Why Methodist? In 1727 Charles Wesley, during his second year as an undergraduate in Christ Church College, had gathered a few like-minded undergraduates to study the Bible and other Christian literature. John, by then a Fellow of Lincoln College in the same University, became the natural leader of this group. Their regular (or methodical) observance of the rules of the Book of Common Prayer in regard to works of piety and charity led the unsympathetic to nickname them ‘Methodists’. As several of the group supported the Wesleys’ new venture in 1739 the transfer of the name seemed natural.
Over the next fifty years John toured all of England, much of Wales and some of Scotland. Initially Charles shared these travels, but his less robust health prevented his doing as much. John paid his first visit to Ireland in 1747, and was soon followed by Charles. Their early meetings were held in rented premises in Marlborough Street and Cork Street. John went on to pay twenty-one visits to this country, lengthening in time and extent until they covered almost all of it.
The first Methodist building in Ireland was a chapel at Whitefriar Street in Dublin, built in 1752, the site of which was later expanded to contain a day school for boys, a school for orphan girls, a widows’ almshouse, a bookroom and houses for two ministers. The Whitefriar Street congregation moved to St Stephen’s Green in 1845, and now worships in Leeson Park.
The Early Irish Methodists
In 1747 one of John Wesley's preachers, a Welshman called Thomas Williams, came to Dublin from England, and formed what was to be the first permanent Methodist Society in Ireland. Wesley came in person in the August of the same year to meet this society. Not long after Wesley's return to England a riot broke out in Dublin, and the premises in which the Methodists were meeting was badly damaged. Wesley sent his younger brother Charles to the city to rally the frightened members.
Samuel Handy, a gentleman with an estate in Co. Westmeath, heard that one of his family had become involved with the Methodists, and hurried to Dublin to remonstrate with her. She persuaded him to meet them, and the meeting convinced him of their value. He offered his residence, Coolalough in the parish of Ardnurcher, as a base from which they might work in the Irish Midlands.
The offer was, of course, accepted, and Handy introduced the preachers to his relations and friends within a radius of about 50 km from his house. Within months a half dozen societies had been formed in the area. Later others would do something similar and Methodism spread along a chain of family connections.
The development in the Midlands was spread across many towns such as the ones in the towns of Athlone, Birr and Tullamore.
Athlone Methodist Church
Methodism in Athlone came in to being as a result of visits to the town by John Wesley in the middle of the eighteenth century. Infact, he was so popular that people rode out to greet him as he entered Athlone.
This Church, built in 1865, is situated in the heart of Athone in Northgate Street. It is close to the town bridge and Church Street, the main throughfare and shopping area. There is seating for around 120 people for worship and the vestry can accommodate about a dozen children for Sunday School.