Revised March 6, 2017
The Turn of the 20th Century
A NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT BEGAN IN IRELAND at the turn of the 20th century and received considerable attention. In their Early Days, newspaper reporters avidly followed and reported on their progress, founder, preachers, preaching, practices, conventions, court cases, as well as the public's reaction. They were described in the press:
“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..." (Irish Presbyterian, March, 1905; Heading ‘A New Sect’).
Goodhand Pattison of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, Ireland was a follower, recognized as a historian who recorded his memories of the development of the new movement in Ireland, in a work titled: Accounts of the Early Days. He wrote: “I use the words ‘New Movement’ in no bad sense, only to express what most people would have called it at that time...”
The new movement took no official name. Their unusual method of public baptisms by full immersion in natural waters drew crowds, attention and criticism. Their followers were easily recognized; the males by their unshaven beards and rubber collars, with only one set of clothing, earning them the nickname: "Tramp Preachers." The women wore black dresses or skirts, plain blouses in sober shades, plain sailor hats, no makeup or jewelry and black stockings, earning them the nickname: "Black Stocking Religion." The preachers were unusual in that they were itinerant, preached in pairs and didn't ask for donations. Their frequent remarks ridiculing the clergy, churches and Christians of that time were met with protest, indignation and resentment from the public. Some expressed their feelings in newspapers and others in violent actions.
Some of the new sect's itinerant preachers used portable wooden huts and tents for living quarters and missions. The wooden hut of Robert Todd and Andrew Robb was destroyed along with 3 bicycles, a stove and utensils in Camolin, Co. Wexford in 1900. Irvine Weir's meeting house and organ were maliciously destroyed in Bourney, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary in 1900. John Hardie's tent was set on fire in Co. Kilkenny in 1904. Wilson McClung's wooden hall and organ in Ipswich, Co. Suffolk, England were wrecked by W. D. Wilson in 1906; Edward Cooney's wooden hall at Makeny near Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh was burned in 1906. Thomas Elliott's gospel hall and furniture were burned at Ballyroguley, near Loop, Moneymore in 1907. Newspapers reported that workers and friends filed for compensation for their losses and most were granted.
In their Early Days, riots took place in some locations: Newtownards, Ireland—June 9, 1904; Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland—Oct. 22, 1908; Sudbury, England—July 13, 1917; Rural Suffolk, England—Impartial Reporter June 21, 1906; July 25, 1912. In Trim, Ire—Jan. 1899, "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." In Baltimore, MD USA—in Sept. 1908, convention tents were burned and shots fired.
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 the Town of Enniskillen). William Irvine and Edward Cooney were recognized as the two prominent pioneers and leaders of the group.
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).
In the Early Days, nicknames commonly used to identify the movement were Cooneyites, Reidites, Irvinites, Gillites, Tramp Preachers, Pilgrims, Dippers, Two by Twos, The Jesus Way, The Truth, The Way, Church without a Name and Go Preachers from Matthew 10:7, “And as ye go, preach.” They were also referred to as a new movement, sect or group. The clergy or preachers were referred to as "workers, servants (males) and handmaidens (females), pilgrims, missionaries." The laity were called "saints" and "friends."
" ' I am a tramp preacher,' said Mr. Edward Cooney, at Ballinamallard. Therefore, if the writer describe the latest phase of religious enthusiasm, by the name given by one of themselves, it cannot be misunderstood. The Tramps have revived the interest taken in them some two years ago, by their convention at Ballinamallard and the baptism of new members in a river of running water. They gathered...till they mustered about 130, and the two leaders are Mr. Wm. Irvine and Mr. Edward Cooney" (Impartial Reporter, Oct. 13, 1904, p. 8).“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 Worker, Wilson McClung).
That William Irvine was the Founder of the group is evident from the following newspaper quote:
"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, under the control then of J. G. Govan, of Rothsay, who still holds conventions after the manner followed at Crocknacrieve, but on a much smaller scale. It is often addressed by evangelical Clergy. 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).
Showing that Edward Cooney was Irvine's right-hand man and a prominent, well respected leader in the movement in the Early Days:
Edward Cooney stated under oath that Wm. Irvine was "the first" of this sect:
“However, the chief motive power was latent until Edward Cooney heard Wm. Irvine, and offered him money and even a salary yearly, which was refused by Irvine. At all events, £1,300 from Mr. Cooney alone was applied to the cause, and has been preached as having been ‘given to the poor,’ on the authority of, ‘Sell all that ye have, &c.’ ” (Impartial Reporter, Aug. 25, 1910, p. 8).
