“DURING the Dark Ages,” Ireland “was ‘the island of saints and scholars’ which kept the light of Christian learning bright when it was being extinguished elsewhere,” penned Donald S. Connery in his book The Irish. However, the beams of true Christian learning shone brightly in Ireland only after years of faithful and vigorous activity on the part of Jehovah’s servants. The story of their struggle against incessant opposition and persistent antagonism stands as a testimony to their stout faith and determination, as well as their deep love for Jehovah and the people they tried to help. Who are these servants of Jehovah and what is their story?
Just over 5,000,000 people live in Ireland. These are sharply separated by political ideologies and religious hatreds that can be, and in recent years have been, easily fanned into open conflict and brutal violence. Yet, you will also find the Irish not only warmhearted and cheerful but hospitable and unhurried.
Their history from the time of the Celtic invaders of the fourth century B.C.E. down through the Viking and Norman raiders to the kings of England is a tragic tale of bitterness, bloodshed, and oppression. For over 750 years Ireland was ruled from England. In 1922, following a struggle for independence, the island was partitioned. The northeastern part, populated mainly with Protestants, stayed in the United Kingdom. The remaining four fifths of the island, almost totally Catholic, became the independent Republic of Ireland.
Despite the dark side of Ireland’s history, the land glows with green-colored beauty. It is an emerald jewel of an island with misty, verdant countrysides framed by rocky coastlines. Travel its 170 miles from east to west and you will delight in seeing the country’s fertile central plain, ringed by gently rolling hills and imposing mountains. Journey from north to south (about 300 miles) and you will be entranced by its scenic lakes and rivers, by its magnificent coastal panoramas, and by the variety of color, a profusion of greenery and flowers. Once seen, Ireland’s beauty is difficult to forget.
Although the country is fundamentally agricultural, in recent years some industries have sprung up. The few large centers of population, like Dublin, capital of the Republic, and Belfast, capital city of Northern Ireland, contrast starkly with the quiet, peaceful towns and villages of rural areas. It was in this setting that the spark of truth was ignited in the late 19th century.
C. T. RUSSELL SPARKS TRUTH
In 1891 Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, visited Ireland. It was his first port of call when traveling from the United States to expand the preaching of Christian truth in Europe. Russell, himself of Scots-Irish descent, disembarked at Queenstown (now Cobh) in the south of Ireland.
As a result of his work, ecclesias, or congregations, were started in Dublin and Belfast, and from these the message of truth began to trickle forth. During this early period, the brothers distributed tracts at the doors of Protestant churches and engaged in informal rather than organized witnessing. The Watchtower, in 1904, reported: “In Ireland, too, the Truth spreads: the dear brethren in Dublin continue to scatter the message of love, with much joy to themselves.”
In 1908 about 300 attended Russell’s lecture in Belfast on the subject “The Overthrow of Satan’s Empire.” By then Belfast had an ecclesia of about 24 Bible Students. In Dublin, after meeting with approximately 40 brothers and other interested persons, he talked to a public audience of more than a thousand people.
Three years later on another visit, Russell met with about 40 Bible Students in Belfast. That evening about a thousand people came to the Ulster Hall to hear his address “Which Is the True Gospel?” In his talk Russell vigorously defended the Bible against higher criticism and firmly stressed the need to return to the Bible instead of clinging to the creeds and doctrines of men.
LACK OF UNITY OF THOUGHT
Despite these hopeful beginnings, though, the preaching work did not progress smoothly. In those days when the Bible Students in Ireland were just beginning to understand the truths of the Bible, there was not the same unity of thought that has since developed among Jehovah’s people earth wide. Why? Because many who associated failed to see the need to be “harmoniously joined together” to accomplish God’s will.—Eph. 4:1-6, 16.
By 1914 there were about 70 Bible Students. At the meetings many would promote their own interpretation of the Scriptures when the congregations discussed, for example, the Millennial Dawn series of books. They became egotistical and felt that their understanding of the Bible was superior. And when it became obvious that 1914 was not going to bring the complete end of this system of things, a number of these Bible Students rejected the channel of truth that Jehovah was using.
PROUD SPIRIT IN DUBLIN
As World War I dragged on, the proud spirit of independently minded persons sowed the seeds of further problems. They thought that the Bible teachings promoted by Brother Russell did not amount to much after all. Thus, they failed to realize that Jehovah had an important work for his people to do.
By 1919 the elective elders in the Dublin congregation were actively resisting the counsel and direction coming from Jehovah’s organization. They resented anything that interfered with their control of the congregation. Their personal views and ideas became paramount. (Rom. 12:3) Although these elders read to the congregation the letters sent from the Society, they ignored any counsel or direction these offered. A few faithful ones in the congregation kept doing what they could in the way of distributing tracts as well as books like The Divine Plan of the Ages, but the majority had no desire to get involved in such work.
Charles Wilson, one of the brothers in that early congregation in Dublin, recalled how things came to a head one evening in 1920. By then most of those in the congregation had lost appreciation for Jehovah’s organization. He tells us what happened:
“We went to the meeting that night and were told by one of the elders that the congregation was going to vote us out of their company. When they told us that they were breaking with the International Bible Students and setting up their own organization, I said, ‘Well, you have no need to vote us out of your company. We’re leaving!’ I turned and walked out the door. Brother and Sister Brown and Sister Rutland followed me out.”
One dividing issue focused on the preaching work with The Golden Age and other publications. Another was whether to accept a more theocratic method of organization as was then being discussed in The Watchtower. It was a very difficult period. A real purging resulted. Out of about a hundred members of the congregation, only four stuck with Jehovah’s organization. Those who broke away eventually fragmented into smaller, discordant factions, with their own individual leaders.
The preaching work in Dublin almost came to a stop. As time went on, however, others took up the challenge of declaring the good news not just in Dublin but all over Ireland as colporteurs, or full-time preachers.
Sometimes colporteurs were driven out of their accommodations as a result of clergy-inspired opposition. They were always made welcome, though, by Sister Rutland, a former policewoman and one of the few loyal ones left in Dublin. Many brothers and sisters affectionately remember her as “Ma” Rutland and are grateful that she made her home a haven for those who needed it when things got tough. You could always find a “bite and the kettle sitting on the hob” at “Ma” Rutland’s.
IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Before we continue with the story of the Republic of Ireland, however, let us get up to date with developments in Northern Ireland. This northeastern corner of the island, with its rolling farmlands and low mountains, had been colonized in the 17th century by Protestants from Britain. About two thirds of the people of Northern Ireland are descended from English and Scottish Protestants. A particularly militant form of Protestantism has since developed, characterized by a virulent hatred of Catholicism. In this part of the island too, people were in spiritual darkness and in ignorance of God’s purpose, blinded by the doctrines of Babylon the Great just as much as people in the south. They also needed help to break free.—Rev. 17:1, 2; 18:2-4.
OPENING EYES WITH THE PHOTO-DRAMA
Beginning in 1914 the Photo-Drama of Creation was used to help open people’s eyes. This presentation, which included color slides, moving pictures, and synchronized phonograph records, showed the outworking of God’s purpose from creation down to the end of the Thousand Year Reign of Jesus Christ. Sister Maggie Cooper assisted in showing the Photo-Drama all over Northern Ireland.
“The hall was packed every night, with very little opposition and a great deal of appreciation,” she said. “It broke down much of the prejudice against us.” She remembered how it was no easy task to transport all the paraphernalia for the eight-hour showings of the Photo-Drama. “Looking back,” she said, “I cannot understand how we did it. There were so many obstacles and a ton of luggage to carry about.” With trust and confidence in Jehovah, however, they were able to overcome all the obstacles.
THE TRUTH ABOUT HELL
Tracts exposing false doctrines such as hellfire torment penetrated the religious gloom that existed in Northern Ireland. During World War I, for example, an advertisement in a Belfast newspaper caught the eye of Bob Oliver. It read: “What Say the Scriptures About Hell? For a free tract on the subject write to the International Bible Students Association, 34 Craven Terrace, London, W.2.” Mr. Oliver, then a member of the Presbyterian Church, had profound doubts about the doctrine of hellfire. So he responded to the advertisement and recognized the truth in what he read. Sending away for that tract was the first step in a course of life in Jehovah’s service that continues to this day.
As a young girl, Susan Milne had attended many emotional tent-meetings held by the numerous born-again sects in Northern Ireland, where preachers harped on eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Susan concluded that she was not worth saving, since she never felt the experience of salvation claimed by many who attended such meetings. In 1922, however, she read a tract entitled Where Are the Dead? After that her whole outlook changed.
Prior to this her father had surprised her when he said: “I am beginning to think that there is no such thing as hellfire.” To her this was blasphemy. But now she knew what Jesus meant when he said, “the truth will set you free”—especially from false religious teachings. (John 8:32) So after reading the tract, she visited her father, and to their mutual delight, they found that they had both been reading literature from the same source—the International Bible Students Association. She and her husband, her father, and others of her family all came into the truth.
“ADVERTISE . . . THE KING AND HIS KINGDOM”
Sister Milne quickly saw the need for action. She often repeated the slogan from the Cedar Point convention of 1922, “Advertise, advertise, advertise the King and his Kingdom.” And in response she and her family canvassed extensively with The Harp of God and shared enthusiastically in conducting study courses with that illuminating publication.
Brothers and sisters, including Bob Oliver and Susan Milne, began Sunday witnessing in Northern Ireland with The Harp of God. The people they witnessed to had a deep-rooted Presbyterian tradition that included a strong abhorrence for anything that could be considered sabbath-breaking. So an angry reaction was the order of the day.
