1901 – Edward Cooney – The Master Marketer
Two of the most prominent early leaders and marketers of the 2×2 Sect were William Irvine and Edward “Eddie” Cooney from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Cooney, a Christian lay preacher, first met Irvine in January 1898, and joined his movement three and one-half years later in June 1901.
Cooney explained, “I travelled for my father’s business and preached … as occasion offered … Whilst doing so, I met William Irvine through whom George Walker, Jack Carroll, William Carroll, Willie Gill and a number of the present leaders professed … William Irvine and I were drawn together as Brothers in Christ, each of us claiming liberty to follow Jesus as we received progressive light from God by the Spirit … He was at that time Pilgrim Irvine, a preacher in the Faith Mission … At that time, we believed that all who were born anew, including ourselves, in the denominations were children of God” (to Alice Flett, 1930, Appendix D).
As Irvine’s right-hand man and as an outstanding, well-respected early leader in the 2×2 Sect, Cooney was frequently discussed and quoted in newspapers. “At last Sunday evening’s service there were five men and two women on the platform, and of the former were two of the chief pioneers of the movement—Mr. William Irwin [Irvine] and Mr. Edward Cooney” (Impartial Reporter, July 18, 1907, 8, TTT). “Mr. William Irvin [Irvine], the founder of the sect, is in attendance, and Mr. Edmund [Edward] Cooney, his chief lieutenant, is returning from Canada to take part in the deliberations” (Irish Independent, July 5, 1910, 5, TTT).
By 1904, the press had dubbed Cooney the “Hot Gospeller of his time.” The new sect was commonly referred to as Cooneyites or Cooneyism, an eponym derived from Edward’s surname. The moniker Cooneyites continues to be used today in various publications.
Cooney Family. The third of eight children, Edward (middle name unknown) was born on February 11, 1867, in Enniskillen, N. Ireland, to William Rutherford and Emily (Carson) Cooney. His five brothers were William McEffer, Henry “Harry,” Frederick George, Alfred Carson and James Ernest; his two sisters were Edith Emily and Mary Elizabeth. (See Appendix D, Cooney Family Tree). They resided at Lakeview House in Enniskillen. According to a local historian:
On August 31, 1863, Dr. Magee conducted the marriage ceremony of William Rutherford Cooney to Emily Carson. W. R. Cooney (1836–1924) had come to Enniskillen from Cootehill, Co. Cavan and … he served his time with a local businessman, married his daughter and eventually succeeded him. W. R. Cooney’s wife Emily was the only child of … William Carson (1816–1900) … in July 1850, he moved [his business] across High Street to No. Four, the Hibernian House … a great clothes emporium and it remained a highly successful business under W. R. Cooney. The site is now Graham’s Menswear, but the original … building was destroyed by a bomb which devastated the town centre in the 1970s. (Mac Annaidh 2008, 45–6; the building was rebuilt in 2014).
W. R. Cooney was a prominent citizen and a successful, if not wealthy, owner of an extensive clothier business headquartered on High Street in Enniskillen. His business card read, “W. R. Cooney, Woollen & Linen Draper, Silk Mercer Haberdasher &c., Military & Merchant Tailor and General Outfitter.” (A draper was a retailer of cloth used mainly for clothing.)
The Cooneys were members of the Church of Ireland (Episcopal), where Edward and his siblings were baptized when infants. They attended Sunday school at the Enniskillen Parish Church, now St. Macartin’s Cathedral. However, after joining Irvine’s ministry, Cooney renounced his previous church affiliation, declaring that “since he had been sprinkled in the Episcopal Church, he had been a child of the Devil. Sprinkling was no good, ‘You must be born again’ ” (Impartial Reporter, June 9, 1904, TTT).
Cooney and all his brothers received their primary education at the Enniskillen Model School under Catholic Headmaster Charles Morris. They received their higher education under Rev. William Steele at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, known as the Eton of Ireland. Notable Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett, Irish novelist and winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature, also attended Portora.
Since the Portora records are sketchy from their opening to 1936, they were not able to verify the attendance of Edward Cooney but confirmed that his brothers H. Cooney and F. Cooney were students. Cooney’s grandfather, William Carson, was an active member of the Portora Board of Education and was well positioned to ensure acceptance for his grandsons (Mac Annaidh Fermanagh Miscellany 2, 46). After he finished school at age 14, Edward was sent to Armagh as an apprentice to learn the family business.
1901: Edward Cooney Capitulated. Regarding the extraordinary night Irvine convinced Cooney to leave all and join his ministry, G. Pattison recounted:
Then one night while on his travels he [Cooney] and William [Irvine] arranged to meet at our house and … the two men discussed so fully the subject of preachers and preaching of Matthew 10. William pointing out the need, etc. in the face of the greatness of the harvest and fewness of laborers; Eddie seeking to escape the issue in one way or another, even to the extent of offering all he could make out of his job as traveller, to be used by William as he thought fit, for evangelistic purposes. William would meet such an offer with, ‘It isn’t your money the Lord wants, but yourself.’ So about 2:00 a.m. he had won, and Eddie had decided to give up his job and go forth … after this discussion on Matthew 10, they came to the decision to live and go as Jesus taught in that chapter. (1935, Wrestlers, TTT)
Dr. Patricia Roberts, Biographer of Edward Cooney. According to Dr. Roberts, “Edward, however, having found the pearl of great price, gladly gave up both his inheritance and fine business prospects. His own personal wealth, which was considerable, he gave to the poor. And so, in 1901, at the age of 34, in fellowship with Irvine and his associates, Edward too forsook all and went forth to preach depending on God to move the hearts of others to minister to his needs” (Roberts 1990, 9, TTT).
