Revised February 20, 2018
At the Turn of the 20th Century in Ireland
At the turn of the 20th century in Ireland, a new religious movement and restorationist sect received considerable attention. This book explores the shape that movement took in its early days, when newspaper reporters avidly followed and reported its doctrines and practices for a fascinated public. Everything about the new Sect came under scrutiny, from its founder, preachers, conventions and doctrine to their mode of dress. Reports on court cases involving the Sect, as well as its conflicts with the general public, generated considerable primary source materials, such as the following article in a 1905 journal:
“A few years ago a religious sect was started in the North of Ireland by a few former members of the Scotch organisation—the Faith Mission. These ‘Pilgrims,’ or ‘Tramp Preachers,’ as they are commonly called, being dissatisfied with the quieter methods of Christian work advocated by the parent society, seceded from it, and developed what may best be described as a new sect, distinguished for its bitter hostility to all existing Churches, and to a regular paid ministry of any kind...It is believed that the originator of this somewhat erratic development was a Scotchman called Irwin, [Irvine] who at an early stage of this work enlisted the sympathy and help of an earnest young man, a native of Enniskillen, Mr. Edward Cooney, formerly an Episcopalian, who devoted himself to evangelistic work in various parts of Ireland, and member of a most respectable family..." ("A New Sect," Irish Presbyterian, March, 1905).
A primary source of information about the events that took place at the beginning of this new Sect was writtten by Goodhand Pattison of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Pattison was a follower and recognized historian of the new Sect who recorded his memories of its development in a letter to his son, John, entitled "Account of the Early Days." (Pattison, Goodhand, Account of Early Days).
This new Sect took no official name. Its unusual method of public baptism by full immersion in natural waters drew crowds, attention and criticism. Its followers were easily recognized: the women by their dark color dresses or skirts, their plain, sober blouses, their simple sailor hats, natural faces without make-up and lack of jewelry, and the men by their unshaven beards, brown undershirts and rubber collars. Men's shirts did not have collars attached to them for most of the 19th century and into the early 1920s. Instead, separate collars which did not require frequent washing were buttoned to the shirt.
Its ministers were also unusual in that they were itinerant, preached in pairs, did not ask for donations, and had only one set of clothing. Their frequent remarks ridiculing the clergy, churches and Christians of that time were met with protest and resentment from the public. High feelings were expressed in newspapers, as well as in violent actions in Ireland and England. Some of its itinerant preachers used portable wooden huts and tents for living quarters and missions.
In 1900 in Ireland, Robert Todd and Andrew Robb's wooden hut was destroyed, along with three bicycles, a stove and utensils in Co. Wexford. The same year, Irvine Weir's Meeting house and organ were maliciously destroyed in Co. Tipperary. In 1904, John Hardie's tent was set on fire in Co. Kilkenny. In 1906, Wilson McClung's wooden hall and organ were wrecked by W. D. Wilson in Co. Suffolk, England. Edward, and Cooney's wooden hall at Makeny, Co. Fermanagh was burned. Thomas Elliott's gospel hall was overturned once, and in 1907, his hall and furniture were burned in Co. Londonderry. Newspapers reported that compensation was granted for most of these losses, but not all. Wm Irvine, "In cross-examination, witness said he had never known of a new sect being founded without opposition" (Impartial Reporter, July 17, 1913).
Riots occurred in the early days of the Sect. In his Journal for Jan. 1899, John Long wrote that in Trim, Ireland, "it took seven policemen to keep back a howling mob of upwards of two hundred men of Belial who pressed upon us throwing stones, missiles, and ugly language." Similar incidents were reported by the Impartial Reporter in Newtownards and Swords, Ireland (Impartial Reporter, June 9, 1904; Oct. 22, 1908); and also in England in rural Suffolk (Impartial Reporter, June 21, 1906; July 25, 1912), as well as in Sudbury (Ideas, July 13, 1917). Convention tents were burned and shots were fired in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. (Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1908 , p. 2).
In 1904, the new Sect created considerable interest when its first large annual Convention was held on the property of John and Sarah West in Crocknacrieve, Ballinamallard, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, near Enniskillen. William Irvine and Edward Cooney were recognized as the two prominent pioneers and leaders of the Sect.
"The Cooneyite 'Dippers' or 'Tramp Preachers' have just opened a Convention at Crocknacrieve, the residence of Mr. John West, near Enniskillen. This is a 'record' assembly, as delegates come from all parts of the world, and elaborate preparations have been made for housing them and providing food supplies. The proceedings are to last six weeks, and during that time it is calculated 10,000 adherents will participate. Mr. Wm. Irvin, [Irvine] the founder of the sect, is in attendance and Mr. Edmund [Edward] Cooney, his chief Lieutenant, is returning from Canada to take part in the deliberations" (Irish Independent, July 5, 1910, p.5).