The Witnesses demonstrated this same courage when distributing issues of The Golden Age that contained outspoken messages indicting the clergy for their part in suppressing the truth and persecuting true Christians. Brother Oliver recalls vividly one illustration in a special issue of The Golden Age—a clergyman wielding a dagger with blood dripping from its point. The caption was the message from Jeremiah 2:34 (King James Version): “In thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents.”
The brothers also arranged to give public lectures advertising the Kingdom wherever they could. This was how Bob Dempster came in contact with the truth in his hometown of Comber, near Belfast. As the publicity work intensified, however, the opposition also mounted. When Brother Dempster himself started to advertise the Kingdom, the clergy used underhanded methods to try to stop him. At a time when there was a great deal of unemployment, for example, they influenced the public official who handled matters to refuse to pay unemployment assistance to Brother Dempster. But Brother Dempster refused to be intimidated. He began associating with the small congregation that met in the Milnes’ home, to the mutual benefit of all.
Slowly but surely as the Kingdom light spread, the congregations began to grow. Not all the enemies of the truth, however, were on the outside.
A SIFTING IN BELFAST
Just as the brothers in Dublin had felt the bad effects of independently minded elective elders back in 1920, so did those in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast. Hence a time of sifting began. Loyalty to Jehovah’s organization and enthusiasm for the public preaching work once again became the focal point that separated people. One Bible Student who had met with Brother Russell during his visit to Belfast in 1908 came to prefer his own ideas and opinions. Eventually he set up his own group, which he called Steadfast Bible Students.
Later, after The Finished Mystery with its powerful condemnation of false religion was released in 1917, others grew afraid and broke off association. One prominent member of the Belfast Congregation put a notice in his shop window that read: “I have no connection with the International Bible Students Association nor with the book The Finished Mystery.” He also set up a group of his own and claimed to abide by the teachings of Brother Russell. That kind of rejection of Jehovah’s channel by prominent ones in the congregation tested the rest of the brothers’ faith and loyalty.
An even greater test came from some individuals who stayed within the congregation. As the preaching work gained momentum, a definite division of opinion became more and more apparent between those who appreciated fully the need to advertise the King and the Kingdom, and the elective elders with contrary views.
Like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day who ‘liked the most prominent place,’ these were more interested in position and privilege than in getting on with the preaching work. (Matt. 23:2-7) Their proud and superior attitude created unrest and unhappiness in the congregation. An atmosphere of suspicion and distrust eventually arose as each elder would try to elevate himself and strengthen his position in the congregation.
When the time for election of the elders came around, votes were solicited. Some elders arranged special tea parties and invited brothers and sisters for the sole purpose of gaining support and influencing votes. Because these elders failed to recognize Christ as the head of the congregation, dissensions, cliques, and divisions arose. This is well illustrated by what happened in ancient Corinth. Giving undue attention to men, members of the Corinthian congregation split up into factions, saying: “‘I [belong] to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’”—1 Cor. 1:11, 12.
Some brothers, like Diotrephes of John’s day, showed little respect for any direction coming through Jehovah’s organization, and they would deliberately try to inject doubts regarding the Society into the minds and hearts of humble, submissive ones. In this way they mimicked Diotrephes’ spirit by ‘chattering about the brothers from the branch with wicked words.’—3 John 9, 10.
Finally Jehovah acted. The August 15 and September 1, 1932, issues of The Watchtower explained why a group of mature brothers called a service committee should take oversight in the congregation, not “elective elders.” This new organizational point sifted out of the congregation the last of the rebellious ones, leaving only 12 regular publishers in Belfast who stuck to the truth.
RUTHERFORD’S LECTURES ADD IMPETUS
During the 1930’s this small group of brothers in Northern Ireland kept up with developments among Jehovah’s earth-wide people. Enthusiastically they began using the recorded lectures of J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society. Exciting experiences from playing the transcription machine soon followed.
Alex Mitchell was a sailor. While at sea as an engineer in 1927, he read the books The Divine Plan of the Ages, The Time Is at Hand, and The Harp of God and saw the light of truth. When he returned home to Belfast, he immediately began searching for further help to understand the Bible. Some members of the Steadfast Bible Students tried to discourage him from reading the Society’s publications. But he had already recognized the ring of truth in these publications, and eventually he found the true Bible Students.
Soon he started in the preaching work. He remembered well how he and Brother Oliver used to carry the transcription machine all over the city of Belfast. They began this work without a vehicle. So imagine spotting two men tramping from street to street and in country areas with all their equipment tugging on leather straps that were slung over their shoulders!
One of Brother Mitchell’s responsibilities was to locate suitable halls where they could broadcast the recorded lectures. Halls could be obtained—but usually for one booking only. Why? Because most of the locations were under the watchful eyes of the local clergy, who loathed the message being sounded. When they could not hire halls, the brothers played their transcription machine in the streets of Belfast and in the surrounding countryside.
They usually chose Protestant streets in which to broadcast the lectures because at that time Protestant people were generally more receptive. Once, Brother Mitchell and Brother Milne drove into a quiet side street without checking on the area first. They set up their equipment as usual, played a little music to attract attention, and then invited the local people to listen to the Bible lecture. Unwittingly, though, they had driven into a solidly Catholic area, where they were mistakenly classed as Protestants. The local people started pelting them with stones. Quickly they piled all their equipment back into their car and headed out. As the brothers left, the mob battered the car body with iron bars and shattered the windscreen. Apart from this shock, however, they escaped without any serious injury, and the event in no way deflated their enthusiasm for the work.
One afternoon Brother Mitchell was bombarded with potatoes. Fortunately they were cooked and therefore soft. As he drove off, Brother Mitchell spoke through the loudspeaker to the crowd and said how glad he was that he had not come in the morning, as the potatoes would have been harder!
The brothers also made good use of the portable phonograph. Despite some mishaps, such as forgetting to put the record in place before leaving home for the ministry, they grew very adept at using this instrument. With a bicycle, a phonograph, a set of records, and a box of books, they were equipped for a good day’s witnessing.
STRENGTHENED BY RADIO-TELEPHONE LINKS
Hearing Brother Rutherford’s lectures broadcast live from places like London and New York strengthened the brothers. In 1938 the powerful lecture “Face the Facts” drew an attendance of over 2,500 to the King’s Hall in Belfast.
In connection with publicizing this talk, some of the brothers still have vivid memories of the information marches made through Belfast. Because of the tense religious atmosphere in Northern Ireland at the time, many felt apprehensive at the prospect of information-marching. But they held 25 parades in the city’s main streets without any violent reactions.
Some friends wore placards advertising the public lecture. Others held up signs bearing slogans like “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and “Serve God and Christ the King.” One young newspaper reporter, when he saw the slogan “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket,” asked: “Are you finding that out only now?”
The lecture “Government and Peace” was a live tie-in with New York City’s Madison Square Garden. During this talk policemen guarded the hall in Belfast where the brothers were gathered. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) had threatened to bomb the hall if the lecture was not canceled. The brothers were not discouraged. The efforts of the IRA to intimidate the brothers in Belfast had no more success than the efforts of Catholic Action to disrupt the lecture in New York.
These live broadcasts cultivated a feeling of unity among the brothers. Despite the religious and patriotic fervor that was intensifying as war loomed in Europe, this small band of brothers in Ireland was thus able to see that it was part of a growing worldwide organization. Before we continue with events in Northern Ireland, however, let us go back and pick up the story in the Republic of Ireland.
UNREMITTING OPPOSITION IN THE SOUTH
During the period from 1920 to World War II, only a few faithful brothers and sisters struggled on in Dublin itself, while in the rest of the Catholic south only scattered colporteur work was being done.
Some comments from the Yearbooks of Jehovah’s Witnesses give an idea of the conditions they had to put up with.
1935: “Brethren have been put to loss, and some bodily hurt, and the literature which would help the people has been destroyed.”
1937: “Ireland is the darkest part of the British Isles. . . . Priests . . . follow the pioneers from place to place, find where literature has been left . . . and immediately cause its destruction.”
1938: “Much opposition to the publishers of the Kingdom message. Mobs have assaulted Jehovah’s witnesses at the instance of a Roman Catholic priest . . . Opposition has not yet reached its peak.”
Earlier, during 1926, Brother Pryce Hughes, who later served as vice president of the International Bible Students Association in London, and his three companions came to Waterford in southern Ireland. They were welcomed by three brothers who had gone there earlier. Prior to Brother Hughes’ arrival, the brothers in Waterford had endured a Catholic mob attack by hooligans who burned what they considered to be ‘evil literature.’
After placing literature with interested persons, the brothers would quickly move on. They found housing with Protestant people and tried to cover as large an area as possible before the local priest became aware of what was happening. In one town, the local press printed warnings about their activity, and children would spit at them as they passed along the street. So to avoid being identified too quickly, they worked from the outer limits of their chosen portion of territory and finished in the town where they had their accommodation.
On another occasion, in the little market town of Graiguenamanagh, they met with vicious opposition. On returning to their lodgings, they were confronted by a crowd of jeering youths, who pelted them with stones. “This was a ‘holy day,’ ‘Saint’ Patrick’s Day,” said Brother Hughes, “and the donkey carts had been rolling into town all day for the special Masses. At Mass, the local priest had incited everyone against us.” Realizing they had to vacate quickly, he and his companions moved all their belongings by bicycle to the nearest railway station.
The colporteurs learned how to adapt to this ever-present threat of violence. Once a man with a pitchfork chased Brother Hughes across a field. Another time a farmer suddenly fired a shotgun at Brother Hughes’ feet!
