William Edmundson brought the Quaker message to Ireland. He formed the first recorded Meeting for Worship in Lurgan, Co. Armagh in 1654. We are commemorated this in 2004, 350 years later.
Edmundson had been a soldier in the Parliamentary Army in England but left it and moved to Ireland with his young wife Margaret and became a shopkeeper. On a later visit to England he heard a Quaker preaching, felt in unity with what was said, and became one himself. Back in Ireland again he was a powerful advocate of Friends’ method of worship and way of life. In due course he moved to Rosenallis near Mountmellick. He was a good organiser, and over the next few decades he played a major role in the growth of the Society of Friends in Ireland.
In 1667 William Penn, at the age of 22, was in Cork in connection with estates belonging to his father, Admiral William Penn, and joined Friends. Some years later a huge tract of land in America was transferred to the Admiral’s estate to repay a large loan made to the King years before. The story has been told many times of how Penn, from 1683 onwards, transformed this land into Pennsylvania, with an enlightened government (that lasted until 1756) based on his beliefs as a Quaker.
His good relationships with the native Americans are legendary and as Voltaire wrote of their treaty with Penn “no oaths were sworn on either side, and the treaty was never broken”. Penn’s Essay towards the present and future peace of Europe in 1693 foreshadowed the present European Union in many respects.
Elizabeth Fry’s vision, courage, compassion and practical support for women committed to prison (and Newgate in particular where the conditions were appalling and which she first visited in 1813) led to many major improvements in the penal system. Her actions in the prisons, and also in lobbying for reform, are still reflected in the Quaker concern for prison work and belief that rehabilitation is more effective in the long run than punishment. She also worked tirelessly to alleviate the poor conditions women had to suffer on convict ships taking them to Australia and other colonies, and influenced legislation which ultimately led to the cessation of the transportation of convicts.
Some Other Notable Quakers
William Johnson emigrated to America in 1752 from Ballyhagan near Armagh. There he became a pioneer in the new science of electricity and magnetism.
Jonathan Pim became joint secretary of the Friends Famine Relief Committee in 1846, and was a member of the Westminster Parliament from 1868 to 1874. There being no Irish Parliament at this time.
Forster Green, a Belfast grocer and tea merchant in the late 19th century, suffered the distress of seeing his six children die of TB. This led him to use most of his large fortune to set up a hospital for the care of TB patients on the outskirts of Belfast. The hospital is now part of the Belfast Health Trust.
Joseph Barcroft of Bessbrook, in his scientific career at Cambridge in the 1900’s made notable discoveries about the circulation of blood using himself as a human guinea pig. His father Henry Barcroft designed the Bessbrook hydro-electric tramway.
The Walpole family owned and planted the well known Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, Co Wicklow.
Arnold Bennington was a Biology teacher at Friends’ School Lisburn. He inspired his pupils and the wider public by his radio broadcasts in the mid 20th century, inviting them into the world of nature study.
Denis Barritt and Desmond Neill shared in a BBC radio series in the 1950’s discussing social and political issues.
Monica Barritt developed the work of caring for the families of prisoners visiting at the Maze Prison in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She was honoured posthumously when Meghaberry Prison Vistors’ Centre was named The Monica Barritt Visitors’ Centre in the year 2000.
A great grandson of Abraham Shackleton, headmaster of Ballitore School (see the “Schools” panel) was the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton – though Sir Ernest was not a Friend himself.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell the astrophysicist who discovered the first radio pulsars.