Seeing and Believing, 1900–1965



‘Service in the church on Derryvad hill was tiresome, dull, comfortless, in those terribly straight-backed pews’, Sean Bullock remembered in his fictionalised autobiography of life in rural Fermanagh in the late nineteenth century.2 ‘Very dreary’, was Lady Alice Howard’s entry in her diary after a service in 1882; ‘Such a dull old parson and the church nearly empty.’3 A novelist took up the theme: ‘… a dismal, barn-like building so cold and damp that even in summertime it struck a chill through one. The floor is ill-paved, the plaster peeling off the walls, the cushions moth-eaten.’4 Harold Nicolson had a different, but equally unspiritual, recollection of services in the 1890s when as a child he stayed with his kinsman, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava. The huge party from the big house went to church in a procession of assorted vehicles carrying the marquess, the family, and the servants, and then made an ‘entry into Bangor Church [which] had about it the solemnity of a State procession’.5 Many years later, Nicholas Mansergh attended a service in St Anne’s Cathedral, which ‘is hideous, lacks proportion, style and beauty’, as he noted in his diary, adding that he was ‘bored to extinction’ by the sermon.6 And if church services were seen in this unspiritual and rather joyless light, so too was the Protestant Sunday. It was with modified rapture that the Presbyterian missionary, Matthew McCaul, remembered his boyhood Sundays in Londonderry in the 1890s.


Twentieth Century Communion Table Memorial Window Catholic Priest Protestant Church 
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© Alan J. Megahey 2000

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