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The History of Ballyhagan and Richhill Meetings 1654 - 1793 - 2004
Chapter 2
Ballyhagan Meeting Early Days

The Meeting referred to in the last chapter was to be known as Ballyhagan, which later became a Monthly Meeting. Ballyhagan is a townland about one and a half miles north-west of the village of Kilmore and it was in this townland where the Meeting House was located on the road from Kilmore to Annaghue. According to Rutty (17) the Meeting at Ballyhagan was settled in 1654 which was in the same year as Lurgan Meeting.

Margery Atkinson's house was about half a mile from Kilmore village and Church. The traditional site of her house was pointed out to the writer several years ago by an elderly local Friend, Henry Pearson. (18) It is not known how long the Meeting continued to be held in Margery Atkinson's house, or why it moved to Ballyhagan. Was it because it had grown too large and required additional accommodation? Several other instances occur elsewhere in Ulster where meetings continued to be held for years in private houses before a Meeting House was built. The method adopted in Lurgan was for the Meeting to rotate at regular defined times around the houses of Friends prior to a special Meeting House building being erected. In Ballinderry, Co. Antrim, meetings were held for many years in the house of Richard Boyes, before Megaberry Meeting House was built; even weddings and Province Meetings were held in the private house. There is no evidence that weddings were ever held in Margery Atkinson's house and we must assume that the Meeting House at Ballyhagan was in use soon after the Meeting was set up.

So far as we are aware no sketch or drawing of the old Meeting House at Ballyhagan has survived and it is only in recent months that we have been able to form an idea of what the building looked like. This was discovered after a close scrutiny of Rocque's Map of this part of Co. Armagh. (19) On this map an outline plan of the building which stood on this site is shown. From this plan it has been possible to form an artist's impression of what the building may have looked like (see cover). The larger of the two rooms was probably the main meeting room and it is likely that the smaller apartment was where women Friends held their business meetings.

We also know that it had a thatched roof as according to an entry in the Treasurer's book under the year 1726 "26½ stooks of straw were purchased for thatch, at cost of 7/8½d." There is also a Minute of Men's Meetings held 9th month 27th 1730 as follows:- "Jonathan Richardson was appointed to purchase 20 stooks of straw for thatch for Meeting House."

Little is known about Margery Atkinson herself apart from a brief reference to her refusing to pay tithes, presumably to the Rector of Kilmore Parish Church. The entry is as follows:- "1660 for refusing to pay the sum of 8/4d. tithe, Margery Atkinson had taken from her 2 cows worth £3.10.s." (20)

It is interesting to note that in William Edmondson's account of his and Richard Clayton's visit to Margery Atkinson's house near Kilmore he goes on to say "at whose house I had been before". (21) William Edmondson had only been in Lurgan a short time and must have been fully engaged setting up his shop and looking after his cattle. He had little time for visiting, as it involved travelling about possibly on foot. How could he have met with Margery Atkinson previously, unless he had known her in England before coming over? Hence her gracious welcome and the opening of her home to local people to come and hear the strangers who had messages to deliver.


Those of us who know and have visited the site of the Meeting House will not have been impressed by its location, situated as it was in a rather remote part of the country far removed from any town or even a village. It was situated about half a mile from the main highway from Portadown to Loughgall, in the heart of the country, which later became known as "the apple garden of Ireland" as almost every farm, or small-holding had a portion of their land planted out with apple trees. The soil and climate seemed to favour the cultivation of this fruit, which was a traditional crop indigenous to the district. When the settlers took up land here in the early seventeenth century they persisted in the cultivation of apples. (22) This tradition has continued to the present time on an increased scale. Improved varieties of apple trees and modern methods of cultivation and storage have made the apple industry one of considerable importance in the district. It has always been one in which members of the Meeting have been actively engaged together with other branches of farming activities.

