Testimony in County Donegal

Gospel work in the Republic of Ireland has never been easy, yetGod has blessed the labors of those who have persevered with the gospel.

Assembly testimony was established in other parts of Ireland many years before brethren went to Donegal with the Gospel. It was in the last decade of the 19th century that a work was begun by brethren exercised to reach the people of Donegal. This county lies in the Northwest corner of Ireland, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the West. Inland, it borders three counties of Northern Ireland. Those who first came to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ did not find it easy and likely met many disappointments along the way. The work began with God’s servants being despised, facing opposition and suspicion. But those sent of God were men of conviction who highly esteemed divine truth ‘ and had personal commitment to the Lord and His Word. The same commitment that characterized those who pioneered with the Gospel and saw the assemblies planted has been shown by the brethren and sisters who have maintained the witness over the years. If the lamp of testimony is to continue to burn brightly in a world that is becoming darker with every passing year, then our generation will have to exhibit the same zeal and devotion to our risen Lord as those who have gone before. May the Lord give us grace and courage to do so.

The earliest testimony in County Donegal was established in the center of the county near Stranorlar in the town land of Magheracorran. Around 1890, it was virtually impossible for Gospel preachers to get lodgings or a place to preach. These servants of Christ were looked on as “tramp preachers” and every denomination was opposed to them and their work. Mr. Hugh Creighton came across from Co. Tyrone seeking to preach the Gospel and in the providence of God met a believer in the nearby town of Ballybofey. He offered Mr. Creighton a place to stay Contacting friends who had a large house at Magheracorran known as Speer’s Castle, he requested that they give the preacher the use of one of the rooms. The people came and God blessed the preaching of His Word as a number were saved. Before those meetings finished, Mr. Creighton taught the truth of believer’s baptism and the N.T. assembly. Shortly after that, those who were baptized met in the castle on the Lord’s Day to break bread. They felt a meeting place of their own would be more suitable, so, in 1892, one of the believers gave the site and the brethren built the Gospel Hall hardly a quarter mile from the castle. This corrugated iron hall served its generations until a new hall was built in 1976 on the same site where the Assembly continues to be a lampstand in the center of the county.

About the same time, God was working in the lives of some living in the town of Letterkenny. These believers went to Maghercorran to break bread on the Lord’s Days, some of them walking the nine miles to get to the meetings. In 1894, Mr. James Megaw and Dr. W.J. Matthews had tent meetings in two places a few miles out from the town where quite a number were saved, including Mr. Joe Stewart who spent most of his life in Gospel work. The following year, 1895, the Gospel Hall was built in the town on ground belonging to one of the brethren, and the assembly has met there ever since. In 1995, the assembly held a special meeting to mark 100 years of testimony in the town. About 250 believers from both sides of the border gathered to give thanks to God for His faithfulness and to listen to the ministry of the Word by five of the Lord’s servants who have labored with the assembly over the years.

Farther north in the county, near the town of Malin, two brethren from Scotland, Mr. John Bernard and Mr. James Lees, came in 1904 and had Gospel meetings. The whole countryside was shaken as they not only preached man’s ruin and God’s remedy in Christ, but taught also the coming of the Lord and the rapture of the church, a truth which was unknown to the people of that area. Some of these meetings were interrupted by stones being thrown on to the roof of the building. Another prank which happened to them in Malin and at a number of other places, was that the door was tied up from the outside so that when the meeting was over the people could not get out. A few of the believers in that area formed an assembly and met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Starrett to break bread. This meeting continued for a number of years, being supported by Christians who came there in the summer months and a few others who moved to the district. Mr. Lees went on to Northern and Eastern Europe and saw a work done for God and assemblies planted in the countries where he labored. Mr. Bernard later went to Canada where he preached the Gospel for many years. Little other Gospel work was carried on in the Malin area and with the home call of the believers and no young life added to the testimony, the door finally closed around 1960. In 1984, Mr. Samuel Patterson and I got a site for the mobile hall at Culdaff which is a few miles from Malin where we preached the Gospel. We covered a wide area, inviting the people to hear the Gospel, and we met a sister in Christ who was the last surviving member of the Malin Assembly. We brought her to the meetings, but none of her family would come and very few from the district would come even once. It was at that time we met an elderly lady who remembered when she was a little girl going with her mother to hear the Scottish evangelists, Bernard and Lees, preaching in a barn. The noise of the stones bouncing on the tin roof was frightening and, from what she said, the preachers ad to take much abuse from the local people.

In the south of the county, God was also working in grace. Around the turn of the century, there was a breaking of bread in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Scott at Carricknahorna, near Ballyshannon. It is not known who brought the Gospel to them and taught assembly truth, but this was the first breaking of bread in South Donegal. Mr. John Madill came to the area and was involved in Gospel work. He was invited by one of the brethren to have meetings in his part of the county and obtained the use of a kitchen in the home of a couple who were believers, but not in assembly fellowship. The meetings commenced with a congregation of five: the couple, his brother and wife who lived next door and their nephew, who was not saved. For three weeks, Mr. Madill preached nightly to the same five people. At the close of the third week, the nephew got saved, and then told the people of Laghey village of his new-found faith in Christ. The people then started to come to the meetings until the house was not large enough to hold all who came. The street in front of the house was also full of people listening to the preacher. God began to work and a number professed to be saved. The meetings then moved to another house, nearer to the village, where many crowded in to hear the message that had caused such a stir in the community. Not all who came were in agreement with the Gospel being preached. One of those was a local farmer who stood up in the meeting and confronted Mr. Madill about “this dangerous doctrine” that he was preaching and said they would not have it. He read a chapter of Ezekiel to supposedly prove his point and said that all who were in agreement with him should join in repeating the Lord’s prayer. A few did join him in the prayer and Mr. Madill asked him to leave and not to return if he was going to upset the meeting. In spite of this man’s outward opposition, the Spirit of God was working within bringing conviction of sin, and one day he realized that the blood of Christ was shed for him and that it alone could cleanse his sin away. He who was so opposed to Mr. Madill and the Gospel when unsaved was now a firm friend who fearlessly upheld the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ, telling all and sundry what the Lord had done in his life.

Mr. Madill began to teach N.T. church principles and many of those recently converted were baptized and received into the fellowship at Carricknahorna. After this, two other brethren, Mr. Tom Braidner and Mr. James McCullough, came to the area to preach the Gospel and had meetings in a portable hall in Donegal Town. The meetings in Donegal Town are of special interest to our family as my mother-in-law and her sister were saved through hearing the Gospel for the first time. They were both baptized and in fellowship in Carrick, Laghey, before leaving the area for Belfast and America. At one series of meetings in the portable hall only one unsaved person came, a girl in her teens. Before the meetings finished she was saved, and in later years married one of the local brethren and was a real “mother in Israel” to the assembly

Mr. Madill and Mr. Braidner married two of the Scott sisters and the family emigrated to Australia, so the assembly ceased to meet in Carricknahorna and moved to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Harron near the village of Laghey. Mr. McCullough joined Mr. Bernard for Gospel work in South Wales, where God blessed their labors. After this, he went to Canada and U.S.A., where he continued his work in the Gospel. Later, a wooden hall was erected in the town land of Carrick where the assembly continued to meet for some 80 years until the new Gospel Hall was built in Bridgetown in 1996.

To be continued