Merrion Hall, Dublin
Two horses drawing one of the Dublin city trams were called ‘Moody’ and ‘Sankey’. Such was the effect, on the ordinary people of Ireland and particularly in the Dublin area, of the spiritual revival that swept over these islands in the period 1859-60. Multitudes found peace with God and many of the Lord’s people were awakened to their spiritual blessings in the risen Christ and to a responsibility towards the salvation of their fellow men and women.
It was partly as a result of that revival that Merrion Hall was built
It was also in the ambience of a movement that arose early in the nineteenth century, for which no exact date of commencement and no founding member appeared. It arose simultaneously in a number of areas one of which was Dublin. It was the meeting together of persons, who desired to worship God together without the restriction of membership of an established Church, or with the limits such placed on them.
‘We should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit of ministry, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together, by ministering as He pleased, and saw good from the midst of ourselves’.1
This movement can be accredited only to God; those who pursued it came to be known as ‘Brethren’. It demonstrated a return to the simplicity of the early church found in the Bible, more a rediscovery of something already there. In fact Bible classes were at its core; one being held at Powerscourt demesne, just over the border from Dublin, in county Wicklow. In the early days names associated with the Brethren, amongst others, were Dr. Edward Cronin, J. D. Bellett, Anthony Norris Groves an English man, and John Nelson Darby who later travelled extensively in Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand and West Indies giving Bible teaching.
At first the group met in a home, then in a business premises in Dublin, but in the early 1860’s the need arose for an evangelistic centre, a meeting place. At that time those interested were Mr. William Fry, Mr. Denham Smith and Mr. H. Bewley and these men met to consider a location. The conclusion was to build a new centre to serve the whole county and Merrion Hall, a beautiful circular auditorium seating 2,500 people, was the result. It was opened on 26th August 1863. Both the Jubilee and the Centenary were celebrated in due course.
The Brethren met there and, after the death of Mr. H. Bewley, cleared all debts, and funds being available refurbished it. At a later date fee simple was secured, but the original purpose for the building, a centre for evangelism, remained.
Merrion Hall served its purpose and a large assembly met there and provided a facility for the spread of the gospel and the exposition of the scriptures for many years. Denham Smith, Richard Weaver, Gratten Guinness, F. C. Bland, George Muller and Dr. Barnardo, amongst others, ministered there. Many people, even to this day, report that they were ‘born again’ in Merrion Hall.
Special meetings were held for men, for women, for the army and police force in the early days, for missionary study and for young people. Even up to 1951 the Sunday School required over 80 teachers each week to teach the children of the assembly and reach children who attended from the local area.
Missionaries were commended by the assembly to work overseas in Africa, South America, India, Portugal and a number to work in Ireland. One popular feature was on Sunday mornings after the ‘breaking of bread service’ in the lower hall, a ministry meeting took place in the upper hall; in the early days it attracted many established church clerics and members, who attended after their own worship services. Open-air meeting were also held in the city and other places when groups travelled to country areas.
In later years the word of God was expounded by Harold Barker, Albert Fallaize, Geroge Harpur, C. F. Hogg, E. W. Rogers, Harold St. John and W. E. Vine, Hudson Pope and Robert Pettifer, amongst many others.
Over the years the assembly refurbished the building on a number of occasions but the numbers attending Merrion Hall dropped. Many reasons for this may be suggested, world war, economic hardship resulting in emigration, political unrest in Ireland. The premises were occupied for a short time by the military. Then it became a ‘down town church’ when the population of the city centre moved to the suburbs. The congregation came from all areas and the hall was no longer local. Keeping in mind that any work of God will be opposed by the power of evil dividing and destroying unity, it is no surprise that over the years evil ‘had its day’ too.
When the number attending became too small to justify the upkeep of the building an effort was made to sell it and move to more suitable premises. It then came to light that due to the original purpose selling was not an option, as the trust deed had never been revised. After years of effort to solve the problem the remaining assembly members left the building, and in 1988 purchased an old school in Irishtown for their use. Merrion Hall was sold by the trustees and, in keeping with the law, the proceeds were distributed to charities of like interest. The remaining assembly at Irishtown got one third and the both the Dublin Young Men’s Christian Association and Dublin Christian Mission a third each.
Sadly, the former Merrion Hall Assembly, now called Irishtown Gospel Hall, consisting mainly of elderly folk, is having to face up to visible decline, as far as the ‘natural’ man can see. The facade of the old Merrion Hall has been retained and behind it is now an hotel.
The mind goes back to its origin in the early to mid-1900’s and the reason that all of the above came into place. It was when God sent revival, blessing His people so evidently, and to such an extent, that two horses, drawing a Dublin tram, were named after the preachers that God used to bring blessing to these islands.
- Anthony Norris Groves, The Brethren Movement, Pickering and Inglis, by Veitch.
- The Christian Heritage, by George Hall and James Naismith.
- Merrion Hall, Dublin, 1863-1913.
- One Hundred Years of Witness at Merrion Hall, 1863-1963.