The Meeting House at Ballyhagan was about one and a half miles from Kilmore Parish Church (Church of Ireland). Kilmore is a place of some antiquity and dates back to the introduction of Christianity into Ireland by St. Patrick in the fifth century. (23) The Church here was dedicated to St. Aidan who is described as being of Irish descent and from Iona, the Christian Settlement off the west coast of Scotland, which we associate with St. Columba. The Parish was originally much larger than at present comprising as it did the present parishes of Mullavilly, Richhill, Dobbin and Diamond. There is evidence that the Parish was Monastic in origin. Lists of abbots begin in 645 A.D. and records of rectors and vicars are listed within the Church from 1367 A.D. up to the present; perhaps the best known rector during the period we are dealing with was George Walker D.D., (died 1677) who was also Chancellor of Armagh and father of Rev. George Walker, Governor of Londonderry at the time of the siege 1688-9.

A Church was shown at Kilmore on the Plantation Map of 1609 and in 1622 a new Church was built on the same site. This is the building which was in existence when the Meeting was set up and Christian worship had already been carried on here for at least one thousand years. George Fox had formed very decided views of the Church, and he tells us in his Journal that the New Testament concept of the Church is not a building (usually with a spire) which he invariably refers to as a "steeple house" but is composed of living stones, built into a spiritual edifice of which Jesus Christ himself is the chief corner stone. (24)

We might ask ourselves the question why was it that Fox and others associated with him were not willing to accept the form of worship set up and established by law? After all the Prayer Book was so devised that it would meet all the spiritual requirements of its adherents throughout this life. As it is read through one cannot but be impressed by its comprehensiveness.


Fox had from his earliest years been a seeker after truth and reality, and he failed to find it in the services of his local church or indeed from any of the clerics he consulted about spiritual matters. He was disillusioned by the replies fie received from several of them and he formed the opinion that they were only in their present calling because of pecuniary considerations. After Fox had come to a personal experience of Christ's liberating power and presence in his own life, he felt he was called to proclaim the everlasting Gospel to all mankind. He felt and taught that the Grace of God was universal and was for all men and not of limited application. Where Christ is, there is His Church, made up of all who seek to live in His Spirit. He had a vision of a land where no social divisions would occur, where barriers between the races would be broken down and where equality should be accorded to women in the Church. Religion was not only to be practised in church on Sundays, but was to be brought into every aspect of daily life in veracity and honest dealing, truth was to be spoken on every occasion and not only when one was under oath. The scourge of war was to be taken away between individuals and nations, so that all could live "in virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all war". (25)

Is it any wonder that the message George Fox and his early followers proclaimed was referred to as "a revolutionary Gospel." As Professor William James says "The Quaker religion which he (George Fox) founded is something which is impossible to over praise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in Spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel truth than men had ever known.") (26)


George Fox only visited Friends in Ireland on one occasion and that was in 1669. He was accompanied on this visit by four other Friends and they were joined by William Edmondson who was now living at Rosenallis near Mountmellick, Co. Laois, who acted as guide.

The main purpose of the visit was to encourage the setting up of Monthly and Provincial Meetings, if such Meetings were not already in existence. Rutty records under year 1668 that such meetings were, already commenced. (27) Friends would doubtless be encouraged to be careful to preserve the records of their meetings, list their sufferings, carefully keep particulars of marriages and other details of their meetings worth preserving. Records of Lurgan and Lisburn Monthly Meetings survive from 1675 but in the case of Ballyhagan the Monthly Meeting Minutes which survive only commence in 1705 and even then imperfectly, some years being missing. (28)