1901, June: Cooney’s Entrance. In 1901, at age 34, Cooney gave up his business interests, disposed of his funds and possessions and became a Worker on Irvine’s fast growing staff. Reports vary as to the beneficiary of Cooney’s money; the poor, the cause (the developing movement) and Irvine have all been named as recipients. John Long recalled, “Edward Cooney … gave up a very good situation, and distributed £1,300 to the poor, and went fully on the Lord’s work, and became a great advocate of preachers going without a stated salary” (July 1898, TTT; £1,300 was a small fortune at that time).
The Impartial Reporter quoted Cooney saying, “Three years ago the Lord said to me, ‘Go, Edward Cooney, without scrip, and go into all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.’ Then He gave me His promise, ‘Lo, I am with you until the end of the world,’ and He has kept it” (June 9, 1904, TTT; “three years ago” was 1901).
Cooney’s first test of faith after entering the Work came as he was en route to the wedding of Bill Carroll and Margaret Hastings on June 6, 1901. He had a train ticket as far as Dublin, but no money to purchase a fare from there to Borrisokane.
Fortunately, a commercial traveler offered him a ride from Dublin to the home of a friend’s mother. She gave him a hearty welcome and invited him to spend the night. The next morning on the breakfast table he found an envelope addressed to him with a note. Having heard of Cooney’s life plans, the writer was moved to get up in the night and deliver money for his fare to the wedding. When Cooney went to purchase his ticket, the stationmaster refused his money and handed him a ticket with the words, “In the name of the Lord” (Roberts 1990, 20, TTT).
He worked his first mission in 1901 in Edenderry, Co. Offaly, Ireland. Co-workers Irvine Weir and William Gill visited him there (Parker 1982, 86). Cooney’s bold, sincere, earnest style of preaching attracted large crowds and won many converts. He was a tremendous asset to the nascent movement, and the early days of his ministry were extraordinarily successful. Following are some descriptions of Cooney from his hometown newspaper, the Impartial Reporter:
However, the chief motive power was latent until Edward Cooney heard William Irvine and offered him money and even a salary yearly, which was refused by Irvine. At all events £1,300 from Mr. Cooney alone was applied to the cause, and has been preached as having been ‘given to the poor,’ on the authority of ‘Sell all that ye have, etc.’ Yet as a matter of fact, this sum was mostly paid to transport preachers to places abroad and not to the poor, as is sometimes understood (Aug. 25, 1910, 8, TTT).
Cooney can talk; by dint of practice he can pitch his voice without shouting; he can reason; he can enforce his argument with chapter and verse; and therefore, he is listened to and his reasoning has power and force (Oct. 20, 1904, TTT).
He was described in the Irish Presbyterian periodical in an article titled “A New Sect”: ‘As to the evangelist himself, [Edward Cooney] … he is an exceedingly earnest and devoted man who has relinquished fine business prospects to occupy his whole time and energies with Christian work. He is an attractable and forcible speaker, well educated, and gentlemanly in his manners, overflowing with zeal and enthusiasm … Being naturally a man of strong will and considerable mental gifts, he exercises a great influence over those whose minds are weaker than his own, and over those who have not hitherto had any very definite or settled religious convictions’ ” (Scrutator 1905, TTT).
The press soon recognized Cooney as the second-in-command and a leader in the sect: “The speakers at this service were the two leaders of the movement, Mr. William Irwin [Irvine] and Edward Cooney. Both speakers denounced the various churches and the clergy in no unmeasured words” (Impartial Reporter, July 23, 1908, 8, TTT).
Some reporters were unsure of Cooney’s title and position and often mistakenly labeled him. He was called its co-leader, co-founder, chief lieutenant, a chief pioneer and occasionally (and erroneously) the founder, especially around his hometown of Enniskillen. For example, the Impartial Reporter speculated “so far as the outside world can judge, Mr. Edward Cooney (after whom they are generally called Cooneyites) seems to be the accepted high priest or leader” (Sept. 29, 1904, TTT).
Cooney was definitely NOT the founder, as he joined Irvine’s band of Workers in 1901, four years after Irvine’s new sect began. Cooney stated, “the man who finally moved me to go to preach was William Irvine” (Roberts 1990, 18, TTT).
Some view Cooney as one of the prime founders of the 2×2 Church practices, and view Irvine as the prime founder of the 2×2 Ministry, which eventually consolidated to become the 2×2 Sect/Church.
Although the 2×2 Sect gained considerable impetus from Cooney’s evangelism, and regardless of the significant role he played in the sect’s early days, he would be excommunicated in 1928. Attempts would be made to erase his name and role from the history of the 2×2 Sect; the same would happen to Irvine in 1914. Read More in book.