Another colporteur, Jack Corr, arrived in Dublin in 1930. His parents were Catholic, so he was well equipped to talk to the Catholic people he met. He found that although the Constitution of Ireland guaranteed freedom of religion, many people believed this should not include the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Brother Corr often felt the fury of the angered clergy and their supporters. One mob, instigated by the parish priest, pulled him out of bed at midnight and then burned all his literature in the public square. At another time a mob of about 200 were banging on the door of his lodgings. “The terrified landlady tried to push me under the bed, while she shouted terrible curses through the window at the crowd,” he reported. “I managed to calm her fears, and a quarter of an hour later the mob vanished like smoke, enabling me to carry on as though nothing had happened.”
MORE VIOLENCE FROM RELIGIOUS OPPOSERS
In 1931 Victor Gurd and his partner Jim Corby arrived in the city of Cork, near where Brother Russell had landed in Ireland 40 years earlier. Another group of brothers joined them for a while. They worked their way through the countryside, distributing copies of Studies in the Scriptures and The Harp of God.
While the brothers were witnessing at Roscrea in County Tipperary, gunmen held them up, took all their literature, and warned them to get out of the district. When the brothers arrived at their accommodation, they found more trouble. Opposers had taken their supply of literature, soaked it with petrol, and set it alight. Round the bonfire stood the local police, the clergy, and children from the area, singing “Faith of Our Fathers”!
Around this time John Retter and companions came to Limerick. Because he had been born in Austria, he witnessed to many Germans who had immigrated to Ireland’s west coast. There was also John Cooke (serving now at Bethel in South Africa), who in 1936 was thrown into a Dublin prison because he insisted on doing Jehovah’s work.
JEHOVAH’S PROTECTION IN THE NORTH
During this pre-World War II period, other colporteurs spearheaded the work in Northern Ireland. Sarah Hall arrived in County Tyrone in 1926. She had come to a knowledge of the truth in England in 1915 after reading The Divine Plan of the Ages. What she read motivated her to enter the colporteur work.
The majority of folks she spoke to did not share her appreciation for Bible truth. Her small, slight frame and mild disposition did not dissuade one woman from chasing her with a pitchfork or a man who was incensed at her message from calling her a “Delilah” and trying to grab her by the throat.
Undismayed, she showed great determination and perseverance. “On the whole, it hasn’t been bad,” she said, thinking back to preaching under testing conditions. “We got used to them shouting at us. If you pray for the Lord’s protection, he gives it to you.” The colporteurs were confident that Jehovah would be ‘with them to deliver them.’ And he was!—Jer. 1:7, 8; Ps. 23:4, 5.
Billy Holland came into the truth in 1926 after reading The Divine Plan of the Ages. Like so many colporteurs, he relied greatly on Jehovah’s promise that his servants would never be “left entirely.”—Ps. 37:25; Matt. 6:28-34.
Brother Holland explained: “Sometimes I went without breakfast; sometimes I had a few slices of bread without butter. I remember one time when I was out in the countryside in County Down. After spending some time in the ministry, I went down a little lane and put my bicycle alongside the hedge. I sat down and was eating my dry bread and listening to the birds singing. Then I looked more closely at the hedge and saw some lovely blackberries. I picked some and put them between my slices of bread. It was just like blackberry jam—I really enjoyed it!”
He had the same spirit when funds ran low. “My shoes were wearing out and my feet would get wet,” he recalls. “Then one sunny day as I was walking along a country road, it got very warm, and the tar on the road began to melt. The tar filled the holes in the soles of my shoes. So I got my shoes ‘mended.’” And that was without cost!
SPIRITUAL FOOD SUPPLIES DURING WAR
During World War II, from 1939 to 1945, the Republic of Ireland remained neutral, but Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, braved bombing raids and other war hardships.
One problem that arose during these years was the need to maintain a spiritual food supply. During the war the British government imposed a censorship ban that prohibited the import and export of The Watchtower and other publications of the Society. This tactic by Satan to cut the lines of communication and supply to the brothers did not succeed. It was defeated. How? Simply by the Society’s arranging for brothers in places like the United States and Canada to send copies of The Watchtower under plain cover to brothers in Belfast.
When these copies were received, responsible brothers quickly got to work and duplicated the main articles. They then distributed them to the congregations. Once these copies of the magazines started coming, the brothers never missed out on any of their vital spiritual nourishment.
Bob Oliver remembers getting The Watchtower from a Brother Kelly in the United States. Brother Kelly would also include information about what “Uncle Nathan” (Nathan H. Knorr, third president of the Watch Tower Society) had been talking about, thus giving information about assemblies and so forth. At times the brothers found The Watchtower or a book such as “The Truth Shall Make You Free” in the middle of a food parcel sent to them. When an unconcealed copy of The Watchtower arrived untouched, the brothers in Belfast joked that it must have slipped through during the censor’s tea break.
TREATED WITH CONTEMPT
During the war the brothers in Northern Ireland had to endure intense, sustained hostility from the clergy and their supporters who were fully behind the war effort. How right Jesus was when he said: “Now because you are no part of the world, . . . on this account the world hates you”!—John 15:18, 19.
Typical of the people’s contempt is the following letter, which was sent to the Belfast Congregation in August 1943:
“Having been made the unwilling recipient of one of the leaflets which you have the effrontery to inflict upon a too-tolerant public, I should like to take this opportunity of stating that I absolutely forbid any of your followers to enter upon my grounds upon any pretext whatsoever. Kindly advise your misguided collection of snivelling Bible-thumpers accordingly, as, if this warning is ignored, the trespasser will be forcibly—very forcibly—ejected. I shall refrain from setting the dog on him, as I have no wish to force such an unpalatable mouthful upon the unfortunate animal, but if he decides to take the initiative himself, I shall certainly put no obstacle in his way.”
In spite of the hard times, every effort was made to expand the preaching activity. Did Jehovah continue to bless the work of all the faithful brothers? Yes! When the war ended in 1945, there were about 120 publishers in Belfast and about 20 in Dublin.
PIONEERING IN THE REPUBLIC
The Yearbook for 1946 showed that there was to be no letup in spreading the good news in the Republic of Ireland at the end of World War II. “It is difficult,” the Yearbook said, “for many to appreciate the dark spot that Southern Ireland is as respects the light and knowledge of God’s Word.” Then it went on: “Here again is an opening for real pioneers. We are now making arrangements for some to be sent there.”
Fred Metcalfe, who is now a member of the Branch Committee for Ireland, was among the first of the special pioneers sent. His assignment was the city of Cork in the south of the country. He and his fellow pioneers soon became the target of clergy-inspired opposition. In order to whip up hatred against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the priests would repeatedly label them “communist devils.”
“To people of the time,” said Brother Metcalfe, “the term ‘communist’ meant that we were the nearest thing to the Devil in human form that could possibly appear on the scene!”
Antagonism mounted. “I never had a more sensitive appreciation of Revelation 12:17 than at that time,” said Brother Metcalfe. “The Devil was certainly wrathful at the witness work beginning to be done in that area.” Lies by the priests and widespread enmity finally came to a head in a mob attack on Brother Metcalfe and his companion, Brother Chaffin, in the city of Cork in 1948.
MOB VIOLENCE IN CORK
Once when Brother Chaffin was in field service, a crowd of women belligerently surrounded him, accused him of being a communist, and began violently attacking him. As there was no possibility of reasoning with this enraged mob, Brother Chaffin tried to escape by getting on a nearby bus. However, the bus crew joined in assaulting him. Some attackers threw stones, while other thugs cried “Dirty communist!” and “Throw him into the river!” Eventually, however, he evaded his pursuers by dodging into the high-walled enclosure of the priest’s residence.
Meanwhile, Brother Metcalfe scrambled to escape on his bicycle but was overtaken by the same mob. They punched and kicked him and scattered his literature on the street. Happily for Brother Metcalfe, a policeman happened to be passing. He intervened and dispersed the mob. “I felt it was Jehovah’s guidance,” said Brother Metcalfe, “that this man came on the scene just at that time and stopped the attack.”
The Society decided to fight this case in the courts to make it clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not communists and legally to establish our right to preach the good news without interference. Despite postponement after postponement to prevent the case from coming to court, the trial did eventually take place in July 1948.
The policeman who stopped the attack, although a Catholic, was willing to stand up in court and honestly give evidence about what he had seen. Several of the attackers were found guilty of assault. The publicity that resulted from the case did much to dispel the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses were communists and also to establish our right to declare the good news. It did not mean, however, the end to violent opposition to the truth.
ANGRY RESISTANCE CONTINUES
In the town of Athlone in the midlands of Ireland, for example, one woman vented her anger at the brothers by throwing a kettleful of boiling water at them. The citizens of that town even sent a petition to the Society to the effect that they did not want Jehovah’s Witnesses to return—ever!
When four special pioneers were sent to the town of Drogheda, they were threatened with guns and attacked by violent mobs. A mass meeting was held in the town, and a resolution was adopted that asked the government to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country. Notices appeared all over the town with the message: “Catholic Action! Citizens of Drogheda! A public meeting will be held . . . to consider means of combating the activities of a certain sect operating in the district. The mayor and representatives of local organisations will be present.”
In the face of all such resistance, did the brothers ever flinch? Never! They withstood all the pressures exerted on them and began to see results from their labors.
RESPONSIVE EARS IN DUBLIN
Dudley Levis was among the first to respond to the message of truth in the postwar years in Dublin. He was a Church of Ireland member. Protestants, already living under an almost totally Catholic environment, viewed his leaving this church as traitorous. Thus, he faced ridicule and reproach from former associates who hated his newfound faith. “I was greatly encouraged,” he said, “by older brothers, like Edwin Ridgewell, who had shown such sterling faith in very troubled times before me. Their example strengthened me.”
