Victoria Market - Londonderry (1859)

Rev. Robert Sewell, the Independent minister at Derry wrote,

“The 12th of June is the time from which we date this great awakening in our city. On that day, on the invitation of one or two churches, some of the newly converted were brought from Ballymena to address meetings. A united meeting was held in, the First Presbyterian Church, when some of their young men spoke. Many were moved to tears, while some had to be taken into the vestry to prevent their disturbing the congregation. Next day a general feeling of solemnity was manifested by all classes, and many under conviction were spoken to in their houses or places of business.”

Realising that God was indeed at work in the city, the senior Presbyterian minister invited a number of ministers representing various denominations to meet at his home to plan for united evangelistic action. This meeting resulted in the commencement of daily meetings in the Corporation Hall and the Corn Market. These services were conducted by ministers of the several churches except the episcopal clergy who held aloof.

The Archdeacon of Derry, in an address to the clergy sanctioned by the Bishop, recommended that they should keep aloof inasmuch that the Church of England clergy could not join other denominations except by sacrificing their principles. While acknowledging that the revival was of God, he advocated the holding of separate meetings. Consequently, services were held in the Cathedral and in the church schools, but they were thinly attended and there were few results. An eye-witness comments: “The law of love had been violated, and the result was that the Episcopal fleece is almost dry, while that of the Evangelical Nonconformists—who had asked for Episcopal co-operation in vain—was wet with the dew of Hermon.”

This attitude of the episcopal clergy of Londonderry stood out in sharp contrast to the example of Dr Knox, the Bishop of Down and Connor, and the clergy of his diocese. Rev. Richard Smyth, who later entered Parliament and succeeded in passing the Irish Sunday-Closing Bill, describes in greater detail the first revival services mentioned by Rev. Robert Sewell: “The secondary agency employed by the Holy Spirit in commencing the work here was that of four young converts from County Antrim, brought here by the Rev. Jackson Smyth of. Armagh, all of whom addressed a united meeting in the First Presbyterian Church. Three persons cried out for mercy during the meeting. A thrilling sensation passed through the great assemblage, as these mourning cries were uttered, and the thousands present felt each for himself and herself, ‘I have a soul to be saved.’ God had touched some mighty spring at His own throne, and the vibrations were felt in our meeting that night. Hundreds went home with an arrow in their heart. The ‘Revival’ had begun in Derry. Perhaps never since Derry was a city— and it has seen stirring and awful days in its eventful history—did so many souls ache upon sleepless beds as on that mysterious night. They rose in the morning un-refreshed, with the hand of God heavy on them. Some have told me how they struggled during the silent watches; some wept for hours, others felt an awful petrifaction in their bosom, and others, in wild frenzy, muttered blasphemy upon their beds. Monday passed, and another united meeting was held in the First Presbyterian Church that evening. The building was crowded to excess. Several ministers addressed the meeting in calm and unimpassioned solemnity. The meeting felt still as a grave; the stillness was fearful; those who were present will never forget it. At length the silence was broken by unearthly cries, uttered simultaneously by several in different parts of the church, and in the course of a few minutes the vestry of the church was filled with Individuals who lay in mental agony and absolute bodily prostration.

“Socialists may talk of ‘ hysteria’ and ‘catalepsy’; but I can testify that, so far as I know, not one of those who were stricken that night, and who professed to have found peace in Jesus, has gone back to the world. If hysteria produce such results as these, then I pray that every man, woman and child in Ireland may become ‘hysterical’ before the end of the year.

“It would be impossible to enumerate the cases of conviction and conversion that occurred that evening.”

At the open air meetings in the Victoria Market many were stricken down under conviction of sin. Here on one Sunday evening Brownlow North, Esq., preached to an audience of five thousand. The attendance at the Morning Prayer meeting in the Corporation Hall became so crowded that many were turned away. Mr Peter Drummond of the Drummond Tract Society from Stirling, Scotland, who visited Derry at this time, testified that one thousand people gathered for prayer at 8 a.m. each morning. 

So great were the demands of the stricken and convicted that the ministers of the city each had to conduct four to five services every day. The most illiterate were reached in common with the well educated and wealthy, and those who were religious became more religious and those who were irreligious became religious.

In summing up the revival movement, Rev. Robert Wallace, the senior Methodist minister of Londonderry, said: “I consider it the most glorious work of God ever known in this country in so short a time, and I believe there is a religious influence upon the people of Ulster surpassing anything ever before realised.”

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