In their early days, some nicknames commonly used to identify the movement were Cooneyites, Reidites, Irvinites, Gillites, Tramp Preachers, Pilgrims, Dippers, Two by Twos, The Jesus Way, Church without a Name, No-Secters, No Name Church and Go Preachers from Matthew 10:7, “And as ye go, preach.” They were also referred to as a new movement, sect and group." The Impartial Reporter stated that "the two leaders are Mr. Wm. Irvine and Mr. Edward Cooney," and that Cooney claimed, ' I am a tramp preacher" (Impartial Reporter, Oct. 13, 1904, p. 8).
The followers refer to their male Ministers as "Brother Workers, Preachers and Servants" and to their female ministers as "Handmaidens" Sister Workers, Preachers and Servants; and to the laity or followers as "Saints" and "Friends." In later years, among themselves, the followers commonly referred to their group/church as "the Truth," "the Way," "the Fellowship," and in some countries, as "the Fold." In this book, the Author most frequently refers to this movement as the "2x2 Sect," and the "2x2 Fellowship."
“And who are we? We have no name. . .but the ribald multitude give us many. Some call us Cooneyites, some call us Tramps, Faith Missionaries, No Secters, Women-Thieves, and so on...Our mission was started by William Irvine, a Scotchman, seven or eight years ago. Others followed him. I myself was a Civil Servant in Dublin. I resigned my post, sold all that I had and gave to the poor, and went out to preach" (Impartial Reporter, June 21, 1906, p. 3; Statement by early Worker, Wilson McClung).
The Impartial Reporter not only firmly established Wm. Irvine as the Founder of the Sect, it also investigated his background, including his previous religious associations:
"Wm. Irvine, the founder and supreme authority of what is known as Cooneyism, is a Scotchman. His native place is Kilsyth, a small town near Glasgow. Before he became a Tramp he had attached himself to the sect known as the Faith Mission or Pilgrims, and was the manager of a coal mine under Baird & Co., Glasgow, and enjoyed a salary of £300 a year. William Irvine left this employment and joined the Faith Mission...Wm. Irvine gave up his connection with that sect for two reasons, according to my information—1st, because the leader was alleged to have been a ‘hypocrite,’ in that while teaching Pilgrims to live by faith he himself had over hundreds of pounds. 2nd, because Mr. Irvine’s converts always lapsed and were lost among the clergy by going back to their own congregation or what is known as the churches. Consequently a small number of preachers and some from the Faith Mission, along with one named John Long (who was rejected three years ago, because he would not maintain that John Wesley had gone to hell) and about a dozen stood by Wm. Irvine” (Impartial Reporter, Aug. 25, 1910, p. 8).
While under oath in court, Edward Cooney stated that Wm. Irvine was "the first" of this Sect. He was asked, "Were you the founder of this sect?" Cooney answered: "No, William Irvine was the first, about sixteen years ago. I cast in my lot with him as a fellow-preacher...others have nicknamed us ‘The Cooneyites.’ I do not like it myself” (Impartial Reporter, Dec. 18, 1913, p. 3).
The newspaper also provided compelling evidence regarding Edward Cooney role as Wm. Irvine's right-hand man, as well as a prominent, well respected leader in the movement in its early days:
“At last Sunday evening’s service there were five men and two women on the platform, and of the former were two of the chief pioneers of the movement—Mr. Wm. Irwin [Irvine] and Mr. Edward Cooney” (Impartial Reporter, July 18, 1907, p. 8).
"Mr. Wm Irvin [Irvine], the founder of the sect, is in attendance and Mr. Edmund [Edward] Cooney, his chief lieutenant, is returning from Canada to take part in the deliberations" (Irish Independent, July 5, 1910, p. 5).
About 17 years after Wm. Irvine started the new Sect, he was forced out by his chief Workers who then endeavored to erase his name from their history. Ed Cooney wrote, "An attempt has been made to give an account of God's dealings with us ignoring William Irvine. This is not honest" (Cooney, Edward. Testimony of Edward Cooney).
Fourteen years later in 1928, Ed Cooney suffered the same fate, and he too, was excommunicated by his co-Workers. The names of these two men were suppressed and banned. Documents and photographs were altered to eliminate them. Until 1954, a memory hole about them existed. Then Doug Parker published a tract titled Spiritual Fraud, which was distributed worldwide telling about his research into the Sect's origins, early history and the roles of Wm. Irvine and Ed Cooney. Later in 1982, Parker published a book about history of the 2x2 Sect, titled, The Secret Sect. The source of much of Parker's research came from newspaper accounts of the Impartial Reporter.
THE IMPARTIAL REPORTER & FARMERS JOURNAL is the local newspaper based in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In 1900, when the new Sect began, they published a weekly newspaper each Thursday. It was owned and operated by the Trimble family from the time it was founded in 1825, and is the third oldest newspaper in Ireland. In June, 2006, the 181 year-old Northern Ireland weekly, The Impartial Reporter, was bought by Ulster News Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dunfermine Press Ltd. Visit their website. The earliest newspaper article found so far about the new Sect was dated Jan. 15, 1903. This article and many more are posted on the website TellingTheTruth.info.
