The assembly at Riverside Gospel Hall has a long history in the town of Bandon in Southern Ireland. In the years 1830 to 1840 there was an Episcopal curate in the parish of Bandon named George Bellett.
It is recorded that through the ‘clear expositions of the truth propounded from the pulpit by George Bellett’, there began a work in the consciences of many to whom he ministered; and although Mr. Bellett never left the Episcopal Church, a good number of those ‘whom he led into the light and liberty of scriptural truth’ and who saw the truth of ‘gathering unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone’ separated themselves from Mr. Bellett and the denomination. Thus began the story of the local church that meets in Riverside Gospel Hall today.
About this time a movement had gathered pace in Ireland and elsewhere, when many students of the Bible began to realize that organized religion had wandered very far away from the New Testament teaching about how a local church should gather and be administered, and that the truth of the gospel had in many instances been lost. One of those men was a brother of Mr. Bellett, Mr. John G. Bellett and he is universally accepted as one of the earliest Irish exponents of the rediscovered truths of the simplicity of a New Testament church.
The first records of this new assembly in Bandon go back a long way. An old assembly pass-book recounts the expenses for rent, coal and other commodities, with its first entry falling under the date of 1843.During what is known as the Kerry revival which commenced in the mid 1860’s preachers from there visited the assembly in Bandon and while most of the first generation of believers had passed away leaving a much smaller number, through the preaching of these visiting brethren, under the blessing of God many more were saved, baptized, and added to the fellowship.
A well known preacher of the time – Dr. S. P. Tregelles, a distinguished Bible scholar also encouraged the assembly by his visits. In the 1870s and onwards many more distinguished Bible teachers visited including Mr. F.C. Bland, Mr. Richard Mahoney, Sir Robert Anderson and many others too numerous to mention. Such gifted men helped to stimulate and build up the little assembly for the glory of God. Many of the meetings were held in the Town Hall and a wide circle of people were reached and saved. Down through the years since those early days God has had His watchful eye on the assembly, keeping and preserving it from many an attack by Satan.
Many of the meetings were held in private rooms, hotel rooms, and as mentioned above in the Town Hall. The Sunday school, which commenced very early in the assembly’s history, was carried on in the ballroom of one of the hotels.
The number of children attending the Sunday school at that time fluctuated between fifty and ninety, and in the 1900s the same pattern followed but numbers at times exceeded the one hundred mark. Looking at the records it can be seen that a number of students came every Sunday of the year, never missing a Sunday for years on end. In fact there is a lady now in her seventies currently living in Watergate Street, Bandon, who for fourteen years never missed one single Sunday and had to walk one mile there and back, and in those days Sunday school was held on all fifty-two Sundays of the year, except when Christmas day fell on a Sunday! In early 1893 a building was gifted to the assembly for its activities, this building became to be known as Bridge Place Hall. This hall (converted into flats today) is prominently situated on the Bridge in Bandon. The new hall was opened by a series of gospel meetings. Series of meetings for the teaching of the scriptures, for the preaching of the gospel, and special children’s meetings have always been a feature of the activities of the assembly.
Many missionaries have visited over the years from the four corners of the earth, and there has always been a great interest amongst the believers in overseas missionary work.
In the 1960s the Presbyterian Church just across the way from Bridge Place Hall, was closed and put up for sale and the elders of the assembly at the time decided to purchase it for the assembly. Bridge Place Hall was sold and the name Riverside Hall was decided upon for the ‘new’ building. The assembly moved to this new venue and met there for the first time for the Lord’s Supper on Sunday August 9th 1964. On the day before, the 8th of August, the first wedding was celebrated in the new building. Up until that time all assembly weddings were held in Cork Gospel Hall, as Bridge Place Hall was not suitable for such occasions. Over time this building became a liability for the assembly, as it was in need of major remedial works. And so again a move was decided upon. This time a site was purchased in Allen Square, and building work commenced in 1997. The work was completed on the 5th of July 1999 and a beautiful new Hall was opened.
So, for over 150 years a testimony has been maintained and today activities include Sunday School, preaching of the gospel, distribution of scripture calendars to every home in the town over the Christmas period. The assembly also rents prominent roadside advertising hoardings to display scripture verses at Christmas, and the vision of the early brethren continues to be the focus, that is to ‘continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’, Acts 2, 42.