by Lily Baker
For many the most precious Palatine heritage which has survived to the present time is the little Methodist Church in Ballingrane. Built by the local Palatine community in 1766 on a site donated by the Heck family, it replaced an earlier smaller meeting house. John Wesley visited Ballingrane thirteen times between the years 1756 and 1779. Would it be fanciful to suggest that he may have dedicated it?
It is a solidly built building with seating for approximately ninety worshippers. The original doorway was at the opposite end to the present entrance. It would appear that it was at the time of the restoration in 1885 that the porch was added and the opening for the older doorway was converted into the present alcove. It would also appear that entrance was originally from the laneway at the north of the church. Later an entrance was made from the roadway, and my grandfather, Gideon Baker organised the drawing of stones by horse and cart from Foynes to build the present boundary wall. (The hammer which was used by the stonedresser for this is in our possession.)
There are some interesting memorial tablets in the church, chief among them being those to Barbara Heck and Philip Embury to commemorate their part in the founding of the Methodist Church in America.
In 1760 Barbara and Philip, along with other Palatine families, emigrated from Ballingrane and settled in New York. In 1766, at the urging of Barbara, Philip preached the first Methodist sermon in New York. He had been a lay preacher in Ireland. The congregation grew and a Methodist Society was formed. Rented accommodation became too small and in 1768 it was decided to build a church in John Street, New York. This was the first of three buildings on the same site, all of which were named "Wesley Chapel" in honour of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Today it is estimated that there are fourteen million Methodists in America. The church in John Street was designated a New York landmark in 1964.
Dr. William Crook (1824-1897) is commemorated by a similar tablet. He was appointed to bring greetings from the Irish Methodist Conference to the American Methodist Church on the occasion of their centenary in 1866. He later wrote a book entitled Ireland and the centenary of American Methodism, which has been described as one of the really important books on the history of Irish Methodism by Rev. R. Lee Cole, a later Irish Methodist historian. Dr. Crook is buried in the adjoining cemetary.
Another tablet is to the memory of Thomas Walsh, who is described as a student of Divine Word with a knowledge of the original text rarely equalled. *Like many other preachers of his time in Ireland, he was fluent in the Irish language.* He preached all over Ireland and in various parts of England. Wesley regarded his ministry as the most fruitful he had ever known. He died at the early age of twenty-nine.
There is a plaque to commemorate celebrations held in Ballingrane in June 1960 on the occasion of the bi-centenary of the departure of Barbara Heck and Philip Embury from Limerick. This was given by First Methodist Church, Englewood, New Jersey, in honour of their pastor, Rev. Dr. Lowell M. Atkinson at the ceremonies.
There is a brass tablet removed from the demolished Rathkeale church which lists the names of members of the congregation who served in World War I. (Up to 1968 Sunday morning worship was held in Rathkeale and evening worship in Ballingrane, and the congregations were for the most part one and the same.)
Another tablet is to the memory of George Shier of Robertstown, who lost his life in World War I while trying to save the life of a comrade. He is buried in a war grave in France.
Also commemorated by a tablet is George Latchford, who lived within sight of the Church.
One cannot enter the building noticing a large cow's horn hanging on the wall. This dates back to the days of itinerant preachers who travelled on horseback. It is known that such preachers visited Ballingrane before John Wesley came and so it is reasonable to assume that the horn dates from those times. It was sounded to inform folk that a preacher had arrived. When heard, workers on the land and in the homes dropped everything and made their way to the church.
One of the outstanding features of the church is a baptismal font made from an original rafter from the kitchen of Barbara Heck's old home.
A fine manual organ was bequeathed by Mrs. Stevenson of Limerick in memory of her husband, Ernest, who took a great interest in the church and its surrounds.
In the porch there are two display cases containing memorabilia and artefacts from both sides of the Atlantic. Included are postcard size reproductions of portraits of Barbara Heck and Philip Embury which hang in John Street Methodist Church, New York; photographs of the interior and exterior of Barbara Heck's home at Fortview, and of the pear tree under which John Wesley preached. (That tree was blown down in a storm but there is still a pear tree on the same spot which was grown from a scion of the original.)
In 1968 the hall, kitchen and cloakrooms were built and further renovations were carried out in 1987 when oil fired central heating was installed throughout the buildings.
The cemetary was laid out towards the end of the last century. The headstones represent one of the greatest concentrations of Palatine family names outside of the Palatinate itself. They include Shiers, Switzers, Sparlings, Teskeys, Bakers, Raynards, Ruttles, Bovenizers, Millers, Doupes and Delemages.
As well as Dr. Crook, already mentioned, there are two other Methodist ministers buried in Ballingrane: Rev. Wm. B. Merrick, who, Mr. Cole tells us, was at one time stationed in Co. Clare and rowed his own boat eight miles across the rough estuary of the Shannon to take services in the little Methodist church at Tarbert, also Rev. Jas. Benjamin Gillan described as a scholar of Lutheran theology.
We do not know who dedicated the church, but we do know that it was built to the glory of God as a house of prayer and for the teaching of the Gospel, and so it continues to the present day.