Baptists in Ireland

Baptist's have been in Ireland since the early 1600s. The forerunner of the present Grosvenor Road Church, Dublin and the Cork and Waterford churches were all in existence by 1650. Cork traces its roots back to 1640, Grosvenor Road to 1642 and Waterford to 1650. It is uncertain whether those churches were formed by or simply strengthened by soldiers from New Model Army garrisoned in these towns. However it is certain that these churches existed and continued in existence until today.

On a wider level the history of Baptist witness in Ireland throughout the remainder of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not one of glowing health and unstoppable progress. Indeed the Baptist cause is described as having "lingered rather than lived". Of the eleven churches which formed the Irish Baptist Association in the eighteenth century only five remained by 1814 when the Baptist Irish Society was formed.

However in the first half of the nineteenth century Baptist churches were founded at the rate of one per year. County Tyrone in particular experienced remarkable growth with eleven churches founded in the space of forty-five years. In Northern Ireland the 1859 Revival and its outflow greatly strengthened. Many new workers were enlisted to advance the work.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Baptist work in Ireland came under the management of the churches here with the formation of the Baptist Union of Ireland in 1895. Over the next ten years membership doubled reaching 3,000. In 1887 there were 22 churches in the Union. By 1927 this figure had risen to 52. At that point growth slowed. In 1951 there were 61 churches with 4,741. Over the next fifty years the number increased to 111 churches with a membership of 8,000. In the period 1950 to 1990 the major growth was in Northern Ireland with some 38 churches joining the Union. At this time only one church was formed per decade in the Republic of Ireland. However this situation altered dramatically in the 1990s. 5 new churches in the Republic joined the Union but only three in Northern Ireland. Indeed by the early years of the C21st it is in the Republic that church planting is moving ahead. Some 5 locations are presently in train.

Growth in Northern Ireland slowed and in fact in many areas decline was in evidence by the end of the century, particularly in the urban areas of Belfast.

In 1999 the Baptist Union decided to return to its historic name of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland. This was done to emphasis that the Association is not a denominational structure but rather is a group of autonomous churches of the Baptist faith and order in Ireland which have agreed to work together.