McGregorism, a keenly observed set of religious dogma, took root only as recently as 2013 but is already Ireland’s fastest growing religion and if the current growth was to be maintained it will eclipse Catholicism as Ireland’s largest religion by this time next year.
Despite the ferocious uptake in followers very little is known about McGregorism, which has prompted WWN to investigate further.
“We don’t like the term church, that’s a hangover from Christian religions, we are not that. Which is why we call our place of worship a ‘Gym’,” the words of one McGregorite preacher Alan Higgins, who claims to have 30 other followers under his tutelage in the Dublin suburb of Cabinteely.
“You’re not going to be one of those journalists who calls us a cult are you?” Higgins offers.
I say ‘no’ while writing in my notes that this was ‘definitely a cult’. Trying to gain a better understanding of the tenets of this religion/cult, I observe in silence as followers streamed in the door. Similar to some Muslim sects, it appears growing a beard is mandatory. I question if beardless men are banned, Higgins laughs and says no, but in all my time with McGregorites I see none.
I note that a clearly defined hierarchy is in place. Some men, more senior within the religion are wearing tailored, three-piece suits, while the less senior are stripped to their underwear and made fight one another for the amusement of those above them in the pecking order.
“This is something we do multiple times a day. It’s a way of warding off evil spirits, rivals and those who mean to do you harm,” Higgins shares as a group of us enter an eight sided altar.
What follows is a deeply intimate ceremony. Huddled in a small circle, their faces are contorted into aggressive and demented shapes, however, they deny being possessed or speaking in tongues.
“You’ll do nothing!” screams one of the McGregorites, focusing all his concentration on a picture on the nearby wall.
“You’ll do nothing!” he screams again and again, his voice straining as he repeats the incantation. Soon he collapses to his knees, clearly emotional. He is raised to his feet again by his fellow followers. They high-five, shout, cheer and high-five again. They tell me not to write that it is a deeply homoerotic exchange. It is a deeply homoerotic exchange, and oddly spiritual too.
Taking the shouting McGregorite to one side, l see the tears formed in his eyes. I ask who is the man in the picture he was bellowing at.
“It was Mr. O’Brien, my old maths teacher, he said I’d amount to nothing, but through McGregorism I’ve learned to appreciate that no one can define your destiny but yourself”. For him, it is a moment a catharsis. He now seems like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He will repeat this process three more times today.
Another religious ceremony appears to be going on across the other side of the Gym, it is more informal. I’m told it is called ‘fake it ’til you make it’. Younger followers talk openly about their hopes and dreams. It is a judgement free zone, a world away from Catholic guilt, these men are allowed state their desires and shite talk without admonishment. “I’ll be an 6-weight champ,” says one man. Another simply says “I bet the head off him” while an over eager younger man clearly intoxicated with adrenaline shouts “I’m gonna fuck a Kardashian”.
But what of their enigmatic figurehead and Saviour? The one they call The Notorious? I learn soon not to question his merits in front of his followers.
“The Notorious has shown that once you put your mind to something, you can achieve it,” one devotee tells me as his eyes glaze over, a look I have seen before in Scientologists, Mormons, Catholics and Beyonce worshippers.
Are you just blindly following this man who seems to be offering you a one way ticket to Heaven (McGregorites call this place ‘The Big Time’)?
“Aw, fuck off you sap. The Notorious would not set me on the wrong path, with enough dedication and determination, there is nothing I can’t achieve,” he says, rattling off scripture he has long since learned off by heart.
Elsewhere, I delve further into the financial side of the religion, often where the pious ideology of religions clash awkwardly with the desire to make money from their impressionable followers. It seems sadly McGregorism is no different.
Regular pilgrimages to far off places are made by devotees, with detractors calling them needlessly expensive ways to boost the coffers of McGregorism. A recent pilgrimage to Las Vegas left many questioning their faith, while for others it served as proof of the divine wisdom of their leader.
It was in Las Vegas that The Notorious charged people money for one of his sermons which took the form of combat. In the aftermath of this sermon the cynics noted McGregorism’s leader had followed in the footsteps of Catholicism and launched his own version of Holy Water, something he called Notorious Whiskey.
McGregorites, in a departure from many other religions outwardly stated aims, embrace the concept of materialism to its fullest. At my last day of worship at the Gym, there is a considerable commotion when one follower arrives to state he had been to The Big Time aka Heaven. He receives applause and cheers from everyone as he walks around the Gym in a leopard-print three-piece suit while throwing 50 euro notes into the air. He is lifted into the air and paraded around the Gym. His beard is magnificent, he talks of red panties. We rush outside to see his car, it is an orange Hummer with a jacuzzi mounted on the back of it. Champagne is sprayed everywhere.
In the excitement I lose some time. Next thing I know, I’m semi naked in the eight-sided alter screaming ‘you’ll do nothing’ at a picture of my father while I knee some young lad in the face to loud cheers. I have seen the light. I am converted.