AS THE boat steamed up the Belfast Lough, a sea inlet, the little cluster of passengers standing on deck caught sight of green hills bathed in early morning light. It was May 1910. For one man in their midst, Charles T. Russell, this was the fifth trip to Ireland. Looming before Brother Russell were two massive ocean liners under construction, the ill-fated Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. * Beyond the shipyard, a dozen Bible Students stood on the quay, awaiting his arrival.
Some 20 years earlier, seeking the best way to spread the good news worldwide, Brother Russell had decided to make a series of tours outside of America. His first tour started with Ireland, in July 1891. Aboard the City of Chicago, he viewed the sunset over the approaching coastline at Queenstown and may well have remembered his parents’ description of their homeland. As Brother Russell and his traveling companions passed through tidy towns and beautiful countryside, they realized that here was a field “ready and waiting to be harvested.”
Brother Russell visited Ireland seven times in all. The interest stirred on the first trip evidently led to hundreds, sometimes thousands, turning out to hear him speak on later visits. By his second trip, in May 1903, public meetings in Belfast and Dublin were being advertised in local newspapers. Russell recounted that the “audiences were very attentive” to the subject “The Oath-Bound Promise” about Abraham’s faith and the future blessings for mankind.
Because of the considerable interest found there, Ireland was also included in Russell’s third European trip. Five brothers greeted him as he stepped onto the dock at Belfast one April morning in 1908. The advertised public talk, “The Overthrow of Satan’s Empire,” drew an “intelligent audience of about 300” later that evening. One objector in their midst was swiftly handled by skillful use of the Scriptures. In Dublin a more determined opposer—Mr. O’Connor, secretary of the YMCA—attempted to turn the audience of more than 1,000 against the Bible Students. What happened?
Let us go back in time and reconstruct in our minds what could well have happened at that event. A man interested in finding Bible truth decides to attend a public talk advertised in The Irish Times. He barely manages to find a seat in the packed auditorium. The man pays rapt attention to the white-haired, bearded speaker wearing a long black coat. As the speaker delivers his lecture, he moves across the platform, gesturing freely, methodically building one scripture on another and opening up the man’s ears of understanding to Bible truths. Even without the use of sound equipment, the speaker’s voice carries to every part of the hall, holding the audience’s attention for one and a half hours. Then, in a question-and-answer session, he is challenged by O’Connor and friends but ably defends the message with the Bible. The audience applaud their approval. When the dust settles, the interested man approaches the brothers to learn more. According to eyewitness accounts, many learned the truth in this way.
Leaving New York in May 1909 on the Mauretania for his fourth visit, Brother Russell took along a stenographer, Brother Huntsinger, so that the time traveling across the ocean could be used to dictate Watch Tower articles. Brother Russell’s public talk in Belfast drew 450 locals, about 100 of whom had to stand because of a lack of room.
The fifth trip, mentioned at the outset, followed the same pattern. After the public talk in Dublin, a renowned theologian brought along by O’Connor received Scriptural answers to his questions, much to the audience’s enjoyment. On the next day, the travelers caught the fast mail boat to Liverpool and boarded the famed Lusitania for New York. *
Advertised public talks were also featured during Brother Russell’s sixth and seventh trips, in 1911. In the spring, 20 Bible Students in Belfast hosted 2,000, who heard the talk “Hereafter.” O’Connor showed up in Dublin with yet another minister asking questions, but the audience applauded the Scriptural replies. Autumn of the same year saw other towns visited, with good attendances. O’Connor plus 100 rowdies attempted to disrupt the Dublin meeting once more, but the audience enthusiastically supported the speaker.
Although Brother Russell took the lead in presenting public talks at that time, he recognized that “no man is indispensable,” since “this is not man’s work; it’s God’s work.” Advertised public talks—forerunner of the Public Meeting—provided excellent opportunities to present Scriptural truths. The result? Public talks helped spread the good news, and congregations sprang up in numerous cities throughout Ireland.—From our archives in Britain.