“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 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, p. 5, July 5, 1910).
"Mr. Justice Darling—Were you the founder of this sect?
“E. Cooney under oath)—No, William Irvine was the first, about sixteen years ago. I cast in my lot with him as a fellow-preacher, and preached a good deal in the north of Ireland. I recognise the name, but others have nicknamed us ‘The Cooneyites.’ I do not like it myself” (Impartial Reporter, Dec. 18, 1913, p. 3).
About 17 years after the sect started, William Irvine was forced out by his leading workers, and an attempt was made to erase his name from the group's 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." Fourteen years later in 1928, Ed Cooney suffered the same fate; he too was excommunicated by his peers. Their names became an anathema and were banned from use. A memory hole existed until 1954 when a tract was published and distributed worldwide about the sect's origins, early history and roles of by Wm. Irvine and Edward Cooney. Then in 1982 a book was published by Doug and Helen Parker titled: The Secret Sect.
PRIMARY SOURCES OF HISTORICAL INFORMATION: Today, there are no primary 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 are 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 get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period. Until the excommunication of Wm. Irvine, no attempt was made to conceal the new movement's recent start-up or Founder.
This book draws from the following primary sources, along with many others: John Long's Journal, (Long was with Wm. Irvine at his very FIRST independent mission at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in 1897); Accounts 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.
THE IMPARTIAL REPORTER & FARMERS JOURNAL is the local newspaper based in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. They published their first newspaper on May 19, 1825. In 1900, when the new sect began, they published a weekly newspaper each Thursday. Their earliest newspaper article found so far about the new sect was dated January 15, 1903. This article and many more are posted on the Telling The Truth Website.
William Trimble (1802-1886) was the first editor-proprietor of the Impartial Reporter & Farmers Journal, and was a native of Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, Ireland. He was succeeded by his second son, William Copeland Trimble (1851-1941).
On October 3, 1881 in South Dublin Wm. C. Trimble married Letitia Jane Weir (born May 18, 1854), and they had 5 children. She died January 8, 1892, aged 38 years. Letitia was the daughter of John Weir who was related to the William Weir family who owned a store in Dublin on Baggot Street, where the first Sunday morning meeting was held. Perhaps this relationship was why Wm. C. Trimble took such a keen interest in the activities and beliefs of the new movement. He published a booklet titled The Tramps or Go-Preachers, 1910, (Sometimes called Pilgrims).
This weekly newspaper was owned and operated by the Trimble family from the time it was founded in 1825. William C. Trimble was succeeded as editor-proprietor by his son William Egbert Trimble (1882-1967). Upon his death, his daughter Joan (born 1915) took over the reins. In turn, she passed them to her daughter, Joanna McVey. 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.
Interested persons have made pilgrimages back to the “Old Country” (sometimes abbreviated as O. C.) and have visited the Impartial Reporter, including the Author in 2004. 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. This newspaper no longer allows the public access to their fragile archives; however, the articles are available at the British Library in London.
Early on, 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 the facts, connotations, implications and sources used for statements they made. If they erred, they typically quickly printed retractions where there was doubt. The new sect was big news and was covered by reporters from many other news organizations, resulting in coverage by literally hundreds of newspapers worldwide during the 2x2 sect's first two decades. Some have asserted that newspapers like the Impartial Reporter printed libelous statements and limited expression of varied viewpoints.
Some scoff at the newspaper's name the Impartial Reporter and claim the newspaper was actually the opposite; i.e. quite partial and biased against the 2x2 sect. The early 2x2s were not shy about writing letters to the editor to express differing opinions or provide explanations. Their letters were published in the paper. In the case of the Impartial Reporter, some of their articles were quite complimentary to the new sect, while other articles criticized the movement based upon its claims and proclamations. Some of their stories were backed by or reprinted from other news outlets. Some articles included direct quotations from the ministers and its followers, etc. They were required to observe the British laws regarding their newspaper content or they risked being sued.
Although the new movement 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 followers have ever heard the name of the man who founded their church. This book was written to remedy this deficiency of public information.
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
Go to Top of Page