The Witnesses concentrated their preaching on Protestant areas where the reaction tended to be less fiery than the Catholic strongholds. Gradually, though, they began to make inroads in Catholic areas. It was difficult. But their attitude was the same as that of the psalmist: “In God I have put my trust. I shall not be afraid. What can earthling man do to me?”—Ps. 56:11; Josh. 1:9.
CATHOLIC FAMILY RESPONDS
In time Catholic people began to respond to the truth. In 1949, for example, a sister contacted John Casey. This Catholic man showed great interest in what the sister said, but his wife, Bridie, refused to give him the money he needed to get the book being offered, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” He asked the sister to come back the next week. She did, and John gratefully accepted the book. “I have found the truth,” he said. “I am not going near the Catholic Church anymore.”
Bridie, however, was not interested. She asked a question that the brothers met repeatedly in their witness work. “Who is Jehovah? Is that someone in America at the head of your organization?” But eventually she too accepted the truth when she learned that the Bible really did not teach hellfire, the Trinity, and other such God-dishonoring doctrines.
John and Bridie Casey, like others who began seeing the light of the truth, experienced family and community pressure designed to discourage them from continuing their study of the Bible. “Every week my mother arranged for a visit from the Legion of Mary (a Catholic Action group) or the priest,” explained Sister Casey. “But the priest was not able to use the Bible to disprove what we now knew was the truth. In the end he just stormed out of the house, condemning us to hell for twisting the Scriptures!”
MISSIONARIES ADD IMPETUS
At the close of World War II, pioneers were sent from England to small towns in Northern Ireland. In 1946, at the convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, some of these pioneers approached the Society’s president to ask if they could attend Gilead. “Yes,” he answered, “if you promise to return to Ireland.” Five sisters kept that promise.
The arrival of missionaries from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in 1949 speeded up the work. Maurice and Mary Jones, who had done much of the spadework, welcomed these workers. Two missionary homes were established, one in Dublin with Brother Jones’ help, the other in Cork. The 1950 Yearbook commented that it took much hard work to free someone from the spiritual darkness that enveloped so many, especially since they had never seen a Bible. “The people,” it said, “are fearful to let go of the traditions so long cherished, and so the progress is such that it needs much tact and patience.”
The newly arrived missionaries covered huge areas on foot and on their bicycles, often while being subjected to verbal and physical attacks. And they toiled late into the night to cultivate gently whatever interest was found.—Compare Hosea 11:4.
One of the early missionaries, Elsie Levis (formerly Lott), recalled how she was mentally prepared for conditions in Ireland. “Before we left Gilead,” she said, “Brother Franz told us that next to India he considered Ireland to be the most difficult assignment in the world. Because of the attitude of the Catholic Church, he felt that it was the toughest Catholic area in the world.” She did find it to be difficult. “But,” she continued, “we felt, also, that the people had been battered by political and religious forces, so we were just concerned for the people because the people themselves, underneath all the hostility, were very nice.”
MISSIONARIES BREAK CATHOLIC BARRIER
Catholic mob action was a constant threat that hovered over the missionaries like a storm cloud ready to burst at any moment. So as not to arouse the suspicions and then the wrath of the neighbors, the missionaries would work separately while in door-to-door service but in sight of each other. Prior to leaving the missionary home for service, each one would rehearse hand signals or shoulder shrugs with her field partner for that day. These signals would become a silent warning of an approaching mob.
Mildred Barr (formerly Willet, now at Brooklyn Bethel with her husband, John) remembers starting out in field service one day on her gray motorcycle. Her dark-brown split-hide panniers, or saddlebags—packed with her field literature, lunch, tea flask, and galoshes—were draped over the bike’s rear fender. She and Frieda Miller rode into a Catholic area of Dublin. Once in the territory, they separated and parked their bikes in different locations, making sure the bikes would be out of the sight of householders but close enough for them to reach in a run if they needed to make a fast getaway.
Mildred chained and padlocked her bike to a railing and began door-to-door witnessing. She recalls: “I was speaking to a very interested woman when all of a sudden her eyes opened wide and her mouth dropped. I asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ No answer, except the stare of fear. I turned around and faced a mob of eight or nine women blocking the gate of her house. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Frieda giving me the hand signal, but it was too late. Other women were racing toward the house. I knew I could not get through the gate, so I bolted across the householder’s garden, dashed across the next-door neighbor’s garden, and jumped a wall, scrambling toward my bike.
“By now Frieda had started her motorcycle; mine was still padlocked. I unlocked it and hopped on the bike’s seat, but my bike wouldn’t start. I had the spark plug in my pocket! So I stuck the plug into the engine, kicked the starter again, and off I went. But not soon enough—and this is what everyone laughs about to this day. A woman brandishing a mop ran up from behind. She thrust the mophead down through a street sewer grating. As I was pulling away she swung the mop. Out from the mophead flung sewer slime that covered me from the top of my head all the way down my back. When I caught up with Frieda, she said: ‘Boy, Mildred, pyu-u-u! When we get home, don’t you go into the house!’
“When we arrived back at the missionary home, she told the other missionary sister what had happened. They laid newspapers out near the garden for me to walk on and they bucketed me with water. Oh, for days later, everyone lent me their perfume. Nevertheless, eventually quite a few people did come into the truth from that section of Dublin.”
Bridie Casey remembers another incident in Dublin. She was with one missionary in the field ministry when a Catholic woman told them they were just beating their heads against a brick wall. The spirit of those missionaries was reflected in the brother’s reply. “That may be so,” he said, “but at least some of the stones in the wall are beginning to move!” Yes, the missionaries became a battering ram that cracked open the walls of Catholic control incarcerating the honesthearted Irish.
MOB ATTACK NEAR LIMERICK
Although the people in Ireland were basically friendly and hospitable, religious leaders were still able to spur some of them to violence. On May 13, 1956, one missionary, Stephen Miller, was traveling in field service with a new publisher in a rural area in the west of the country. Suddenly he and his companion found a mob blocking their way. They jumped on their motorcycle to escape. But the mob followed them in cars and finally trapped them on a dead-end road.
The mob, led by a priest, closed in on Brother Miller. One of the bullies punched Brother Miller on the chin. Then the mob stripped him of his literature and burned it in the center of the little village of Cloonlara near Limerick.
Later, at the court trial, the bias of the judiciary was underscored. The priest and eight other rabble-rousers were exonerated. The bully who hit Brother Miller was found guilty but set free. Then Brother Miller and his companion were bound over to keep the peace on sureties of £200 each. What a travesty of justice! The court excused the mob and punished those attacked! Although the city of Dublin was improving in its treatment of the Witnesses, many rural areas still stubbornly clung to their medieval viewpoints and actions.
DISQUIETING DOUBLE STANDARDS
The injustice and prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses were just too blatant to pass unnoticed. The resultant publicity in newspapers all over the Republic brought a wave of protest and indignation. One Protestant clergyman, who was not at all blinded by the religious smoke screen designed to confuse the issues, made a powerful point in the Dublin Evening Mail of July 28, 1956, under the heading “Religious Freedom”:
“Members of the Legion of Mary visit parishioners of mine to propagate doctrines of which I strongly disapprove. May I take it that I can now band my people together, lay hands on the Legionnaires, burn their books (and perhaps give one a bash on the chin just to show that we are Christian too!), and then expect that if they complain they will be bound over to keep the peace, and we go free?
“Or is there to be one law for the Legion of Mary and another for Jehovah’s witnesses?”
Many others, while they did not agree with the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses, felt that the provision regarding freedom of religion in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland should be respected. Article 44 of the Constitution states: “Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.”
However, the antipathy toward Jehovah’s people and the resistance to their work was still deep-seated. Later that same year in a local Limerick newspaper, the following appeal was made to Catholic readers:
“We appeal most earnestly to any person who may be accosted by representatives of the Society [Jehovah’s Witnesses] to have nothing to do with their propaganda and to refuse firmly to enter into any discussions with them. Any copies of their publications which readers may have acquired should be destroyed immediately. So strongly does the Church wish us to shun their evil doctrines that any Catholic who reads publications of the Society leaves himself open to excommunication. Ireland’s heritage of Faith, retained through centuries of persecution, is not to be bartered for a mess of Brooklyn pottage.”
“GOD’S WAY IS LOVE”
In shining forth Kingdom light, one special campaign stands out. The 1954 Yearbook called it “without doubt the greatest contribution to the preaching of the truth in Eire [Republic of Ireland].” What was that? The countrywide distribution of the booklet God’s Way Is Love. This 32-page booklet, with four green harps on its cover, quoted exclusively from Catholic editions of the Bible. It had a special appeal to Catholic people in its clear and simple presentation of basic Bible doctrines. Arthur Matthews, now Branch Committee coordinator for Ireland, and his wife, Olive, along with Olive’s brother and his wife, made up one party engaged in this exciting work.
“We pooled our resources,” Brother Matthews said, “and we were able to buy an old Morris 10 car at a bargain price. None of us could drive, but on a quiet road near ‘Ma’ Rutland’s, we soon got the hang of it. Within a couple of days we set off into the country with all our witnessing equipment piled into the car.”
However, they were unsuccessful in their search for accommodations, so they bedded down for a very cold and sleepless night in the car. Next day they decided to buy a caravan, or trailer. There was danger in this, since brothers’ caravans had been attacked and vandalized in the past, but they had no alternative. By selling some of their possessions, they were able to get the money to buy a 13-foot-long caravan. And although they had hair-raising experiences towing it over the rough and sometimes mountainous roads, at least their housing problem was solved.
They had a large area to cover, since there was not a single publisher south of the Dublin area all the way to the city of Cork, 160 miles to the south. To accomplish as much as possible, the group started field service each morning at 8:00. They traveled to the most distant point in their chosen territory and then worked back toward their caravan site. To prevent any attacks on their property, when they began preaching in areas near where they had parked the caravan, they would move it to a new site. When they got to large towns, they tried to call on all the people before Sunday, when the priest would almost inevitably assail them from his pulpit.
The two hardy couples found many people who had never met Jehovah’s Witnesses. Frequently householders declared that they were forbidden by their church even to read the Scriptures. “Therefore,” said Brother Matthews, “in addition to circulating the booklet God’s Way Is Love, we also carried copies of the Catholic Douay Bible, which we used and offered to the people.”
This booklet helped the brothers dismiss the idea of calling on just the Protestant people. Everyone was reached. They distributed at least 20,000 copies of this booklet in the eastern part of the country, while another group did a similar work on the western side. And they found many people hospitable. “We never had to buy potatoes or milk or suchlike,” said Brother and Sister Matthews.
AT LAST—A KINGDOM HALL IN DUBLIN!
Up to this time the congregation in Dublin had met in all sorts of places, none of them comfortable. At one meeting place, a loft over a laundry’s horse stables, it was not unusual to look up and see rats scampering along the rafters. Therefore the brothers decided it was time to get a place for their exclusive use. After much searching they were able to lease a structure that had been used as a garage on James Place, a small side street off Baggot Street on the south side of Dublin.
To convert this old property into a suitable Kingdom Hall became a project for robust hearts. By dint of tremendous effort the brothers renovated the old building into a beautiful Kingdom Hall. There were 134 present for the dedication of the hall in 1953.
On December 3, 1954, the new Kingdom Hall hosted special visitors from world headquarters—Brothers Frederick W. Franz and Grant Suiter. Present to hear these brothers speak were more than 20 missionaries, who were setting the island on fire with their Kingdom preaching.
In the following years the Dublin Kingdom Hall also served as the location for all the circuit assemblies held in the Republic. Can you visualize 200 or so brothers and sisters squeezing into a tiny space, 22 feet by 45 feet? Two people could not pass on the narrow stairway that led to the upstairs section. During the assemblies, when food was prepared upstairs, it had to be passed from hand to hand, one plate at a time, to those waiting downstairs. It was nothing as pleasant as modern-day Kingdom Halls, but compared to some of the places they had been using, it was paradise.
BRANCH OFFICE ESTABLISHED
The year 1957 saw a fine step forward for the work in Ireland. Brother Knorr arranged for a separate branch office to be established in Dublin. Until then Dublin had been used as a literature depot, with the work being supervised by the Britain branch.
This new branch, set up in a three-story house at 86 Lindsay Road in the north side, could now concentrate all of its attention on the specific needs of the field in Ireland. However, for the time being, Northern Ireland remained under the direction of the Britain branch. The work in the Republic of Ireland was now to be supervised from the new branch office.
CHRISTENDOM’S FAILURE HIGHLIGHTED
In the face of continued religious scorn, the brothers hammered away at exposing Christendom for what she was. One instrument they used was the November 1, 1958, issue of The Watchtower. It contained a resolution from the Divine Will Assemblies of that year that highlighted the total failure on the part of Christendom to direct people to God’s Kingdom as the real remedy for mankind’s ills.
The magazine was widely distributed among the clergy in Ireland. And what a response it drew! One copy was returned with the word “baloney” scribbled over the front page. Another, returned by a clergyman, had this message:
“Do not send this trash to me again . . . You are doing the Devil’s work and you are doing it for money . . . Leave the good Irish people alone. They are not going to be influenced by you anyway. Again: Do not post this trash to me again. I did not read a single word of it.”
But some of “the good Irish people” did have a hunger for the truth and were responding. Most people, though, found it difficult to believe that a spirit of genuine altruism and love moved the brothers to use their time and resources to help others learn the truth. They found it equally difficult to believe that those who responded to the truth did not do it for money. Numerous false stories circulated of how interested ones got money or other benefits when they listened to the Witnesses.
ATTACKED BY A MOB IN WEXFORD
The climate for declaring the good news in Ireland was slowly improving. But not all people were disposed to listen peacefully to the Kingdom message. For example, let us go to the picturesque town of Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. The year is 1960.
Brother and Sister Alex Turner had been in Wexford for about ten months, when trouble erupted. Brother Turner was in the house-to-house work. As he was talking to some people, a priest walked up behind him. “Give me that filthy literature,” the priest shouted, trying to snatch away Brother Turner’s witnessing bag. A crowd, which included a second priest, gathered. When Brother Turner refused to hand over his bag, he was assaulted and beaten. However, he and his wife slipped away and went to the police station to report the attack.
Although there were no publishers living in Wexford at the time, the local community seethed over the activities of these pioneers. This hatred boiled over into the judiciary. Some of the comments of the district justice during the ensuing trial illustrate this well:
“I am forced to the conclusion that this case has been promoted and forced in the theatrical sense with the sole object of providing publicity for the Jehovah Witnesses; that these people are engaged in a conspiracy to discredit what they consider rival clergy; that they are engaged in what seems to me a short-sighted and foredoomed attempt to proselytise the people of this country and county. They are forcing and have been forcing their unwelcome attentions on unwilling auditors. . . . I feel strongly that these people have mounted an attack upon the traditional faith of the people of Wexford, an attack that has failed, will fail and must fail.”
There was little doubt where the sympathies of the magistrate lay and little likelihood that justice would be done. Before the court, both priests denied assaulting Brother Turner. But they were found guilty of technical assault—and then allowed to go scot-free!
Newspapers all over Ireland and Britain reported the events. The court case produced a hostile reaction initially. But it did, in fact, have some good effects. Adverse newspaper publicity regarding the unlawful actions of the priests and mob seemed to restrain such illegal behavior. When passions cooled, reasonable people saw that violence of this kind was unacceptable.
In fact, some time later, after a congregation was established in Wexford, one of the priests involved in the attack accepted a copy of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and apologized to one of the brothers for his part in the incident.
PIONEERS’ PRESENCE FELT
On the west side of the country, too, the pioneers continued to make their presence felt. Here is how one local newspaper described their work: “Donegal has been invaded once again by a plague of pests far more cunning than foxes or badgers. An army of men and women, some of them touring around on motor scooters, make a house-to-house call in town and country, leaving their free magazines.”
How large was this “army”? Two pioneer sisters on a motor scooter! What provoked this reaction? It was the wide distribution of the special Awake! of October 8, 1960, entitled “The Catholic Church in the 20th Century.” The newspaper description of the witnessing work done by the two pioneers reminds us of the ‘locust army’ described by the apostle John at Revelation 9:1-10.
Pioneers like these played a large role in getting the good news of the Kingdom preached during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Only four or five congregations were operating in the Republic of Ireland at the time. Elsewhere there were just small isolated groups of pioneers and publishers, who showed a willingness to put up with all sorts of deprivations and difficulties to accomplish their ministry.
Obtaining secure lodging was still a big problem for the pioneers in isolated assignments. In the majority of towns it was almost impossible to get a place to stay. Many of the special pioneers found it easier to rent unfurnished cottages in rural areas outside the towns, with less likelihood of eviction. The Society then provided furniture, for which the pioneers paid a nominal rent. These cottages also served as meeting places for interested people. As hostility lessened, the special pioneers were able to move into the towns. The diligence of the pioneers was a major factor in the growth of the number of Witnesses in the Republic from 211 publishers in 1962 to 253 in 1965.
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION—DUBLIN, 1965
When it was announced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were going to hold an international convention in Dublin in 1965, consternation rose among the populace. As events unfolded, it became obvious that a number of people did not want the convention to take place.
“It was a saga of difficulties—just one thing after another that would seem to make it impossible for the convention to go ahead,” said Arthur Matthews, supervisor for the convention arrangements. “But the struggle to prepare for, and actually hold, the convention generated a fine spirit among all the brothers.” How did they fight discouragement as the problems multiplied? Brother Matthews displayed a card on his desk that quoted Proverbs 24:10: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.”
Bigoted opposition reared its ugly head among some members of the city council. They held the authority to deny the use of the football grounds that had been hired for the convention. One councillor labeled the Witnesses “a menace,” and other members strongly urged that the Witnesses should not be allowed the use of the facilities. However, another councillor wisely pointed out that it would be a poor thing if permission to hold the convention was withheld in a country that had itself been the victim of religious persecution for years.
Bord Failte (the Irish Tourist Board) was in favor of the convention’s going ahead. “Is Bord Failte trying to make the Irish nation the laughing stock of the world?” wrote one angry protester to the local newspaper. “Its attitude must constitute a far greater threat to the Catholic Church than the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all other promoters of false religion put together.”
One correspondent compared the Witnesses to the infamous Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia and asked, “Does anybody want these people here?” This prompted a sympathetic reply that stated that the writer who had attacked Jehovah’s Witnesses “should hang his or her head in shame.”
OVERCOMING ALL OBSTACLES
Finally, permission was granted for the convention to go ahead. But the problems were only beginning. It proved impossible to hire a nearby site for feeding facilities. This was a major concern until the stadium management said that the brothers could erect a marquee, or tent, on the soccer field itself. The local men who delivered the marquee to the grounds, however, refused to erect it. So the brothers, with little experience in such things, were left to do this on their own. Jehovah stepped in with some help. Men from another firm, who were delivering tables and chairs, were also skilled in erecting marquees. When they saw the dilemma, they offered much practical, expert assistance and advice to the brothers.
