Ballyclare (1859)

The following private letter contains some matters of interest in relation to religious movements at Ballyclare, Ballynure and the neighbouring districts:—

"'We went to Ballyclare last Thursday night to attend a revival prayer meeting and truly I cannot understand it. I can only say and feel that it was the Lord's doing and marvellous in our eyes. The scene when we arrived baffles all description. Imagine a large meadow, with an immense multitude of people in all attitudes — some praying, weeping and crying for mercy, others lying in utter helplessness only able to utter feebly their entreaties for pardon, surrounded by groups of friends and strangers all interceding for them and urging them on to call on Christ and, again, others with their faces gleaming with a more than earthly light, listening to the speaker with rapture or eyes raised, eloquently praising God with fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, tender children and strong men, the infants of a few years and the grey-haired women, all equally struck, all equally earnest and eloquent. “I saw stalwart men led away as if they were helpless children. During the singing of one of the Psalms the voice of praise was ascending in the still evening air, when there was nothing of an exciting tendency being said, a man beside us suddenly burst out into the most terrific cries, running round and round in circles in such a wild manner that it was dangerous to be in his way — when his cries changed suddenly into calls on the Name of Jesus and, in a few minutes after the most awful suffering, he fell, unable to stand or even speak. The public houses are empty all through the town. There is a prayer meeting in almost every second house. Groups about the streets are praying or conversing on the all engrossing topic. Public works are stopped in consequence of these strange and awful manifestations of Jehovah's might. All places, all hours are alike, people are struck down while following their daily vocations, or resting on their beds, crossing the fields or transversing the streets — all are alike and all characters are converted instantly. "`I cannot pretend to give you any accurate account of it. Words cannot describe the thrilling scene we witnessed yesterday evening. There will be a meeting at Ballynure this Friday evening and one here DV on the Sabbath. The most wonderful feature of all this is that there is no enthusiasm or excitement. Among the people the visitation is sudden. The person is removed to a distance by those around but, beyond a mere mention of the name by those who know it, there is no curiosity or wonder manifested and from being one of the wildest towns in the neighbourhood, Ballyclare has become one of the most religious."'

"The Banner of Ulster" June 7th 1859.

The good work also spread in other directions. Ahoghill lies to the north-west of Connor, Ballyclare to the south-east. Here, in May, a large fair was held, during which a slater, named Samuel Todd, a wicked backslider, was told that there was a man in the fair who had lost his reason. Todd hastened to the fair hill, and there saw a man from the neighbourhood of Broughshane who, as he came into the town, had been seized with such deep convictions of sin that, regardless of the eye of the crowd or the course of business, he cried aloud for mercy. The slater as he looked on became deeply concerned about his own state and resolved to seek someone who would teach him the way to Cross. Making for the direction whence the man who cried in the fair had come, he met with some persons who said, "Go to Connor; there is the country where you'll find the people you want." He did so, was cordially welcomed by the young convert and at a prayer-meeting on the following day God spoke peace to his troubled spirit. Now as if it had been said to him, "Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee," he did return, told his tale of redeeming love, and soon blessed results followed. At first many feared that his mind had given way, others mocked him, but a few joined him and became just as singular in their movements.

On Saturday evening, May 28th, the Rev. Robert Collier took his stand at the monument and preached to about four hundred persons, including some of the most reckless characters in the neighbourhood. At the close of the service those who were anxious crowded into an adjoining house, Todd gave them an account of his conversion, and one or two of those present were strangely affected. On the following Tuesday a messenger from Doagh came to Mr Collier, saying that a young woman had been stricken there while at her work that morning, and was anxious to see him. He went at once, and found that other girls also had been taken from the same mill, apparently in a similar state, but not really convinced of sin. Next day the work broke out at. Ballyclare in a way that far surpassed the highest expectations of the Lord's people. During an open-air service in the neighbourhood numbers were smitten to the ground in penitence of spirit, and cried aloud for mercy, so as to be heard from afar. They returned homeward surrounded by an awe-stricken crowd, weeping, praying, and praising God, and thus moved the whole town. That night houses were to be seen in all directions thronged with people and resounding with words of prayer or songs of thanksgiving. Christian workers spoke to and sang or prayed with the penitents until they found peace. Numerous services were held, which were largely attended, frequently addressed by young converts, and accompanied with marvellous power. Thus the work deepened and spread, bringing under its sanctifying influence old and young, the moral and religious, as well as the most abandoned and profligate. Some, it is true, were very ignorant, had little sense of their state, and looked upon their novel experi­ence as a kind of epidemic which they rejoiced in getting over easily; but in general it was far otherwise.

From 'History of Methodism in Ireland', Volume III, by Crookshank, p510.

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