Posts Tagged ‘co. armagh’

Remembering Harold Irwin, Recently Called Home – & His Lovely Old Cottage Prayer Meeting

February 10, 2020

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Nestling in the lovely emerald countryside of the Northern Irish countryside, near Richhill in County Armagh, lies a little old cottage beside the former home of the Irwin family. For some reason, I often feel nostalgic about old times and memories on a windy night and this weekend past was no exception. I have lovely memories of sitting in this little cosy cottage which Harold and his wife Evelyn provided for use as a mid-week prayer meeting. Harold piled the logs on the fire and before long everyone would feel the warmth of the little room in more ways than one! There would be a short devotional and then rousing singing of the old hymns, followed by sincere prayer. Those who attended loved this time together, where they felt the true fellowship of fellow believers.
Sadly, Harold and his wife have been suffering from ill health for a number of years and just recently, in his 98th year, Harold fell into a peaceful sleep one night, only to waken the next morning, as his daughter put it, “at home in heaven.” “At Home in Heaven” where my mum and dad (Jack and Ella Hutchinson) and others from those days are rejoicing in the glory of the Lord’s Presence. What a wonderful way to waken up!
We travelled to Harold’s funeral in Richhill last week, where the little church hall was packed to capacity. Meeting old acquaintances that I hadn’t seen in a while was emotionally daunting and I felt moved by the hymns, which touched on some of the experiences in my own life of late. Even before the service started, many of Harold’s favourite old hymns were sung and I felt myself shedding tears as I remembered loved ones who had once attended the little prayer meeting.
Strangely, the old hymn “At Home in Heaven,” had been going through my mind for some time prior to Harold’s death. I discovered the hymn, written as a poem in an antiquarian book “Christian Lyrics Illustrated,” published well over 100 years ago. What I like about this old book, is that it shows many of the hymns printed in full, in their original wording. I think it is terrible when old hymns (no longer under copyright) have been “mutilated,” both in regard to their lyrics and the original music which was set to them. Worse still, is the fact that some modern musicians will claim that they have written those hymns and this is believed by many in today’s generation. Perhaps it would be a good idea for people to research the words and music of these hymns and “songs,” before assuming anything.
“At Home in Heaven,” was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854) who was born in Scotland but spent some years in Ballymena, Northern Ireland and in England. At best, most hymn books show 8 verses of the hymn but there are in fact 22 verses in its original form, as a poem!
Harold loved poetry, particularly of a spiritual nature. The above old photograph of the cottage prayer meeting setting was taken back in 2008, one night just before the prayer meeting, when I was visiting from my former home. As Christians may we never neglect the place of prayer, whatever the setting, until that day when we too are “Forever with the Lord.”
“At Home in Heaven.”
“For ever with the Lord!
Amen; so let it be;
Life from the dead is in that word,
‘Tis immortality.”
Link to this hymn: https://youtu.be/FBRge7RC95M

 

Memories of “Sleepy Valley Mission Hall” – & Reflections on my Unchanging Saviour

April 9, 2011

After Mr. Ralph Loney, a dear friend of my parents recently passed away, I recalled a little article for a local newspaper, the Ulster Gazette, which I had written around 8 years ago about Sleepy Valley Mission Hall, with which he was associated…

Sleepy Valley“, as it was aptly named in bygone days, can be accessed from the main Armagh/Portadown Road or from the village of Richhill. These days, that once verdant valley, is a favourite location for new housing developments. My early memories of “Sleepy Valley” were not so much of its peaceful green fields, or of the later ‘concrete spread’, the extension of an ever-growing village – but of a little portable hall in the corner of a vast field. As a child I attended Sunday afternoon meetings there, and later, as an adult, Sunday evening meetings and that special “Day of Prayer”, held annually around Christmas and the New Year.

The little hall was not affiliated to any church, which in these days of denominationalism, is a refreshing concept. Mr. Samuel Hewitt, who once lived in Richhill castle, was responsible for the erection of the hall in the field belonging to Mr. Ralph Loney – who was to lead the Sunday evening meetings there for many years, and whose wife Maureen played the organ.  Indeed, the hall had been originally erected for the purpose of one mission. However, it stood throughout the decades in a troubled province, and who knows what encouraging influence, or how many lives were changed for eternity by the words spoken; the ministry in song, and the sincere prayer which arose within its humble walls?

Until just last year it had been in use for a Tuesday evening Bible Study and Prayer Meeting for a handful of stalwarts, including the Woodhouse family, Mr. Jack Hutchinson and Mr. Harold Irwin.  I had the privilege of being present at one of the last few meetings. Then, on Tuesday, 11th March 2003, the prayer meeting was held in Sleepy Valley for what was to be the very last time. The following week the hall could not be accessed, for that vast green field was to be the site for another new housing development.

On a recent visit to my native environs, I noticed that the little hall had gone, and the houses had been built. Consequently, I felt that I should write about Sleepy Valley Hall at this time, paying tribute to what it stood for, and never forgetting all those who ever crossed its threshold over the years – many of whom have “gone home”. In a changing world, shattered by terrorism and cankered by materialism, prayer is as vital as ever, and I have no doubt that it continues in the hearts of the afore-mentioned, as they join with others in that wonderful little cottage, belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Irwin.

Nowadays, in another time, another place, my memories often return to the pictures which lined either side of Sleepy Valley hall, and which made a strong and lasting impression on my young life. I recall one of Jesus knocking on a door … It is surely fitting that I should close with His precious words: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3v20,21).

Just today, as I thought on Sleepy Valley and all the familiar faces of those who sat in it over the years, my thoughts also dwelt on the words of Hebrews 13v8… “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Old familiar faces have left this scene of time; places of sincere worship and prayer are on the decrease… but my Saviour never changes! In this the Day of Grace, He still stands knocking on the doors of the hearts of mankind.

My prayer is that all who read would open the doors of their hearts to this loving Saviour, who is an unchanging Rock and Fortress throughout the changing scenes of time and who says to them: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:” (Matthew 7v13) May those who know Him declare with the hymnist Henry Francis Lyte …

 “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day:

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away,

Change and decay in all around I see:

O thou who changest not, abide with me!”

Link to the hymn “Abide with me:” http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/a/b/abidewme.htm