Arthur Hewson, convention overseer, remembered how difficult it was to find rooms for all the expected delegates. “As fast as rooms could be obtained, the priests would exert pressure and the accommodation would be canceled,” he said. “All in all, 50 percent of the rooms obtained were canceled, and even some of the hotels were found to be ‘full up’ when inquiries were made.” Some days more rooms were canceled than were obtained.
The brothers pushed on with the confidence that if it was Jehovah’s will, the convention would take place. Eventually sufficient suitable accommodations were found in the homes of Dublin people for more than 3,500 of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With what local effect? Prejudice against the Witnesses started to crumble. “We have not been told the truth about you,” commented some of the landladies after the convention. “The priests lied to us, but now that we know you, we will always be happy to have you again.”
Despite the mountain-high acts of conspiracy to make the convention a failure, nothing succeeded. “I have never been to an assembly where Jehovah’s spirit was not present,” said Brother Hewson, “but I have never attended an assembly before or since where Jehovah’s spirit was so manifest.” The very intensity of the opposition made the victory more noteworthy. It strengthened the confidence of the brothers in Jehovah’s promise: “They will certainly fight against you, but they will not prevail over you. For I am with you, to save you and to deliver you.”—Jer. 15:20.
A REAL BREAKTHROUGH
This 1965 international convention marked a definite turning point in the activities of Jehovah’s people in Ireland. It generated a great deal of publicity, much of it very favorable. For the first time national television showed scenes from inside a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Good news coverage was given also to the immersion. Since no indoor location could be hired, the brothers arranged to hold the baptism in the open sea, in an open-air bathing spot out along a breakwater in Dublin Bay. There, braving lashing rain and bitterly cold winds, 65 people symbolized their dedication to Jehovah.
On the final day of the convention, Frederick W. Franz (who later became the fourth president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) delivered a stirring talk on the subject “World Government on the Shoulder of the Prince of Peace” to an audience of 3,948. Prepared with the Catholic population of Ireland very much in mind, he quoted exclusively from the Catholic Douay Bible. What a marvelous witness!
ALL IRELAND UNDER ONE BRANCH
The following year, 1966, brought another excellent spiritual advance—the whole country, north and south, came under the direction of the branch office in Dublin. Politically and religiously, Ireland was as divided as ever, but now Jehovah’s people were united in every way. That year saw 268 Witnesses in the Republic of Ireland and 474 in Northern Ireland, a grand brotherhood of 742 working together to do Jehovah’s will.
NEUTRALITY DESPITE PRESSURES
The turbulent years of the 1970’s and 1980’s saw nationalistic movements grow and acts of terrorism escalate, especially in Northern Ireland. The result? A growing polarization of the Catholic and Protestant communities in this northeastern part of the island.
Norman Richards was one of the circuit overseers in Northern Ireland when the troubles began. He remembers how the brothers were pressured to take sides.
“Efforts were made to get the brothers to support nighttime vigilante patrols and to join in erecting barricades to seal off their areas,” said Brother Richards. “The vigilantes asked for contributions to pay for the supplies they needed to defend their area. And they tried to hang nationalistic flags on all the buildings.”
The brothers stood firm in the face of intimidation. None compromised, and it soon became obvious to all that they were totally neutral in this struggle. People soon realized the Witnesses’ attitude toward warfare, their view of flags, and their determination to be “no part of the world.”—John 17:16; Isa. 2:2-4; 1 Cor. 10:14; 1 John 5:21.
Usually, when the brothers made their position clear, it roused animosity in the community. Neighbors who supported paramilitary activities often refused to talk to the brothers. But, in time, as the brothers continued to be kind and helpful in ways that were Scripturally acceptable, they were once again accepted by the community, and their position of strict neutrality was recognized.
LEARNING TO LIVE WITH THE TROUBLES
When violence was at its peak, there was an ever-present danger of shootings and bombings in different parts of the province. Evening witnessing slowed down because people feared opening their doors after dark. But the return-visit activity and the home Bible study work continued apace.
Understandably, people were frightened of callers they did not recognize. “One Sunday afternoon,” Brother Richards remembered, “we knocked on a door and a man cautiously opened it. We identified ourselves and told him why we were calling. He took his hand from behind his back, and we saw that it held a loaded revolver. ‘I am a policeman,’ he said, ‘and I thought you might be from the IRA.’”
How did the brothers adjust to living under such warlike conditions? They followed Jesus’ advice in Matthew 10:16 to be “cautious,” avoiding any foolhardy actions. While in the ministry, if a bomb exploded nearby, they would just incorporate it into their presentation, saying something like: “Do you know that God promises there will be an end to that sort of thing?” and then continue with their discussion. Of course, violence did not strike all parts of Northern Ireland; nor were there outbursts of terrorist activity all the time. “We weren’t daily dodging bombs and bullets,” said one brother. “Most of the time was trouble-free.”
GOING EVERYWHERE WITH THE GOOD NEWS
In the early 1970’s paramilitary activists had warned the brothers that they would be shot if they entered certain areas. Caution dictated a temporary withdrawal. Thus, a number of the Catholic areas in Belfast were not being covered in the witness work. One of the brothers explained how they resumed witnessing in these areas. He lived at the edge of Catholic and Protestant estates in Belfast. He and his wife took their young child with them in the pram, or baby carriage, and gradually worked more and more into the Catholic section, soon being joined by two of the special pioneers. Gradually they became more accepted, and soon they had organized group witnessing arrangements in these areas as other publishers joined them.
What protected the Witnesses in the Catholic areas? Their neutrality. One experience illustrates this: “About three or four months after we began working in one area, a man invited us into a house. In the course of the discussion, he told us that Jehovah’s Witnesses were welcome in that area. He recognized our neutrality in political matters, which he said was so different from the activity of many priests. When I mentioned that I had been calling in the area for some time, he was able to tell us the time and place of our first entry into the area and that we had been watched ever since!”
On one occasion the army stopped this brother and took him to the army headquarters for questioning. They wanted him to become an informer for their security forces and to be a spy as he went about his preaching work. However, after explaining his neutral position regarding politics as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they let him go.
A number of brothers from England had moved to a congregation in a town near the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In a period of two to three years, around 200 bombings, besides almost nightly rioting and shooting, had demolished the town center. But during all this time the brothers felt Jehovah’s hand of protection. Sometimes the local people warned the Witnesses before trouble erupted. Despite the constant unrest, the brothers always held their meetings and continued with their ministry. “The security forces were sometimes denied access to certain areas,” said one local Witness, “but the brothers were always able to go in to do their preaching work, even though a number of them were English, because they had always made their neutrality clear.”
On occasions, though, some publishers in the preaching work found themselves in a dangerous spot. By trusting in Jehovah and remaining calm, the brothers escaped serious injury. For example, a young special pioneer brother was mistaken for a member of the security forces. He explains:
“I was making some return visits in a housing estate that was known to have strong IRA sympathies, when a car pulled up. One of the occupants pointed a gun at me and ordered me to get into the car. The men in the car immediately searched me. At first I thought I was going to be shot because they had mistaken me for a soldier in plain clothes. I was driven to a house and locked in a small shed for what seemed like a lifetime. Then I was taken out, blindfolded, and led into a house where I was questioned at length regarding who I was and what I was doing in that area. Right from the start I had been praying to Jehovah that I would not give them any reason to overreact to anything I said or did.
“I explained that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that I was only interested in helping people to understand the Bible. I could hear several men going through the contents of my service bag and commenting on my house-to-house records. One of the men left the room, saying: ‘Keep the gun on him, and if he makes any move at all—blow his head off!’ At length this man returned. He must have been able to corroborate my story because he told the others I could be released. Still blindfolded and at gunpoint, I was taken back to the car and released near the town center.
“I am sure that Jehovah’s spirit kept me totally calm, able to say and do the right things so that they accepted that I was completely neutral. That same afternoon my partner accompanied me on a prearranged return visit on an interested person in the same housing estate, and we subsequently worked there frequently without being troubled again.”
RECOGNIZED AS WITNESSES
On another occasion two of the pioneers were working in the little border town of Crossmaglen just inside Northern Ireland. They were strangers to many in the area. Unknown to them, leaflets had recently been distributed by the IRA to warn the people in the town of the impending arrival of a special unit of the British Army, the SAS—a highly trained unit that often operated out of uniform. The local people suspected that the pioneer brothers were members of the SAS unit.
Ready to return home after completing their field service calls, the brothers stopped for a cup of coffee while waiting for the bus. They asked the woman in the shop if the bus had arrived in town. Angrily she accused them of being soldiers and then stormed out. The brothers also left the shop. As they stood waiting for the bus, some men arrived by car, went into the coffee shop, shortly thereafter exited the shop, and then drove slowly around the square to where the brothers were waiting and asked them some questions. The brothers believed that they were IRA gunmen. The brothers tell us what happened next:
“The bus arrived, an old, battered vehicle. We paid our fares and boarded. Then we noticed that the men who had questioned us were in earnest conversation with the bus driver. Soon afterward the bus started off, but at the same time the car full of men drove off. We feared that some arrangement had been made to rendezvous on some quiet country road outside the town. Only the night before a minibus had been stopped in the area, and ten men had been lined up and shot, nine of them killed.
“The long miles home seemed endless, but as we approached the town we realized nothing was going to happen. As we asked the driver to stop to let us off the bus, he asked, ‘Tell me, do you have any of your books?’ Evidently he knew us, and we gave him the latest copies of The Watchtower and Awake! Then we asked him who the men were who had questioned us. ‘Ah, don’t worry,’ he replied. ‘I knew who you were. I put them right. Don’t worry at all. You’re quite safe now!’”
