Methodism and the Irish Palatines
Early in 1749 the first Methodist preacher to visit Limerick came to that city attracted by the fact that a detachment of the Black Watch had been moved there from Dublin, and had a number of Methodists among its junior officers. The preacher was Robert Swindells, and one of those who heard him preach in the open air was Thomas Walsh, a native of Ballylin between Adare and Rathkeale. Later that year Thomas Williams, another Methodist preacher came to the city. He was heard by a number of Palatines who had come from the Rathkeale area to attend the Assizes, and whose immediate reaction was ‘This is like the preaching we used to hear in Germany!’ Among them was the Burgomeister and schoolmaster of Ballingrane, Philip Guier.
Guier and Walsh both became Methodist local preachers. Walsh was called by John Wesley to serve in various circuits in Ireland and England until his tragically early death at the age of 28. Guier, however, remained as a local preacher among his fellow Palatines until his death in March 1778. A century later Guier was still remembered as the man ‘who drove the devil out of Ballingrane’. Methodist societies were formed at Ballingrane, Courtmatrix, Killeheen, Pallaskenry, Kilfinnane and, somewhat later, Adare.
John Wesley paid his first visit to the Palatines in the course of his sixth Irish tour in 1756, when he visited Ballingrane and the nearby village that he at different times calls either Newmarket or Pallas. On modern maps it is called Pallaskenry. He described those he met as ‘a plain, artless, serious’ people. In other words they were straightforward and free of deceit. He subsequently came to the area in the course of thirteen other tours, sometimes including Courtmatrix, Killeheen, Kilfinnane, and on one occasion Adare.
On occasion he noted that in their communities there was ‘no cursing or swearing, no Sabbath-breaking, no drunkenness, no alehouse’, and that ‘their diligence turns all their land into a garden’. In 1765 he deplores the attitude of their landlord. ‘As they could not get food or raiment here, with all their diligence or frugality, part are scattered up and down the kingdom [of Ireland] and part gone to America.’ His judgement was possibly a little harsh. Their families were growing and needed more space than the Southwell estate could provide, and some of the more enterprising left for New York in 1760.
The well-known story tells of Barbara Heck coming home one day in 1766 to find her husband Paul and some friend's playing cards. She seized the pack, threw it into the fire, and hurried to the home of her cousin Philip Embury. He had been a local preacher in Ballingrane, and she urged him to begin preaching again, lest all their souls be lost. Philip preached the first Methodist sermon in New York to a congregation which tradition has it comprised of his wife Margaret, the Hecks, another Irish Palatine John Lawrence and the Embury’s Afro-American servant Betsy. From this small beginning a society grew which built a chapel on John Street, and the asked John Wesley to send preachers from England to lead further development. The Methodist Churches in the USA now have a community of over 29 millions.
In 1770 some of the New York Palatines, again led by Philip Embury, moved to the Camden Valley on what is now the New York/Vermont State boundary, nearly 300 km north of New York City. When the American War of Independence broke out most of them took the British side. It was the British who had taken pity on their forbears seventy years earlier and given them refuge from starvation, and they retained a sense of gratitude. Between 1778 and 1780 most of them moved into Upper Canada, now known as Ontario. Embury had died in the Camden Valley, but Barbara Heck still survived and settled at what is now Prescott. She had played a pioneering role in Methodism in three different areas.
Returning to the story in Ireland, the distinguished Irish preacher Adam Averell visited the Palatine communities in 1794, 1795 and 1796. There was never a Methodist chapel at Kilfinnane, meetings there being held on weeknights in one or other private house. The chapels at Killeheen and Courtmatrix had closed by the middle of the 19th century, people there going to the chapel at Ballingrane. The original, probably thatched, chapel was replaced by the present building in 1829, and in 1885 its extensive grounds were laid out as a cemetery. This is one of the very few Methodist cemeteries in Ireland. In 1797 a chapel was built at Adare on the Limerick side. Road redevelopment necessitated a move to the far end of the village, and the present building was opened in 1871.
A new chapel was built at Pallaskenry in 1803 or 1814 (different records quote different dates) but by the beginning of the 20th century the congregation was shrinking and the services ceased in 1921.
In 1830 the Legear family adapted two cottages into a small chapel to serve a few families in Newborough area. During the Irish Civil War of 1921/23 this was burned down, and after a couple of years a new chapel was built on the site. This was closed in 1967. In 1873 a chapel was built in Rathkeale, and four years later a schoolhouse was added to this site to house a primary school. These were closed and sold in 1968
In 1819 an annual Field Meeting began beside a tree where John Wesley had preached near the Franciscan ruin in Adare. Subsequently a golf course was developed, including this site. The Adare Manor Golf Club remains the only golf club in the world that closes on one day each year to allow the Methodists to meet there for worship. In 1884 the attendance at this Field Meeting was estimated to be 1,000 people.
Up to 1863 the Limerick circuit managed the Palatine Methodist congregations, but in that year they became independent with the establishment of the Adare and Rathkeale circuit. In 1968 the name of Rathkeale was dropped (when Rathkeale church was closed) and Ballingrane was added in the form Adare (with Ballingrane).