Brother Draper is approaching his ninety-seventh birthday and has written this account of how God worked in Skibbereen.
My earliest recollection of an assembly in Skibbereen is around the years 1917 to 1919 when I was a small boy. My mother dealt in the drapery shop of a Mr Leenane in Main Street whom she described as "a very nice man". I believe he enclosed tracts in the parcels that left his shop. I now know that Mr Leenane was an "exclusive" brother and that a little company of these believers, numbering less than ten, broke bread in the home of one named Mr Skuce, just two doors away from my present home at 16 Bridge Street. Eventually Mr Skuce and his family emigrated to Canada, and, Mr Leenane and most of the remaining saints in fellowship being old, the assembly died out in the early 1920s.
Around this time (1920) a Mr Wright visited Skibbereen. A Miss Copithorne, who attended some "exclusive" meetings earlier, had a large house named "Riverside" just behind the present Gospel Hall in Townshend Street, and opened it, like Lydia of old, for some meetings. Miss Copithorne, who lived with her aunt, was a Methodist Christian but, because of the influence of the "exclusives", Mr Wright was invited to commence a breaking of bread in the Copithorne home on "non-exclusive" lines. Although Miss Copithorne was a Methodist "she attended to the things spoken" by Mr Wright, was baptised, and continued according to Acts 2.42.
I am not sure of the success of the meetings or how many got saved. There must have been a few in order to sustain a breaking of bread, as Mr Wright did not stay permanently, but he did go and come, as did other preachers for the next few years. On one of Mr Wrights visits, he held a series of gospel meetings in the Masonic Hall at Hardyke Street. Quite a number attended those meetings and some were definitely saved.
At this time I realised there was something "strange" going on. A family by the name of Foote, with whom my parents were very friendly, ceased attending the Church of Ireland, of which they were members. I remember how sad I was on hearing that our friends had got these strange ideas and were "gone astray in the head".
During the troubles in Ireland in the 1920s the Footes left the country to reside in England and I think the little assembly didnt grow much. In the mid 1920s a man named John Bradford from Dalkey came with a caravan. He parked it in Miss Copithornes grounds and held gospel meetings. This man had some knowledge of the building trade. He stayed on for some time and married Miss Copithorne. He built a little Gospel Hall and continued to hold meetings in the new hall. He moved around the country a good deal in his caravan and held gospel meetings in isolated places. Many people were saved and he suffered quite a lot of persecution. However, this did not add to the little assembly. Those saved lived a distance away and continued attending their churches, but they did live to prove that they were genuinely saved.
Mr Bradford built several houses in Skibbereen. He was the first in the district to build houses of massed concrete with 9" walls and everybody said they wouldnt last one winter and a person would need life insurance to dwell in them. The critics, however, are all dead and the houses are still standing. However, Mr Bradfords interest in the building of houses didnt help him spiritually and his zeal for gospel preaching was slowing down as the houses were going up! Were it not for Mrs Bradfords zeal in the gospel at this stage, there would have been little activity in that direction. In August, 1928 two preachers from Greystones, Co Wicklow came to hold some tent meetings in Skibbereen. The tent was thought to have more appeal than the Gospel Hall. They were encouraged and entertained by Mrs Bradford. The tent was pitched in a field adjacent to the Methodist Manse. There was a very evangelical Methodist minister in Skibbereen who granted permission.
At this time I came into the scene. I lived in the country, and a Methodist neighbour asked me if I would go to a meeting in the tent one Sunday evening. I had never been to a gospel meeting nor did I know what the word "saved" meant. I only knew the teaching of the Church of Ireland and there wasnt a mention of the gospel or salvation in that Church. I was sixteen years of age and getting an appetite for the things of the world. I agreed to go to the tent meeting with my neighbour and there, for the first time, I heard the gospel. I did not need to be told I was a sinner. I was quite aware of that. My trouble was to know how to get rid of my sin and be fit for heaven, because I knew I was sinful and that sinners wouldnt get to heaven. Of course I was taught that the way was by good works and church rules. In that tent meeting I heard how I could get forgiveness of sins and be sure of heaven by faith in Christ alone, and, like Wesley, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I knew I did trust Christ alone for salvation on that Sunday evening, while foul language was being shouted outside the tent and stones were coming through the canvas. My neighbour did not ask me to go again, so for a couple of years I heard no more gospel because I lived out in the country, and had no transport or no connection with anything except the Church of Ireland.
One evening at a function in the Church hall I met a young man who worked in a shop in Skibbereen. We got talking and the conversation turned to spiritual things. The experience I had at the tent meeting was revived within me. This young man invited me to the little meeting at the Gospel Hall. I did so and met Mrs Bradford and about four or five others for the first time. I felt at home and after that I needed nobody to invite me; I came each week and enjoyed the fellowship. One evening I said to Mrs Bradford, "I have been reading in the Word, and discovered that all who believed were baptised. Do you baptise those who are saved?". She replied, "Have you seen baptism for yourself? Praise the Lord; we will arrange your baptism next week". I was baptised and soon found my way to the breaking of bread. I ceased my Church of Ireland membership and continued with the little assembly.
Eventually the Bradfords died and I and two other young men were left. One married outside the fellowship and the other got ill and left Skibbereen. In 1938 I married one of the sisters, Sophie Shannon, and for seven years afterwards we were left all alone. In 1944/5 after an illness, I was exercised and we got two evangelists from Dublin to come for six weeks meetings. There were fifty packed into the little Gospel Hall and a few professed salvation, the very first being our dear brother Sam Sweetnam.
A couple of years after the special meetings another young brother named Harold Senior from Merrion Hall, Dublin heard of the little company at Skibbereen and decided to spend his annual holiday in the area. This brother was an active Christian in assembly fellowship and he willingly agreed to hold a series of meetings in the Gospel Hall. He very wisely preached a sound gospel and held an after meeting for everyone who wanted to hear Scripture teaching on the principles of believers baptism, breaking of bread, and assembly fellowship. Quite a number stayed behind to hear and learn. Several got saved, baptised, and began to meet with the few of us already in fellowship.
Our brother Senior held meetings in the hall for several years in succession while on holiday in the area and it was through the goodness of God and the exercise of our brother that the assembly grew to the size of needing a new hall. In 1949 we built a new Gospel Hall as our numbers had then grown to thirty-six.
Since those days we have also had other brethren who have visited us, among whom were Jack Hunter, A M S Gooding, Robert McPheat, Jim Hutchinson, and Jim Allen who have preached the gospel and taught the Word and, under the good hand of God, have helped the growth of the assembly. Gilbert Stewart and Sam Patterson also have had many series of gospel meetings in the hall and in the surrounding area in portable halls and tents. Presently there are twenty-five in the assembly, and we now have the third generation in fellowship.
As we look back we praise the Lord for His sustaining hand in times of weakness and disappointments. We trust Him to keep the testimony clean and to His glory until He calls us home or returns for His Bride.