I was in London last week and while there I visited the Museum of Methodism and John Wesley's house in City Road, It may have seemed a strange pilgrimage for me to make but in a sense I was renewing a link with Athy's Past.
After all had not John Wesley in one of his many trips to Ireland passed through Athy on his way to Roseanna near Ashford, County Wicklow home of Mrs. Sarah Tighe. It was while in Roseanna that Romney had painted Wesley's portrait on the 5th January, 1789. Mrs. Tighe's daughter, Elizabeth who undoubtedly met Wesley while he was there was to marry Reverend Thomas Kelly of Ballintubbert in 1794. Kelly will be remembered as the founder of the Kellyites that small religious group which existed outside the established Church up to 1855.
As for John Wesley's house and the Museum of Methodism both can be highly recommended as somewhere to visit while in London. The Museum itself is located in the basement of the Wesley Chapel which is regarded as the Mother Church of World Methodism. The neat Chapel building enriched with Victorian stained glass and monuments to Methodist worthies, clerical and lay, is a peaceful and inspiring place even for a non-Methodist. The Museum tells the story of Methodism with material and exhibits showing the various stages of the development of that movement.
It is perhaps John Wesley's house itself in the grounds of the Methodist Chapel which evoked most memories of his time spent in Ireland. Here one could see his furniture and personal effects together with a number of his manuscript letters. His travelling robe, three cornered had and shoes were on display with the chair he used when presiding over the first Methodist Conference in 1744.
John Wesley had overseen the appointment of the first Methodist Minister in Athy before he died in 1791. John Miller was that Minister and in the early years the religious worship of the Methodist was closely associated with that of the Church of England. Methodists attended morning service in the Parish Church in Emily Square every Sunday and attended their own preaching service in the evening.
Itinerant preachers were to pay particular attention to Athy during the early part of the 19th Century in the absence of a full-time locally based Minister. Adam Averall, Gideon Ouseley and Charles Graham were frequent visitors to the town where they reported "Multitudes of Catholics as well as others attended our Ministry in the streets and markets".
The first Methodist Chapel in Athy was established in the former Quaker Meeting House in Meeting Lane sometime between 1820 and 1837. The building continued to be used for this purpose until 1874. On the 12th June that year the new Methodist Church was opened in Woodstock Street. Largely responsible for the building was Alexander Duncan of Tonlegee House in whose memory a memorial tablet was placed in the Church following his death in September 1887.
Incidently when the Church was first opened it was referred to as the Wesylian Church and the congregation is today referred to as Wesylian Methodist. However the correctness of this term it does show that the local church group was and always remained followers of John Wesley.
Following Wesley's death in 1791, there were several secessions, and break away groups including the Methodist New Connexion, the Primitive Methodists and Protestant Methodists sprang up. A number of unions were attempted, first in 1857 and finally in 1932 resulting in the coming together of most of the separate Methodist groups.
Methodism in Athy has suffered a sharp decline in numbers in recent years. The Church in Woodstock Street is still in use for Sunday Service and quite recently hosted a local Ecumenical Service. The legacy of John Wesley lives on in Athy even though it took 204 years to return his visit.
I returned from holidays at the weekend to be told that 'Mickey' Moore was dead and buried. Known to everybody in business as Michael to Offaly Street Resident's he was always 'Mickey'. Small of stature but ever pleasant he and my brother Seamus were of the same age.
Being some years younger than the rest of the lads in the street, they are only allowed occasionally to join with the big fellows such a Teddy Kelly, Willy Moore, Andrew White, Tom Webster and myself. At least we thought we were the big lads in those heady days of the 1950's.
Whatever Mickey lacked in stature he compensated for with a innate charm which made him friends with everyone he met. It was a quality he used to good effect even when he was a young lad in short trousers in Offaly Street for despite ourselves the so called big lads would inevitably end up with the two young ones tagging along.
But he was good fun. Always was and never known to involve himself in rancour. I can recall I as a young fellow playing with Mickey in what for us was the strange territory of St. John's when Mickey pushing a go cart fell and somehow my boot (which we all wore and hated in those pre-dockmartin days) hit Mickey in the face. He ended up with a cut lip and even in adulthood he retained the mark of that accident of long ago.
As I remember those days it saddens me to think of yet another member of the Offaly Street 'gang' gone to join Seamus, Andrew, Leopold, Mylie and Danny. Time is a cruel reaper. May he rest in peace.