, and encountered some serious difficulties, I came, rather late on Sunday evening, to a place called the Altar, several miles distant from where I was engaged at noon. I found there an Irish-speaking clergyman of learning, but very unostentatious zeal. There was just built, and opened on this occasion for the first time, for Irish service, a neat church, in ancient Irish architectural style—the desks, seats, pulpit, a kind of rail-work, and open without panelling. The font is in the form of a beehive, to convey the minister's idea, which is not my own, that the church sent forth her swarms from the baptismal font. The pulpit is in the same form, and it was from that I looked for a swarm on the occasion. It is appropriately named, "Teampul na Mbochd," or "the poor man's church," and truly is what it professes to be. There is an inscription over the side door which interested me—"If there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man, in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" (James ii. 2-4.) There were assembled, when I arrived, about three hundred poor people, in their own church. I was not sorry, on ascending the pulpit, there was no accommodation for any one who should ever follow me to lay down his written sermon, unless he could speak unto the people the words of life. The candle was stuck up against the wall by heating the plaster with its own light, and then holding the candle against it till it adhered; and the candles all through the building were all put up in the same way, by the simple plan of adhesion, in the good old way. The earnestness with which the Lord gave me to speak had a response in sobs and tears, and oft in audibly-expressed concurrence of the simple and warm-hearted people whom I had the privilege to address. When the Irish peasantry are very much interested by a sermon, they wave the body to and fro, like standing corn when the wind blows, and their mouths are always open, so that they appear to hear through them, as well as through their ears, which are the only means the English and Scotch have of hearing at all. The next day's visiting with their excellent minister, from hut to hut, was one of the most interesting in my whole life. The Irish prayers, they said, were so blasta, that is, savoury: the sermon would not soon be forgotten. In the year 1832 only five Protestant families lived at this place; there were, when I visited, eighty families, and three hundred Protestants had then left the parish for America within a few years, of whom seventy emigrated in one year. Truth and superstition were contending in almost every cottage, some members of the family holding with one and some with the other. One very old man, whose children were converts, had bought a horse when he felt himself get feeble, "that he might be able to ride in the other world." Nine Romish priests had been changed in the parish within a few years, according as each was tried, and found to fail in the various devices adopted to stop the progress of the gospel. The Society of St Vincent de Paul had sent an array of proselytising monks, with medals for sale and gratuitous distribution, and with money also, which they openly offered to the converts, if they would return. I had a whole bunch of the medals, and little idols of brass, representing various legends in Romish books of devotion, with which they attempted to stay the progress of the Word of God. In the western end of the parish, twelve miles from the Altar, I was preaching at a place called Three Castle Head, a wild and desolate region, where the minister had just finished the building of a small house, for the double purpose of school and worship. Our next neighbours on the west were the Americans. The mud-floor was quite soft. The desk, before which I stood to preach, stuck in it, and so did most of the people. I was exposing the folly of trusting in the brass medals and gods of copper, and, having held up the bunch of lying vanities, let them drop on the mud-floor to shew their helplessness. I was so much occupied, I forgot the idols; and, after we left, I sent back one of the converts, and told him he should find them stuck in the mud; to which he replied—"Queer gods, your reverence ; gods that could be lost and go astray." Keen and witty as these people are, it is wonderful what a power the most silly superstitions have over them. One of the converts on this coast was thrown back for, a long time in his inquiries after truth, by his superstitious feeling in the following manner:—He once attended Divine service in a Protestant church, on the occasion of a visit to a city fifty miles distant from home, and before he had courage to do so in his own parish. He was delighted with the solemnity in worship, to which Romanists are unaccustomed, but still not quite at ease on the first occasion. While the sermon proceeded, which much pleased him, a spider, busily spinning his web from the roof, lighted unexpectedly upon his nose, which so terrified him, that it was long before he could get rid of the idea that the devil had visited, if not possessed him, for attending church. This was on the shores of the celebrated Bantry Bay, where I had an overflowing congregation of Romanists and recent converts, the magnificent Hungry (Hungary) Hill frowning from above us with its dark shadows upon that noble bay and its beauteous islands. This same Hungry Hill is a rough customer sometimes, as General Hoche's ships and armaments learned to their cost, when, on the invitation of the Irish rebels, they endeavoured to land here in days gone by; and it was the gale that blew down from the angry brow of this fine mountain that cast some of them on the shores of Bere Haven, and scattered others to the four winds of heaven, meeting the fate of the Spanish Armada. Even the goats at the base of this mountain are only half-civilised, for, unaccustomed to glass windows, they broke the panes of this beautiful little church, fighting with their shadow in the glass.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus