Initially Methodist sermons were preached outdoors or in rented accommodation like the town assembly room or upper market house or in the Quaker meeting house in Bandon. The society established in Bandon then built a chapel of their own, completed in 1758, on a site now occupied by the Bridewell, on Kilbrogan hill. This building was referred to as a chapel or a preaching house, rather than a church. John Wesley described it as “a very neat and lightsome building.” In time a gallery was added, one corner of which was cordoned off as a preacher’s bedroom. This could be removed if the congregation was large. Methodism at the time had travelling itinerant clergy, while lay preachers kept the society going in between clergy visits.
When this proved too small a chapel twice or three times as large was built, opposite the steps up to St. Brogan’s Church of Ireland church, on North main Street. This 1789 building had two doorways, one for women and one for men. It had the traditional layout with a gallery around three sides and the pulpit against the fourth wall. A preacher’s residence was built behind the church facing the river, and even had a good-sized garden! The opening sermon was preached by John Wesley himself in 1789 on his last tour in Ireland. There was a side door in Water Lane, also known as preaching house lane, which led down to the river. Nothing remains of these buildings but the view!
1816 was a year of division in the Methodist community. Methodist had always been encouraged to go to their regular Anglican church for communion and attend the Methodist society in addition. Increasingly Methodists wanted to have communion at their own Methodist services but apart from John and Charles Wesley and Adam Averell, who were also Anglican clergy, they had no one officially qualified to administer the sacraments. When the Methodist Conference censured those who did anyway, a split occurred. From 1818 there were both the Wesleyan Methodist Connection and the new Primitive Wesleyan Connection in Bandon. The later body built their chapel in 1824, on Cavandish Quay. It is derelict today but retains the typical, distinctive layout. It’s near the bottom of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church steps. Both societies went from strength to strength in Bandon, both continuing to spread the Wesleyan principles through public preaching and pamphlet distribution. These two bodies were reunited in 1878.
By 1821 the North Main Street premises had become too small for the Wesleyan Methodists and the foundation stone for the current Methodist building was laid on April 12th, 1821 by Rev. Thomas Waugh. The opening service was 28th June 1822 and Rev. Samuel Wood preached. We will soon be celebrating the 200th anniversary of these occasions!
1823 saw the building of Watergate Hall by Henry Cornwall as a day school and Sunday school for the Methodist Church in Bandon. On his death this was bequeathed to the church. This initiative saw 180 attending the Sunday school, 120 boys and girls were also enrolled in the day school with 60 in the infant school on the premises. It was also used for a time as a church hall and later as a day care centre for the Schizophrenic Association of Ireland. In 1989 the building was sold due to its poor condition and less than ideal situation for Church Hall purposes.
In the heart of the countryside, Scarriff Methodist Church some miles north of Bandon was built 1871 – 1872 and became part of the Bandon Connection in 1892. With the advent of motor car transport to church in Bandon church was easier and it was felt that Scarriff Church had served its purpose. It was closed and sold in 1974, to become a private dwelling.
Manses: The first preachers’ accommodation consisted of a partitioned off bedroom in the gallery of the first 1758 Methodist Chapel. The accommodation improved dramatically with a house at the disposal of the minister behind the 1789 chapel. When the new church in Bridge Street was built a house further up the street with a vacant plot behind it was also purchased. This repaired house and the newly built house on the vacant plot provided manses up until 1839. Rev. Waugh was responsible for building a house adjacent to the school/hall in Watergate Street which was used as a manse till 1900. The minister then lived in rented accommodation on Kilbrogan Hill until the current manse “Westbourne” was completed in Coolfadda on the Dunmanway Road in 1903.