Skibbereen had a large and active Methodist community from early in the 1800s. However, that community dwindled substantially in the latter decades of the twentieth century.
John Bredin, a Methodist Preacher stationed in Cork City, is credited with bringing Methodism to Skibbereen. In 1779 he literally rode into town and announced that he intended to hold a service.
The early evangelists of the Established Church were well received and had good congregations in Skibbereen, but the results of preaching were poor. Twenty years after the first service there were only forty-eight members in a district that covered much of West Cork. In 1798 it was decided that it was necessary to have a resident preacher in the Skibbereen area and the man appointed was John Hamilton. The following year he was joined by Henry Deery and between them they firmly established Methodism in Skibbereen, Ballydehob, Bantry, Lissacha and Schull.
In the early years meetings were held at various location around Skibbereen and it was 1802 before the first Methodist chapel was built. We don’t know for sure where that building was but it may have been along the quay, behind Bridge Street.
In 1803 a church on Captain Evans’ land in Aughadown was built, and the following year a church was opened in Bantry. Chapels were built in Ballydehob and Schull about 1825, and by 1830 Durrus and Lissacaha had chapels also.
The original church in Aughadown fell into disuse in the 1860s and a new church opened on 28 October 1877 on a different site. The original chapel in Ballydehob was replaced by a new one in 1891. The chapel in Schull was taken down in 1882 and a new one built on the same site.
In 1816 there was a split in Methodism and while most of the community in Skibbereen followed the rulings of Conference, a community of the Society of Primitive Wesleyan Methodists was formed.
In the early 1820s two Methodist churches were built in Skibbereen town and for a number of years we had the unusual situation in a small rural West Cork town of having two Methodist Churches, each with its own Minister.
In 1821 a church was built, and we think that was on the site in Bridge Street where a bigger church was built in 1833. That is now the site of the Church Restaurant.
A second Methodist Church was built in North Street, down the porch behind what is now Romie O’Donovan’s Funeral Home. The building later became the garage owned by W.G. Wood.
In 1832 there was a reconciliation between the two Methodist communities and a new church was built in Skibbereen to accommodate the now significant congregation. This new church replaced the one on Bridge Street.
Except for some alterations made in 1860 and a more extensive modification in 1897, that church remained much the same right up to 2001.
In the latter decades of the twentieth century the Methodist community in the Skibbereen area had declined considerably. A decision was taken in 2001 to relocate the community to a more suitable location for their needs for the twenty-first century.
The beautiful Church building on Bridge Street, which had served the Methodist Community so well for some 168 years was offered for sale.
One of the great pleasures of visiting venerable old buildings like the Methodist church, apart from the obvious, is to sense the old-world atmosphere. Sitting in the stillness in that venerable old building one could not help but feel a sense of calmness and serenity in complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the street outside.
A number of dedications to local people helped to give the place a deep sense of history. Unfortunately, the stories of most of those memorialised on the walls of the church are lost to the people of Skibbereen now – people and families of a different time.
The Methodist church was purchased by the Linehan family and, having extensively renovated the interior, it opened in 2003 as a sister restaurant to Currans of Cork.
The restoration work was meticulously carried out and the original stained glass windows and the beautiful half-barrel ceiling were retained.
Having run the restaurant for two years the Linehan family sold the business to Regina Daly.
On the evening of 9 April 2006 the Church Restaurant was destroyed by fire. In what was the worst fire ever in the town of Skibbereen, the beautiful old building was completely gutted, and substantial damage was caused to a number of adjoining buildings, including the premises of Jerry and Claire Kennelly’s hardware shop and the Masonic Hall.
It was tragic to see such a beautiful old building with such a history reduced to a burned-out shell.
To the eternal credit of owner Regina Daly, she undertook to rebuild the Church Restaurant and her business. And what a job Regina did!
The Church was rebuilt as near as was possible to the original design and the result was magnificent. While some of the original features were destroyed for ever, the rise almost Phoenix-like of the new Church Restaurant was an outstanding achievement.
Meanwhile, the Methodist community in Skibbereen acquired a new premises at Mill Road, Skibbereen where they hold there weekly Sunday service at 11.30am.