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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.

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The History of Spiritualism in Northern Ireland.

The origins of Spiritualism in Ireland trace back to 1912, when local Spiritualists gathered on the steps of the Custom House in Belfast, colloquially known as the 'Speakers Corner' of the city. Among the early leaders of the Belfast Spiritualist movement were individuals like Mr. Morrison, Mr. Moore, Mr. McCormick, and Mr. Skelton, who convened regularly to discuss the various facets of Spiritualism.

As interest in Spiritualism grew, the movement transitioned to a rented room in Victoria Street in Belfast. This location provided a venue where students could study Spiritualism and explore psychic phenomena. As the interest in Spiritualism continued to increase, additional groups began to form throughout the city. Eventually, these groups amalgamated 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 the numbers of attendees increased, larger premises were needed and the Alliance moved to Chichester Street, and then later to the Central Hall in Rosemary Street.

Between the World Wars, the Alliance hosted many famous mediums in Belfast. However, during the Second World War, the premises in Rosemary Street were tragically destroyed during an air raid in 1941. Subsequently, the Alliance accepted an invitation to join with another Spiritualist group led by the esteemed medium Sarah Graham, and they relocated to 45 May Street.

During this period, committee meetings convened at 'Thompson's Restaurant'. The proprietor, Mr. Thompson, was also a founding member of the 'Belfast Electronic Spirit Communication Society,' Later under the guidance of Joseph Curphy, the Alliance moved again, this time to St. Georges Hall in High Street. Notable members now included Gladys Gamble, her husband David, Violet Winters, and a person named Atkinson. The Alliance thrived, even establishing a Lyceum with around 50 children attending each Sunday Service.

In 1953, during Queen's visit to Belfast, the Alliance capitalised on the opportunity to raise funds by renting out their windows overlooking High Street. The acquired funds contributed to their building fund. Despite the success at High Street, Spiritualist activities often contended with noise from a drama group above. Under Harry Ryding's leadership, the Alliance relocated to more spacious quarters at 6 Dublin Road. The hall was named the ‘Curphy Hall’ in honour of their former Church President what passed to spirit in 1956. Harry Ryding (Church President) would later be ordained as a Minister of the Spiritualists’ National Union in 1963. This was a great honour for local Spiritualists, as Harry was the first Spiritualist to be ordained in Northern Ireland. Ryding's ordination as a Minister of the Spiritualists' National Union in 1963 marked a significant milestone for Irish Spiritualism. It was recorded how when Harry Ryding delivered an address, he was influenced by the spirit world to speak in rhyme. 

The Belfast Spiritualist movement in Northern Ireland continued to thrive with a strong and active membership and with notable workers like 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 hall/building for sale in Malone Avenue. The building was purchased with local funds and a £7000 loan from the SNU Building Fund. With a great deal of voluntary labour, the building was substantially refurbished, with volunteers working right up to near midnight on the Saturday before opening.

 

On Sunday 4th May 1969, Belfast Spiritualist Church first opened its doors for Sunday Service. Two weeks later, on 14th May, Mr. Charles Quastel, President of the Spiritualists' National Union, officiated at a dedication service. Others present were internationally renowned Spiritualists, Albert Best, Irene Leadham, Wesley Anderson, Mary Duffy and Jessie Nason. Another medium, Hamilton Farmer had a slot on the radio about life after death. A few months later Spiritualism in Northern Ireland was further recognised when the General Registrar’s Office nominated Belfast Spiritualist Church as a place of worship and a place where marriages could be solemnised. Since its inception in 1969, the church has thrived, and for many years has had its own Church and SNU Officiants for marriages, funerals, and naming services. Activities within the church included spiritual healing on Monday and Thursday evenings. Divine Services were held on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Jimmy Clarke was the organist and other notable volunteers at the time were Irene Leadham, Maud Leacock, Isobel Ewing, Ron Simms, George Reid, Dorothy Hill and Kay Wheeler. Friday Development Circle was taken by Maud Leacock and Ron Simms.

Around 1976, the church formally adopted its current name, Belfast Spiritualist Church. It had been changed for a while to ‘The Church for Psychic Science.’ Further building work in 1979 added a self-contained apartment for visiting Spiritualists. Disaster nearly struck in 1982 when a fire broke out in a kitchen, but thanks to a local name it was quickly extinguished before causing any major damage. 

Since 1979, Presidents of the Church have included George Reid (1979-1984), Edmund McGall (1985), J Prentice (1986-1991), Ann Semple (1992-1994), W Semple (1994-1997), Minister Marie Pead (1997-2006), Raymond McCusker (2006-2010), Michelle Nichols (2010-2013), Patricia James (2013-2021), and Nichola Corner (2021-2022).

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 flourish in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thanks to the dedication and hard work of numerous groups and individuals committed to the cause.

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