Spiritualism in Northern Ireland
The history of Spiritualism in Northern Ireland is a fascinating journey marked by a combination of religious, cultural, and social influences. Explore the key milestones and prominent figures that shaped the development of Spiritualism in Northern Ireland, providing a glimpse into the unique blend of spirituality that continues to be a significant aspect of the region's religious landscape.
The History of Spiritualism in Northern Ireland
Spiritualism in Ireland has it roots from 1912 when local spiritualists began to meet on the Custom House steps in Belfast. At the time, the steps had a reputation of being the 'Speakers Corner' of Belfast. Some of the early pioneers of the Belfast Spiritualist movement included Mr Morrison, Mr Moore, Mr McCormick and Mr Skelton who met there regularly to debate the many aspects of Spiritualism.
As the interest in Spiritualism grew, the movement moved into to a rented room in Victoria Street, Belfast. The premises provided a venue where students could study Spiritualism and develop psychic phenomena. As the interest in Spiritualism continued to increase, other groups were formed. However in the interests of the movement, the existing groups merged to form the Belfast Spiritualist Alliance. The Alliance held regular Sunday meetings and mid-week activities in a room on the top floor of 39 High Street. As larger premises continued to be needed, the Alliance then moved to premises in Chichester Street and then later to the Central Hall in Rosemary Street.
Between the first and second world wars, many famous mediums were invited to Belfast by the Alliance. Unfortunately, the premises at Rosemary Street were destroyed in the Easter Monday air raid of 1941. The Alliance accepted an invitation from another Spiritualist group to join with them in their premises at 45 May Street. This other established group was functioning well under the leadership of a truly excellent medium known as Sarah Graham.
Around this time, committee meetings were also being held in 'Thompson's Restaurant' and the proprietor, Mr Thompson, was also the founder member of the 'Belfast Electronic Spirit Communication Society'. Later, under the leadership of a man named Joseph Curphy, the Alliance moved again to St. Georges Hall in High Street. Other prominent members were Gladys Gamble and her husband David, a person named Atkinson and Violet Winters. There was a strong team of local workers and it was during this time, that the Alliance had a Lyceum with around 50 children attending each Sunday Service.
n 1953 during the Queens visit to Belfast, the Alliance seized an opportunity to raise funds by renting out their windows that overlooked High Street. The funds raised went towards their own building fund. While the premises at High Street had served them very well, Spiritualist activities often had to compete with the excessive noise from the drama group who met in the room above. Under the leadership of Harry Ryding, the Alliance later moved to more pleasant and larger accommodation at 6 Dublin Road, Belfast. The hall was named the 'Curphy Hall' in honour of their former Church President who had passed to spirit in 1956. On the 12th June 1963, Harry Ryding was ordained a Minister of the Spiritualists' National Union. This was a great honour for local Spiritualists as he was the first person to be ordained in Ireland.
The Spiritualist movement in Belfast continued to grow stronger with a strong and active membership with accomplished workers such as Bob and Cicely Moore. The Alliance was destined to be on the move again when one of their enthusiastic members, Mrs Margaret McRoberts saw a small, insignificant advert about a building for sale in Malone Avenue. This was the beginning of our present Belfast Spiritualist Church.
On Sunday 4th May 1969 'Belfast Church of Psychic Science' opened its doors for the first service. The building had been purchased using local funds and a £7000 loan from the SNU building fund. With a great deal of voluntary labour the building was substantially refurbished, the final work party not finishing until around midnight on Saturday - the day before opening.
Two weeks later on the 14th May, Mr Charles Quastel, President of the Spiritualists' National Union officiated at a dedication service. Others present were internationally renowned Spiritualists, Albert Best and Jessie Nason. A few months later Spiritualism in Northern Ireland was recognised by the General Registrar's Office when Belfast Spiritualist Church was nominated as a place of worship and a place in which marriages could be solemnised. The building was then bought from local funds and a £7000 loan from the SNU Building Fund.
Since 1969, our Church has gone from strength to strength and for many years has had its own Church Officiants who officiate at marriage, funeral and naming services.
At the Annual General Meeting on 28th February 1976 the name of our Church was changed to its present form, Belfast Spiritualist Church.
In 1979 a self contained apartment was added to the side of the church building to provide accommodation for visiting mediums. However, disaster nearly struck in 1982 when a fire broke out in the kitchen. Luckily it was extinguished before any major damage could be caused. Thanks to an alert neighbour who raised the alarm.
In 1992 the Church organised a coach trip to Dublin to visit a fellow Spiritualist group. The visit was described as an enjoyable evening, however the Belfast members were surprised to hear of the issues that affected Spiritualists in the Republic of Ireland. Due to legislation at the time, they were unable to say prayers or sing hymns during their services. Thankfully, times have moved on.
Spiritualism continues to grow in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are many, many smaller groups and individuals who in the background, devote their time, commitment and hard work to our shared cause.