Three hundred and fifty years ago, on an April day in 1668, a baby boy named Robert was born on a farm at Ballymorenbeg near Wicklow town. His father, Ambrose Judd, had emigrated from England and in 1667 married Ann Eves. He was ‘was convinced of the blessed truth’ in 1672. Their farm remained in Quaker ownership for many generations.
Its buildings were acquired in 1994 for a family home by two Dublin architects, Philip Geoghegan and his wife Delphine. They carefully restored the exterior, re-developed the rooms for 21st century life and, at the same time, became immersed in its Quaker past.
That led them many years ago to visit the Friends Historical Library in Dublin and enter a happy relationship with a succession of archivists. In 2017 Philip suggested to the Library folk that the great anniversary might be celebrated by holding a Meeting for Worship in the homestead.
Sunday 2nd September 2018 was a sunny day and 32 Friends and Attenders exchanged their regular meeting places for a memorable visit to Ballymurrin Quaker Farmstead. It began with Meeting for Worship in the largest room – with an overflow into the garden behind it. Several neighbours joined us for their first experience of a Quaker Meeting and a variety of birds supplemented the vocal ministries.
After the Meeting, Philip gave an outline of the history of the farm and we set off on the short walk to Ballymurrin Quaker Burial Ground, which the first owners had set aside for the purpose in the 17th century.
The little plot is surrounded by trees on three sides, with a stone wall and an arched entrance for the fourth. Most of the 240 interments listed in the records are unmarked – they had been made prior to the 1860s when Friends decided that stone memorials did not, after all, conflict with Christian belief. Four graves in one corner do have headstones which, surprisingly, don’t conform with the permitted simplicity standard of uniform size and minimal inscription. They were erected between 1870 and 1895 and all commemorate members of the Pim family.
Amongst the visitors on 2nd September was Jonathan Pim of Rathfarnham Meeting. Twenty years ago Jono and his late brother Brian had found the burial ground to be an impenetrable jungle of brambles. They arranged to have these cleared and for the ground to be maintained by regular mowing, an initiative that transformed it to its present state of a shaded park. Trees they planted have grown well – in spite of living in competition with invading sycamores. A seed sown on the occasion was the possibility of having stone tablets, with the names and dates of all those buried, carved and attached to the wall.
After inspecting the Burial Ground, we returned to the farmstead for a sumptuous lunch, a walk around the buildings and garden and a look at the beautifully illustrated leaflets on the background that Philip has written and printed. They include a paper on William Bates, who had lived at Ballymurrin for 10 years up to 1681. Like many other contemporary Quakers, he emigrated to America, settling in Newton, New Jersey.
Visitors are welcome to Ballymurrin throughout the summer but booking in advance is essential. Go to the website Ballymurrin Quaker Farmstead to make arrangements.