His is a voice one never forgets. You may have heard Dan Ireland preach his self-proclaimed "Holy Roller" sermons in one of hundreds of churches. Or you could have heard the 78-year-old as he powered through the chaos at the Alabama Statehouse lobbying for moral integrity.
But either way, you most definitely have heard him pray for you, your family and your needs — if you’ve had more than a few minutes with him.
And if you happen to not know Ireland, then it is very likely that he knows someone you know.
"I have never met anyone in my lifetime who knows as many people in the state of Alabama as Dan Ireland," said Gov. Bob Riley, longtime friend of Ireland and his wife, Polly. "He knows their aunts, uncles, cousins. He baptized half of the people in Alabama, and he’s prayed for the other half," Riley said jokingly during Ireland’s retirement dinner April 29 in Montgomery.
Ireland, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), has made an impact on the state during his 30 years at the helm of the moral watchdog group supported by a variety of churches, denominations and individuals.
Based in Birmingham, ALCAP officials monitor legislation moving through the state Legislature each year, work with city and county governments in wet/dry elections and provide drug-education classes for schools.
Joe Godfrey, who will take the helm of ALCAP June 1, said, "I am seeing firsthand how Dr. Ireland has single-handedly been fighting a spiritual battle (at the Statehouse) for the last 30 years.
"I wish everyone could see and hear what a gracious, yet powerful, voice he has been and is for the Christian community," Godfrey said. "I now realize more than ever how our state would be overrun with gambling and liquor had Dr. Ireland not been here all this time."
Mike McLemore, chairman of the board for ALCAP, described Ireland as the faith community’s representative in the state Legislature.
Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, presented Ireland with a resolution from the Alabama Legislature during the April 29 event. The resolution honored Ireland for his "outstanding achievement and substantial impact on the life of the state of Alabama."
"He really walks what he believes," said Erwin, who has stood with Ireland against numerous gambling bills.
But it is not only those who agree with Ireland politically and theologically that sing his praises.
Alabama Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, noted he has known Ireland since he came to ALCAP. "Sometimes we agreed; sometimes we didn’t. … But he’s always there when you need him. You can count on him," he said.
"Dan is the closest thing to a state chaplain as we’ve had," Hammett said. "Dan would come by the office frequently … and pray for me and my family. He has the gift of prayer."
Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom added that Ireland "is always on duty … always out in the hall (of the Statehouse)."
"What I’ve always admired so much about Dan Ireland is that any time there is an issue up concerning the community of faith in the state … he always treated every [legislator] with respect whether they were supporting him or opposing him," Folsom said. "I admire that deeply about [his] approach to lobbying."
Riley said when Ireland believes in something, his passion is such that it is contagious. "This person — without fear of any contradiction — has voted his conviction, what is best for his state, nation and God because he believed it was right," he said. "You can’t replace Dan Ireland, but it is up to everyone of us to try to emulate him."
But Ireland is not only known statewide for his fight against gambling and alcohol but also across the nation. In fact, he helped launch the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG) in 1994 to help fight gambling in other states.
Tom Grey, executive director of the NCALG, said, "I’ve fought gambling in 50 states … and Ireland is a fighting friend.
"People can do it when they unite," Grey said, noting that Ireland has unified gambling opponents in Alabama.
Holding up a 1999 New York Times with the headline "Religious leaders prevail as Alabama shuns lottery," Grey told those at Ireland’s retirement dinner, "We salute you (Ireland) because there has not been a state that has defeated the lottery. Alabama, you held the high ground. Be proud of it because we needed that witness."
Ireland also serves as executive director of the American Council on Alcohol Problems, a post he plans to keep for now.
And one important part of Ireland’s life that he plans to do some major catching up on is family time. The father, grandfather and great-grandfather believes in a strong family.
And for those that know the Ireland family, they know Polly keeps the family going, especially Dan. "After being saved, the next best thing that ever happened to me was Polly," Ireland said. "Without her, Dan Ireland would never have made it."
From "Polly’s party" of baked goodies each year at the Statehouse to her gracious and loving ways among her Alabama Baptist family, Polly has truly stolen the hearts of many.
"The Lord has really blessed us through our entire ministry, especially the years with ALCAP," Polly said. "It is amazing to see how God works."
While Polly and Dan do look forward to a less-demanding schedule, they certainly do not plan to stop. They are set for more ministry opportunities.
Members of Green Valley Baptist Church, Hoover, the Irelands have been active in Alabama Baptist life for 61 years. Dan has served on various committees and boards and as president of the state convention. He also served as pastor of Jackson Memorial Baptist Church, LaFayette; Dolomite Baptist Church, near Hueytown; Eastside Baptist Church, Huffman; First Baptist Church, Fort Payne; and Jackson Way Baptist Church, Huntsville.
With poise and professionalism, Polly keeps her husband filled with the full support and security only a dedicated spouse could provide. She is as widely known as he is and some say jokingly the "most popular one."
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