RESPONSIVE EARS IN CATHOLIC TERRITORIES
For years in Northern Ireland most of the response to the truth had been seen in Protestant areas. But now more and more Catholics manifested interest as they began seeing that this system had nothing to offer them and that the church had failed to stick to Bible principles. One young Catholic man, working as a nurse, was contacted in the house-to-house work. What were his reactions?
“They were English,” he said about the brothers who called on him, “and my attitude initially was that no foreigner should come and teach us religion in Ireland.” However, the brothers skillfully used the Bible to answer his objections and questions. After his scorn turned to respect, he accepted a copy of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. He yearned to know more about God’s Word, since he realized that he knew nothing about the Bible even though three of his uncles were Catholic priests. His work situation changed, however, and he lost contact with the brothers.
As the troubles in Northern Ireland mounted, he saw firsthand in the hospital where he worked the horrifying effects of shootings and bombings. Trying to escape these horrors, he began to smoke and drink heavily. He could not help but ask, “Why is all of this happening? Why does God allow it?” Nevertheless, through it all, he remembered his first contact with the truth, and he realized that the answers did lie in the Bible. He started to straighten his life out and prayed to God for help.
When he visited his parents’ home, a delightful surprise awaited him. His younger brother was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses! “We sat up till four o’clock in the morning discussing the things my brother was learning,” he explained. “It was marvelous to learn that there was a God who cares, who will clean the earth and remove sickness and death. I just had to learn more.”
He returned to his job in Londonderry. One morning the doorbell rang. Normally he would not have heard the bell, since he worked a night shift, but this time he awoke and sleepily went to the door. Two sisters, thinking no one was at home, were on their way back down the path. He asked them if they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. “When they said yes, my heart leapt with joy,” he recounts, “and I asked them for a Bible study!” In common with many others of Catholic background, he made rapid progress into the truth.
SEEING THE REAL SOLUTION TO THE TROUBLES
In another strongly Catholic area of Belfast, two young women were entangled in the political struggle and the paramilitary activities of the day. Eventually it dawned on them that this was not the way things should be. They began to question the hatred seen in their associates, as well as the lack of respect for life demonstrated by individuals who were willing to maim and kill in the interests of their cause.
When one of the publishers called at their home and talked about the truth, they first were skeptical. But gradually they came to see that God’s promise of a government that would set matters straight on the earth was the only practical solution to the problems plaguing Belfast. (Ps. 46:8, 9; Isa. 2:4; Dan. 2:44) Initially it was difficult for them to believe that anyone could be neutral in an environment like theirs, but as they associated with the friends at the Kingdom Hall, they saw that Christian neutrality was possible. They came to experience the real unity and love demonstrated among Christ’s followers and soon came along into the truth.—John 13:34, 35.
JEHOVAH KEEPS MAKING IT GROW
Jehovah can make the seed of truth grow in the hearts of people, even though dormant for years. (1 Cor. 3:6, 7) Such ones can suddenly make quick progress into the truth. This was illustrated for one sister who was engaged in street witnessing.
“I was rather unnerved to see a man with a bag of shopping in each hand bear down on me very purposefully,” she said. “He stopped, put his bags down, and asked if I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I said I was, he asked for a copy of ‘the red book,’ You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Then came the surprise. He asked if someone could call and have a Bible study with him!”
This man had received a copy of the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! from a workmate in 1963. He read it, saw that this was the truth, but did nothing about it. Later, while still single, he prayed to Jehovah, making a promise that if Jehovah would provide him with a wife and children, he would raise his children to serve Jehovah. Now, some 20 years later, married and with four children, he had still not fulfilled that promise. Because of personal problems, he was in danger of losing his family.
Seeing his spiritual need, he searched out the brothers. He knew from one of his neighbors which street corner the Witnesses could be found on every Saturday around lunchtime. So off he went to find them. From the start he began attending meetings regularly, bringing his children with him. And as he appreciated more about Jehovah’s standards, he began to make changes in his life. About two months after recontacting the brothers, he came to his first circuit assembly, which gave him the strength to quit the tobacco habit.
Then came a real test. As a result of opposition from her family, his wife refused to speak to him for weeks and eventually threatened to separate from him if he did not give up the truth. It was ironic that the very thing he had come into the truth to save, namely his marriage, was now being threatened as a result of serving Jehovah. However, he wisely reasoned that by forsaking the truth now, he would eventually lose everything for himself and his family. So he stood firm. As it turned out, his wife did not really want a separation but was merely succumbing to family pressure. Now she acknowledges that if it had not been for her husband’s becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would no longer be together.
CONTINUED GROWTH ALSO IN THE REPUBLIC
In the Republic of Ireland, too, the persistence of the brothers and sisters in shining the light of the truth everywhere began to bring fine results.
One Catholic couple had been grieved by the death of their four-year-old daughter. Some people said she had to die “because God wanted her in heaven” and that “she was never meant for this world.” This did not make any sense to those grieving parents. “We were good Catholics,” they said. “We went to Mass and we believed in God, but we could not understand why she had to die!”
The mother began to study, but her husband, at first, was not attracted to the truth. ‘No birthdays! No Christmas! Having to go to all those meetings! Having to give up the cigarettes! This is not for me,’ he thought. But deep down he admired his wife for her growing devotion to Jehovah. At first when the brothers came for the Bible study, he would escape out the back door. Later, however, he stayed to listen and began to value the truth.
He was shocked to learn that Jehovah was, in fact, the true God. “I thought he was some American millionaire,” he said. Eventually the family was united in serving Jehovah. Their faith in the true God gave them great fortitude when their eldest boy died quite suddenly of leukemia. “If we had not known the truth and not had the friends in the congregation, we would have killed ourselves,” he confessed.
Another Catholic man was stumped by all the injustice and suffering in the world. The Vietnam war, the horrors of Biafra, the millions of people dying of starvation in a world of plenty—it all seemed so wrong. To blot out these tragic realities, he began to drink heavily. When he was contacted with the Bible message, the reasons for this horrible satanic system of things were explained to him.
He progressed in the truth and got fully involved in Jehovah’s service. When visiting some brothers in Belfast, he joined with them in the house-to-house work in a Loyalist (anti-Nationalist) area of the city. Before this, he would never have even thought of visiting Northern Ireland, let alone ventured into Loyalist areas. Yet, here he was. He was invited into one home, and the householder realized that the brother had been a Catholic. So he asked: “When you were a Catholic, did you support the IRA?” The brother realized that this man could turn violent, since he had only recently been released from detention after being caught with a gun when going to kill a Catholic. So the brother said: “I am not a Catholic now. I am one of the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. As a true Christian, I would never kill anyone for any government or any man.” With that the householder shook his hand and said: “All killing is wrong. You people are doing good work. Keep it up.”
SERVING WHERE THE NEED IS GREATER
Of great help in speeding up the work in Ireland was the willingness of many brothers from other lands to move to serve where the need was greater. They responded to a call similar to that heard by the apostle Paul: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9) It called for a deep love for Jehovah and a real spirit of self-sacrifice. But the results and the rewards have been outstanding.
Of course, there were difficulties to overcome, such as finding employment and arranging schooling for the children. But these brothers and sisters put Jehovah to the test, and he never failed them. “Our children settled in easily,” said one couple, “and we found that we have a greater involvement in spiritual things as a family as a result of moving here.” One family head commented on how his own family benefited from their move to Ireland. “It has helped us to avoid being sidetracked into worldly things,” he said, “and we have achieved a goal of pioneering as a family.”
Closely related to this has been the support given to congregations by courageous pioneers, most of whom came from Britain. Some even settled in Ireland after they had families of their own. Many pioneer couples originally came to Ireland with the idea of staying a year or two and then returning to their homeland. Some did this, and they made a fine contribution to the advancement of the work here. Others, though, were able to stay in Ireland.
The normal way of things in Ireland is for married couples to have large families and to have children as quickly as possible. Irish people, therefore, often thought it unusual to see pioneer couples without children. When local people discovered that the pioneers who were visiting them had no children, it often brought the solicitous comment, “I’ll light a candle for you!” Once those pioneer couples who stayed in the local community had children, they were much more accepted by the local people. This had a stabilizing effect on the congregations. Instead of a regular turnover of pioneers in various assignments, there came to be an added permanence about things.
About 30 of the 80 congregations have a fine nucleus of elders and other publishers from the families of pioneers who settled here. In one congregation four out of the five elders originally came to Ireland as pioneers. Why did they stay? Their answers: “It has become home to us.” “We wanted to continue serving where the need was great.” “There seemed no point in returning to where a great need did not exist.” Jehovah blessed their ministry. By 1982 there were 2,021 Witnesses in Ireland.
With the work prospering both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it was to be expected that the demons would get even busier in their efforts to hinder progress. One weapon they turned to again was apostasy.
APOSTASY ONCE AGAIN IN DUBLIN
During 1982 a particularly virulent form of apostasy developed, mainly in the Dublin area. Some brothers began to resent the authority of the congregation and to question the body of teachings that are accepted by Jehovah’s people as truth. They promoted the idea that each Christian should be able to decide for himself on various matters of doctrine.
Quietly and surreptitiously they sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of others regarding doctrine. The integrity of members of the Governing Body was questioned. The dissenters who were serving as elders and ministerial servants minimized organizational instructions. From the platform, and at other times secretly, they disseminated their own ideas, undermining the confidence of others in Jehovah’s organization.
