John Wesley made the first of his twenty-one visits to Ireland in 1747, finding 280 Methodists who had been gathered together in Dublin by pioneer lay preachers. The word spread very rapidly inwards and served to strengthen the Protestant witness in a country which is predominantly Roman Catholic except what is now known as Northern Ireland. The first chapel was opened at Dublin in 1752 and the first conference was held at Limerick in the same year. Emigrants from Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were of immense importance in spreading Methodism to other parts of the world. They included Barbara Heck, Philip Embury, Robert Strawbridge, and Robert Williams, pioneers in the United States of America, and Laurence Coughlan, the founder of Methodism in Newfoundland. The Irish Methodist Church has one constitution throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland with a President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. The President of the British Conference, as the successor of John Wesley, presides, however, over the Irish Conference, and six Irish representatives sit as members of the British Conference. There are 222 congregations, 16,200 recognized adult members and a total community roll of almost 55,800. There are 130 ministers in active work and 60 retired ministers. Local preachers total 293, with 68 local preachers on trial.
Methodism has made an important contribution to Irish education, including the establishment of Wesley College in Dublin, Methodist College in Belfast, and Gurteen College in Co Tipperary-this last a college of agriculture. It has developed a wide-ranging social work service, largely through its five city missions in Dublin, Belfast, Newtonabbey and Londonderry, which control several homes for the elderly, hostel accommodation for needy men and woman, residential care for adolescents and day care centers for the elderly. An increasing number of churches in other towns provide a range of services on their premises, including luncheon clubs, community advice centers, pre-school play groups, practical help and work with the elderly, etc.
Together with other churches, the Methodist Church in Ireland is deeply concerned with the issue of reconciliation and peace in Ireland. Many of the ministers and people have taken leading roles on efforts to establish peace during recent years of community strife.
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