Today’s explorations began initially with four old photographs, recently acquired by Selwyn Johnston for Enniskillen’s Headhunters Railway Museum.

Each photo is captioned ‘Crocknacrieve’ and dated 1913, so

they were taken at the same time and place, evidently at an important event.

Three are group-pictures of period-dressed men and women.

The fourth shows eight men and one woman in aprons - undoubtedly the event’s caterers.

Crocknacrieve was, and still is, a handsome country house near Ballinamallard.

Enniskillen and Ballinamallard railway stations must have experienced an unusual influx of people from all around the world when the photos were taken because Ballinamallard was the centre of a revivalist religious movement known as the Cooneyites and a thousand people flocked there each summer to an annual convention.

Many were local, or from the rest of Ireland or the UK, “but various nationalities are represented at the Convention,” the Impartial Reporter recounted on 10 July 1913 “such as German, Dutch, American, Australian etc”

The convention, including a programme of evangelical meetings, lasted for around a month.

Crocknacrieve, owned then by Mr John West, was the main Cooneyite venue in Ireland.

The first convention in 1907 was held in the gatehouse but the following year Mr West opened the main house to visitors.

Marquees were erected in the grounds and there was overflow accommodation at nearby Mullaghmeen.

In the early 1900s John West invited followers of the movement started by William Irvine and Edward Cooney (also known as the ‘Go Preachers’ or ‘Dippers’) to his home for their annual convention.

The event was based on the Keswick convention and continued from 1907 to 1913.

(The Keswick gathering was an annual meeting of evangelical Christians in Keswick, Cumbria, which began with 400 attendees in 1875 and grew quickly into a major event on the evangelical calendar.)

Each of the early Crocknacrieve conventions lasted four weeks with three two-hour meetings held each day and had several thousand attendees at its peak.

The members (or pilgrims) were generally accommodated on site which was no mean feat for the organisers.

Each convention ended with baptism in the Ballinamallard River.

After the 1913 event several smaller conventions replaced the single large convention and they ceased at Crocknacrieve in 1921 when Mr West sold the property.

The movement had originated in Scotland but it was Fermanagh-man Edward Cooney who became the leading light and thus his adherents were known as Cooneyites though they didn’t like the terminology.

The pilgrims kept themselves to themselves but, in the years before WWI, their presence each summer in and around Ballinamallard must have had a considerable impact, economically as well as socially and spiritually.

They believed in baptism by total immersion and local people used to flock to 'Cooney's Hole' in the Ballinamallard River to watch the baptisms taking place.

One of Selwyn’s photographs is of men and one woman in aprons at Crocknacrieve; The Impartial Reporter of July 1913 recounted “the cook-house is a busy corner of activity. The cooking is done by three or four men. Large boilers are used, and the place sometimes becomes so hot that an electric fan is kept in motion. Plain food is the rule, and three meals a day are partaken of.”

Edward Cooney was an independent evangelist in 1901 when he relinquished his stake in his family business and donated money to William Irvine’s ‘Go Preachers’ in fulfilment of the group's requirement to ‘sell all and give to the poor’.

Cooney was noted as a powerful speaker and was one of the most vocal of the organisation’s early leaders.

As a tireless itinerant evangelist his name became linked to the group in the public mind.

Cooney hoped to end his days in his native Ireland but made a final trip to Australia where the organisation had quite a number of adherents.

He died there in 1960 and according to historian Patricia Roberts small congregations still continue in various places here and around the world.

The Impartial Reporter of July 1913 perfectly described the clothes worn by pilgrims in the photos and explained the separated groups of men and women - “The Pilgrims dress extra plainly. In some cases a tie is discarded; but all are well clad…. One of the most notable things is the care which is taken to keep the men and women within their respective bounds. One half of the large tent is set apart for the women, and various parts of the grounds are reserved for the same purpose.”

For additional images and information my thanks goes to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s Museum Services, the Impartial Reporter’s archives, writer and historian Seamas McCanny and Henry Robinson, Chairman of the Ballinamallard Historical Society.