As this rebellious attitude became more and more manifest, the loyal elders in the congregations tried to help such ones regain their spiritual balance and faith and thereby avoid spiritual shipwreck. (1 Tim. 1:19) The loyal were aware of the dangers of just such a situation, as foretold by both the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter.—Acts 20:30; 2 Pet. 2:1, 3.
John Barr, from the Governing Body, and Robert Pevy, who had pioneered in Ireland and who is now serving at Brooklyn Bethel, offered assistance. They took time from vacation trips in Britain to come to Ireland to talk with the brothers and encourage them. They reasoned at length with the brothers and discussed thoroughly many questions raised on doctrinal matters. It became obvious, however, that the questions raised by the disgruntled ones were merely a smoke screen. The real issue was whether this was, in fact, Jehovah’s organization or not.
As this rejection of the truth became more apparent, the elders still tried to help those affected by apostate thinking. At the same time, though, they also saw the need to follow the apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy to “command certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” (1 Tim. 1:3) As Paul warned Timothy, the teachings of such apostate ones “spread like gangrene.” The elders were left eventually with no real alternative except to expel such ones from the congregation.—2 Tim. 2:17.
The removal of those who rejected God’s organization allowed the work to prosper. In 1982, when the apostasy began, there was an average of 2,021 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland. In 1983 this grew to 2,124, in 1984 it was 2,278, in 1985 it was 2,403, and in 1986 it was 2,472, with a peak of 2,661 in May 1987. The steady progress continues. Loyalties had been tested to the full, but the great majority had put their loyalty to Jehovah and his organization before loyalty to any man. They recognized where the truth lay and from what source they had learned it, and they stuck firmly with it. They kept busy with the vital preaching and teaching work.
“MY BOOK OF BIBLE STORIES” IN IRISH
For years all that Jehovah’s people had available in the Irish language was a tract or two and a booklet. It was with great excitement, therefore, that they received My Book of Bible Stories in Irish at their district convention in 1982. English is the language generally used in Ireland. Over the past few years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Irish language (an older Celtic language). In some parts of the country (Gaeltacht areas) it is the only language used. Now the brothers had something substantial to offer in these areas, especially to people with an interest in their native tongue.
Many schoolteachers, including priests and those in the Catholic teaching orders of “Christian Brothers,” accepted copies of Mo Leabhar de Scéalta ón mBíobla, as it is in Irish. The way this book was received illustrates the improved attitude of many towards Jehovah’s Witnesses. One teaching priest, slightly exaggerating the situation, made the comment: “If we had accepted literature from you 30 years ago, we would have been burned at the stake!”
At one school two sisters met the principal, who was a nun. When the Witnesses preached to her outside the staff room, she examined the book and then quickly said, “Wait a minute.” A few minutes later she reappeared with money in her hand and said, “I’ll have nine copies, please.” At another school, the teacher in charge of book purchases for the school looked over the Bible Stories book in Irish and ordered a classroom set of 35.
Others besides those in the teaching profession are drawn to the marvelously simple presentation of the Bible record in this book. Some who would not normally take literature from Jehovah’s Witnesses have accepted copies.
One brother called on a lady for whom he had done some secular work. When he mentioned having the new book in Irish, she said she was “not a bit interested in anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” However, he did show her the book. “I don’t suppose it has the imprimatur in it?” she asked. The brother acknowledged that the book did not have this Roman Catholic mark of approval, but he showed the lady how the book had all the Scripture references set out at the end of each story. “And what’s in it for Jehovah’s Witnesses?” she asked, still somewhat hesitant. The brother explained to her that Jehovah’s Witnesses were simply interested in helping everyone to understand the Bible. That is why they had printed a book like this. She took a copy of the Bible Stories book. On a subsequent call she asked, “Doesn’t this book use the name Jehovah a bit too often?” She was very surprised when the brother showed her from her own children’s dictionary that Jehovah really is God’s name and that it appears over 7,000 times in the original Bible writings.
Another sister called on all her neighbors with the Bible Stories book, both in English and in Irish. Her children go to school with many of the children on her housing estate, and she realized that she had never really spoken to her neighbors about the truth. She prayed to Jehovah to strengthen her and set off to witness. Because she was recognized as their neighbor, she was invited into many homes and had some fine discussions. In the end she placed 75 Bible Stories books!
EXPANSION AND INCREASED BUILDING ACTIVITY
The increasing numbers of people accepting the truth created another need in Ireland—the need for larger branch facilities and better meeting places for the congregations.
In 1980 new branch premises were dedicated in Dublin. For many years the branch building had been cramped. Fred Metcalfe explains how the lack of space created some difficulties: “Sometimes we had to use the dining room table for typing and other office work. We had to go down to the end of the garden for literature for the congregations. The shed there was the only suitable storage space we had.”
After 12 years of searching, the brothers located and purchased a suitable piece of land, for which the Witnesses in Ireland contributed most of the funds. A fine branch office was built that gave bigger and better facilities for handling the growing volume of work as Ireland experienced an upsurge in the ingathering work. The Kingdom Hall that was incorporated in the branch building not only provided a much needed meeting place for growing congregations but also awakened interest in building other Kingdom Halls and set new standards for them.
Very few congregations up till that time had their own Kingdom Halls. Either they lacked the necessary resources because the publishers were few in number or it proved impossible to rent fitting premises because of prejudice. Some congregations met in small rooms atop many flights of stairs. The meeting places were cold and damp, with few heating facilities. One congregation used a building that had corrugated iron sides. Local children used to take great delight in rattling sticks along the sides of that hall while the meetings were in progress.
A number of the small congregations still meet in hired rooms in hotels and other places, but a growing number have been able to build Kingdom Halls. These brothers and sisters have gladly followed the advice: “Honor Jehovah with your valuable things.”—Prov. 3:9.
QUICKLY BUILT KINGDOM HALLS
Construction of quickly built Kingdom Halls has excited the brothers in Ireland. Instead of building work taking months, if not years, of toil to complete, Kingdom Halls are now being built in less than two days! This has provided congregations with excellent meeting facilities without disrupting the Kingdom-preaching work for long periods. And it has been a marvelous witness where these halls have been built.
The first quickly built hall was in Downpatrick in Northern Ireland in June 1985. The experienced building team consisted mainly of brothers from Britain who traveled to Northern Ireland entirely at their own expense. They were joined by many local brothers who were craftsmen, besides other willing volunteers. Over 600 volunteers got involved in this project.
In view of the limited number of brothers, the question when the idea was first proposed was, “Can it be done in Ireland?” The congregation went ahead with their plans with full confidence in Jehovah’s backing. “We felt that we were being carried along by Jehovah,” they said. And their faith was rewarded as the little congregation of only 19 publishers saw their new Kingdom Hall rapidly come to completion in front of their very eyes.
Other congregations followed. Soon Ireland had its own team for quickly building halls. How was this possible? “It was successful,” said the building overseer, “because all the brothers and sisters were pulling together under the influence of Jehovah’s spirit.”
One congregation built its hall in less than 36 hours despite pouring rain. At another site hundreds of local Catholic people visited the construction area after attending Sunday morning Mass. Many were so impressed that they made generous contributions toward the expenses of feeding the construction workers.
HARVEST PROSPECTS BRIGHT
How things have changed over the past 80 years! One of the brothers commented that 20 years ago the special pioneers in his congregation might have been able to distribute only ten magazines in the course of a month even though they spent 150 hours in the ministry. This gave little scope for return visits. Now each congregation publisher can, on an average, distribute 13 or 14 magazines each month. Much of the bitterness and hatred of past years has vanished.
It is so much easier to engage in the ministry today, with very little likelihood of violence or mobbings. There is still opposition, but there is also a much greater willingness to listen to the truth. Over the past year 1,683 home Bible studies were conducted, showing grand potential for progress.
At the conclusion of his trip in 1891, Brother Russell commented: “England, Ireland and Scotland are fields ready and waiting to be harvested.” Some may have thought, when things were at their worst, that the harvest would never be gathered and that the light of Bible truth would never penetrate the spiritual darkness that blinded the minds and hearts of people in Ireland. It took a little longer than originally anticipated, but at last we are seeing the long-hoped-for harvest. There are now 2,661 publishers in the field, in 81 congregations.
Much work remains to be done, but with Jehovah’s blessing on his loyal servants in Ireland, many more will yet accept the truth. All of Jehovah’s faithful people in Ireland echo the cry of Jesus Christ: “Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”—Matt. 9:37, 38.
[Map/Pictures on page 71]
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[Picture on page 89]
Fred Metcalfe, one of the first special pioneers assigned to the Republic of Ireland
[Picture on page 95]
Seven of the original missionary sisters who came to Ireland in 1949 are, left to right: Mildred Willett (now Barr); Bessie Jones; Joan Retter (now Miller); Joey Orrom; Elsie Lott (now Levis); Ann Parkin (now Carter); Barbara Haywood (now Steffens)
[Pictures on page 98]
Olive and Arthur Matthews (inset), along with Olive’s brother and his wife, used this 13-foot-long caravan during the “God’s Way Is Love” booklet campaign in 1953
[Picture on page 104]
First branch office in Ireland, 86 Lindsay Road, Dublin
[Pictures on page 130]
Present branch building in Finglas, Dublin, and Branch Committee members, left to right: Peter Andrews, Arthur Matthews (Branch Committee coordinator), and Fred Metcalfe
[Pictures on page 135]
Top: First quickly built Kingdom Hall in the Irish Republic, completed May 1986 in Dun Laoghaire
Middle and bottom: First quickly built Kingdom Hall in Northern Ireland, completed June 1985 in Downpatrick