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The History of Ballyhagan and Richhill Meetings 1654 - 1793 - 2004
Chapter 1
How Quakerism came to Ireland

The history of Richhill Meeting falls into two distinctive periods. These are from 1654 - 1793 when the Meeting was held at Ballyhagan, and the period from 1793 onwards when the Meeting House at Richhill was built and all activities were transferred here, and the former Meeting at Ballyhagan was laid down.

The commencement of the Meeting at Ballyhagan, (1) and indeed several other Irish Meetings in such widely separated districts as Co. Antrim, Co. Armagh, Co. Cavan and Queen's County (now called Laois) was directly attributable to the apostolic zeal of William Edmondson. (2) Before giving particulars of how the Meeting was "settled", to use the old Quaker term, it is necessary to look at the background of this outstanding man and also at the Quaker movement which was rapidly gaining ground in England despite determined efforts by both State and Church to have it suppressed.

William Edmondson was born in Westmoreland in the North of England in 1627. We gain many details of his early life from his Journal which was first printed in 1715 and has passed through several editions since. (3) He grew up in an exciting period of English history. King Charles I and Parliament were having bitter quarrels as to who exercised ultimate power in the realm over the vital questions of taxation. Controversy was rife also in all aspects of Church life, between the Bishops who were the spokesmen for the State Church, and those who favoured the Presbyterian form of Church government. Voices were being raised claiming Biblical authority for each congregation's right to choose its own ministers - these were known as Independents. Several other smaller sects were emerging, each claiming justification for their particular form of Church Government. It was a bewildering and perplexing time for the honest seeker after Truth, and many were asking then as they are now "Where Shall Wisdom be found?" (4)

After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 William joined the army on the Parliamentary side; he saw service in Scotland and at the Battle of Worcester, as well as at other places.

Shortly after this he left the army and returned home where he met his brother John, who was also in the army and on leave from his regiment in Ireland. His brother spoke in such glowing terms of Ireland and the prospects for trade there that he persuaded William and his wife to plan to come and settle, and engage in the business of shopkeeping.

At this particular time John Edmondson's troop was quartered near Waterford and it was here William and his wife Margaret had looked forward to settling so as to be near to his brother.

After crossing from Whitehaven to Dublin, bringing with them supplies to stock their proposed shop, all their plans were changed however as on reaching Dublin, he was surprised to learn that his brother's regiment had been ordered to march to the North of Ireland to the town of Antrim.

William was tempted to settle in Dublin, trading being then very brisk and houses to be had on easy terms, but as he quaintly says I was prevented (from settling in Dublin) by a secret hand, that I did not then know, which preserved me from the deceitfulness of riches which according to all probability I should have been laden with." (5)

The Province of Ulster where William now settled had been "planted" several years before by both Scottish and English settlers and it was from these that he drew both his followers and his persecutors after his own conversion to Quakerism.

The Quaker movement had made rapid advances in England in the two years after George Fox had made his memorable visit to the northern counties of England (1652). Many had been drawn to acknowledge the Truth he declared and were prepared to leave their homes and carry the Quaker message to all parts of England and further a field.

William Edmondson had established himself in the town of Antrim where he opened a shop. Trade was so brisk that in a short time he had disposed of most of his stock and he found it necessary to return to England to purchase more goods. This was a crucial visit for him, for as well as attending to his business interests, he made a point of going to a meeting which was addressed by the well-known Quaker Minister, (6) James Nayler. The latter Was noted for his eloquence and earnestness and at this particular time was at the height of his fame. William had joined with an older brother in attending the Meeting. As they listened to the reasoned discourse which was evidently given under concern and by the Spirit's direction both were convinced as he says "of the Lord's blessed truth". (7)

He returned home with his purchases via Carrickfergus which was the main port of entry into Ulster at that time. We can picture the massive Anglo-Norman castle being the dominant feature of the town, as it still is today. It was here that he gave public testimony to his acceptance of the Quaker way of life. He was tempted to avoid paying duty on his purchases, but his conscience would not allow him to follow this course. In clearing his goods through the customs, it was required that he should take an oath as to the accuracy of his statements and bills. He told the customs officers he was unable to swear to the veracity of his declaration, as it was contrary to Christ's command. The officials were surprised at his attitude as they had not met with the like before, but he adds, "The Lord's Truth and testimony was precious to me, and after some time with much difficulty, I got an order to clear the goods: my deportment to the officers and others was a wonder to them and caused much discourse, and various rumours to be spread of the Quakers, and of me in particular". (8)

After returning home to Antrim both his wife and his brother were struck by his changed attitude to life in general. He later explained to them the cause and nature of his spiritual experience and both of them indicated to him that they also wished to follow in the same way.

In the days which followed William was much beset with doubts, temptations and sorrows. However, he continued to trust in God's mercy and grace and looked alone to the One who could bring deliverance.

In the following spring (1654) he moved from Antrim to Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Here he took a house and had land to graze cattle. Portion of the house was used as a shop for the sale of merchant goods. He records in his Journal I became the talk and gazing stock of the people; professors (those who made a profession of religion) watched me narrowly to get occasion against me and the principles of Truth I professed, but the Lord strengthened me in my watch over my words and deeds, so cut off occasion from them that sought occasion against Truth and me". (9)

The site of Lurgan and the surrounding land amounting to 2,500 acres had been granted to John Brownlow and his son, William Brownlow, at the Plantation of Ulster. The original town was very small, consisting of forty-two houses peopled with English families. There were two watermills and a windmill in the immediate vicinity for the benefit of the settlement. (10) In the rebellion of 1641 the town had been almost completely destroyed by the Irish but was now largely rebuilt. It was evident that these settlers knew little or nothing about Quakers or were already prejudiced against them by reports from England.