At the time the 2x2 Sect began, the Proprietor of the Impartial Reporter & Farmers Journal, was Wm. Copeland Trimble (1851-1941), known as W.C.T. In Dublin on Oct. 3, 1881, Wm. C. Trimble married Letitia Jane Weir (1854-1892), and they had five children. Letitia was the daughter of John Weir who was related to the Wm. Weir family who owned Weirs Store on Baggot Street, in Dublin, Ireland, where the first Sunday morning Meeting was held. W.C.T. published a booklet titled The Tramps or Go-Preachers, 1910, (Sometimes called Pilgrims).
Interested parties, including the Author in 2004, have made pilgrimages back to the “Old Country” (aka O. C.) and have visited the Impartial Reporter office. Reporters attended and wrote numerous newspaper articles about the early Conventions, Missions, Workers and Friends and traced the development of the movement from the turn of the 20th century. While they no longer allows the public access to their fragile archives, the articles are available at the British Library in London, England. In June 2006, this 181 year-old Northern Ireland weekly newspaper was bought by Ulster News Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dunfermine Press Ltd.
Earlier, British law set out punishments for defamatory statements. By the 17th century, statements in writing ("libelous") were dealt with more harshly than spoken ("slanderous") statements. British law increasingly expanded the definition of defamation beyond that of other nations by including not only physical and financial damages, but also to statements which damaged reputations. Because of the legal ramifications, newspapers in the early 20th century were careful to verify facts, connotations, implications and sources used for their statements. When they erred, typically, they hastily printed retractions.
The sheer magnitude of data available from this period, from a variety of sources, provides a comprehensive picture of the birth of this fledging Movement. The new Sect was big news and was covered by reporters from many other media organizations, resulting in articles in literally hundreds of newspapers worldwide during the first twenty years of the 2x2 Sect.
Was the coverage unreasonably biased or skewed? Some proponents of the Sect
have asserted that newspapers such as the Impartial Reporter printed
false statements and limited viewpoints. They scoff at the name of the newspaper, the Impartial Reporter, and claim it was actually the opposite; i.e. quite partial and biased against the 2x2 Sect. They were required to observe the British laws regarding their newspaper content or they risked being sued.
It is worth noting that some of the newspaper articles were quite complimentary. Furthermore, the early 2x2 members were not shy about writing Letters to the Editor to express differing opinions or provide explanations, and some of these letters were published in the newspapers. Criticisms were often based upon the group's own claims and proclamations, with news articles including direct quotations from the 2x2 Preachers and followers.
PRIMARY SOURCES OF HISTORICAL INFORMATION: Today, over a hundred years later, there are no witnesses alive to testify in person about the start of this new movement. Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic. They may be witnesses or recorders who were present and experienced the events being documented. Some types of primary materials include diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memoirs, manuscripts, photographs, autobiographies, recordings, published materials (books, magazines, newspaper articles), official records of the government or organizations, court cases, ship manifests, etc. Primary sources enable researchers to determine as closely as possible what actually took place during a historical time period. Until the excommunication of Wm. Irvine, no attempt had been made to conceal the new movement's recent start-up or Founder.
This book uses data from the following primary sources, as well as many others: Journal of John Long, (Long was with Wm. Irvine at his first independent mission at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ire. in 1897); Account of the Early Days by Goodhand Pattison; Impartial Reporter & Farmers Journal, (newspaper) Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland; Bright Words, the Faith Mission monthly magazine; writings by Alfred Magowan; letters by William Irvine, 1911-1947.
Although the new Sect in no small way owed its existence and origin to the early Missions held by William Irvine in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century, today few 2x2 followers have ever heard the name of the man who founded their Church. This book was written to remedy this deficiency of public information.
"A New Sect," Irish Presbyterian, March 1905
Pattison, Goodhand. Account of Early Days
Irish Independent, July 5, 1910, p. 5
Cooney, Edward. Testimony of Edward Cooney, 1947
Parker, Douglas. A Spiritual Fraud Exposed (Padstow, NSW, Australia: Utility Press, 1954)
Doug and Helen Parker, Secret Sect (Sydney, Australia: MacArthur Press Pty. Ltd., 1982)
Impartial Reporter, June 21, 1906, p. 3
Impartial Reporter, Aug. 25, 1910, p. 8
Impartial Reporter, Dec. 18, 1913, p. 3
Impartial Reporter, July 18, 1907, p. 8
Irish Independent, July 5, 1910, p. 5
Impartial Reporter, July 17, 1913
Long. John. Journal of John Long, January 1899
http://www.tellingthetruth.info/publications_johnlong/John Long (retrieved___date)
Impartial Reporter, June 9, 1904 , Oct. 22, 1908
Ideas, July 13, 1917
Impartial Reporter, June 21, 1906, July 25, 1912
Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1908 , p. 2
Telling the Truth has a hard copy of the documents, books, newspaper articles, references, etc. used in this book. Any exceptions are noted.
Go to Chapter 2