The Journal continues - "My brother being convinced of the Truth, my wife, he and I met together twice a week at my house; in a while four more were convinced, and then we were seven that met together to wait upon God and to Worship Him in spirit and truth……(11)

Thus the first Quaker Meeting in Ireland was commenced, this was followed by others as "there was a great openness among the people" ... (12)


About this time William Edmondson felt a great desire to meet George Fox whom he had not as yet seen. So he went over to England and found out that George Fox was to be at a large meeting at Baddesley Ensor in Warwickshire. William Edmondson attended this meeting, remained behind afterwards and introduced himself to Fox. His narrative of this personal encounter is very touching. "When the meeting ended I went to George Fox, and he took notice of me; we went into the orchard, and kneeling down he prayed: the Lord's Heavenly power and presence were there; he was tender over me. I told him where I lived, of several being convinced in Ireland, of the openness among people, in the North of that Nation, to hear the Truth declared and the want of ministering Friends in the Gospel there: he wrote the following epistle to Friends, which he sent with me:


In that which convinced you, wait, that you may have that removed you are convinced of; and all, my dear Friends, dwell in the life, and love, and power and wisdom of God, in unity one with another and with God; and the peace and wisdom of God fill your hearts, that nothing may rule in you but the life, which stands in the Lord God.

George Fox." (13)

When this Epistle was read in the little Meeting in Lurgan they were broken down and drawn out in love and fellowship to the larger body of Friends which was being gathered from all sections of the community. The effect on William of this direct contact with George Fox was that be no longer thought of himself as a small shopkeeper in a foreign land, the humble follower of an unpopular faith, but he was part of a large fellowship of like minded people which included the vigorous, almost magnetic personality of George Fox himself. This was far from being the only contact with Fox as some years later they travelled together throughout Ireland, the West Indies and America visiting Friends and setting up Meetings.


George Fox had the gift of choosing the right type of persons for leadership in the evolving organisation. It was evident he was attracted by William Edmondson's complete dedication to the cause, and could see by his manner and bearing that here was a man who by training and experience was prepared by God to act as a pioneer in establishing Meetings in the land of his adoption and so he was given the right hand of fellowship by George Fox.

Soon after he returned to Lurgan further links were forged with English Friends by the arrival of a Quaker itinerant minister, Richard Clayton. The purpose of the visit as expressed in Quaker phraseology was "Visiting the Seed" (14) and this meant not only strengthening the hands of those already convinced, but also spreading the message far and wide. Their missionary zeal is well-known as more than sixty dedicated souls were prepared to leave their homes, relinquishing their every day occupations and giving themselves entirely to the work of spreading the message to all parts of England and elsewhere.

"They travelled mostly on foot taking little or no money with them, depending for food and lodging on the kindness of those to whom their message might be acceptable. They coveted no man's silver or gold or apparel, nor sought for profit or honour to themselves, but full of pious zeal desired that others might come through their ministry to participate in the blessings they had themselves found by accepting Christ Jesus as their Teacher and Guide through His Spirit in the heart." (15)

Richard Clayton was among the earliest visiting Friends to arrive in Lurgan, staying with William Edmondson. After several meetings with local Friends, he and William set out on foot for a prolonged circular tour of the North of Ireland, via Coleraine to Londonderry, returning by Strabane, Omagh, Sixmilecross and Dungannon to Kilmore, Co. Armagh. The purpose of this journey was to investigate the possibility of making contact with any to whom their message might have some appeal. Apparently they were unsuccessful until they had almost reached William Edmondson's home in Lurgan. The account is very specific.

"So to Kilmore in Co. Armagh, several honest tender-hearted people lived thereabouts. We came to a widow woman's house, one Margery Atkinson, a tender honest woman, whose house I had been at before: she was convinced of the Truth and received us lovingly. So we had a Meeting there; the tender people thereabout generally came to the Meeting, most of them received the Truth in the love of it, in much tenderness; for they were waiting for it. We settled a Meeting there which became large ... .... (16)

(1) Ballyhagen, Ballyhegan, Ballyhagan etc.
(2) 'W. Edmondson as he himself spelled his surname though it was frequently spelled "Edmundson" by others.' - Reference Henry J. Cadbury.
(3) William Edmondson's Journal 3rd Edition Dublin 1820.
(4) Job. 28: 12.
(5) Journal - William Edmondson.
(6) A "Minister" in the Society of Friends is a person recorded as having a Gift in the Ministry of the Gospel and he or she does not receive remuneration.
(7) Journal of William Edmondson.
(8) Ibid (means "from same source as previous reference").
(9) Ibid.
(10) Historical Memoirs of City of Armagh Jas. Stuart Newry 1819.
(11) Journal of William Edmondson.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Ibid.
(14) Quaker Encounters J. Ormerod Greenwood Vol. 2 Page 27 York 1977.
(15) The Friends - Who they are and what they have done. William Beck London 1893 Page 21-22.
(16) William Edmondson's Journal 3rd Ed. Dublin 1820.
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