After landing in Dublin the deputation visited the meetings in the South and after making their way through the Midlands, they came to Co. Cavan. From there they either went to Grange (near Charlemont) or to Ballyhagan. It is not possible to trace the course of the visit to Ulster Meetings with any degree of accuracy as the account of the visit in George Fox's Journal fails to give names of places. The Journal was written down some years later from rough notes made at the time and one has to agree that Irish names of places are not the easiest to get down on paper. From the description given only one or two places are identifiable with any certainty. Quoting from the Journal - "Then I passed over the water where so many were drowned in the massacre." (29) This was almost certainly the River Bann at Portadown where there were a number of murders during the 1641 rising. (30) The other reference was to Grange Meeting, Co. Antrim (Low Grange) - "From thence we passed almost thirty miles further, where we had another meeting where the Scots raged." (31) This referred to a meeting in Co. Antrim, possibly Antrim town, where the majority of those who would have attended would have been Scottish settlers. All the indications are that George Fox visited Ballyhagan. He must have encouraged and strengthened the small group of Friends who were meeting together, some of their numbers having already been called to suffer because of their faith. When the' meeting was transferred to the new Meeting House at Richhill in 1793 two very old oak seats, an oak table and an oak chest were brought from Ballyhagan. All these items appear to be very old and a local tradition in the meeting is that George Fox may have sat on one of these seats when he visited Ballyhagan Meeting in 1669.

Photograph of seat brought from Ballyhagan. Reputed to have been used by George Fox.
Seat brought from Ballyhagan. Reputed to have been used by George Fox.

It is evident that the Meeting which gathered at Ballyhagan attracted many others from the surrounding districts to join in worship and fellowship with those Friends who met there. To be a Friend involved observing certain "Testimonies", one of which was non-payment of tithes or other church dues. Why did early Friends object so strongly to the tithe system? Not merely because it was unfair that they, along with their Presbyterian and Roman Catholic neighbours should be called to pay for the upkeep of clergy and buildings of the Established Church which they refused to attend. In addition they felt that all preaching and ministry depended for its value on a definite call from God and should not seek support in this manner. All this was very far from the Christ?centred Church they had caught a glimpse of in the New Testament. They felt that when Christ came, He put an end to the Temple priesthood and sacrifices. The Gospel was free to all, therefore to demand payment of tithes was almost a blasphemy. Payment in kind was forcibly taken in lieu of the amount levied. From the examples given it is evident that what was taken was invariably far in excess of the amount due. There is no evidence that Friends offered any violent opposition to such seizure of property, as it was part of their teaching to offer the other cheek in such circumstances. However, it must have been very tantalising for them to see the hard-earned fruits of their labour taken in this way, not once, but season by season, and so far as they could see it was a situation likely to continue indefinitely.


There appears to have been no burial ground in close proximity to Ballyhagan Meeting House. There may have been good reasons for this, such as the existence of several dwelling houses nearby and the possible objection of the tenants, but more likely it was impossible to obtain a lease for such a purpose. The Meeting House was sited on Church land attached to the see of Armagh and leased from the Archbishop (33) and a copy of such a lease is in existence dated 11th June, 1744. (34)

The Burial Ground in connection with the Meeting was in the townland of Money or Monie about one mile distant, and nearer to Kilmore. This site must have been provided by a Friend from part of his farm. It is situated on a very steep hillside and one wonders why such a position was chosen as the pathway from the road to burial ground is so steep it is quite an effort to carry a coffin up the grass slope. As the earliest minute books of the Meeting have not survived there is no record of when the burial ground was first used. It is evident from several references to Money that this property was never legally transferred to Friends, but was leased to the Meeting, at a nominal rent by the owner of the farm on which the property was located. The first reference to Monie is extracted from the earliest Minute Book of the Meeting in existence commenced in 1705 and is as follows:-

"John Pearson hath agreed with this Meeting to perfect a new lease of the Graveyard together with all that ground laying down at the same breadth to the highway. This Meeting paying for the same yearly the sum of five shillings." From Minutes of Meeting held 12th Month 23rd 1709.

In 1783 local Friends became concerned that the headstones in the burial ground should be removed, possibly on directions from Half Yearly Meeting, Dublin.

Consequently the following Friends were appointed to have the work carried out - Thomas Toppin, John Morrison, Alexander Hewitt, William Nicholson, Robert Johnson, William Brownlow. This Committee reported eleven months later that "The gravestones in our Burial Ground are all removed except one which we expect will be removed in like manner." (35) At the side of the page "Done" has been written.

There are several references in the minutes to the lease of the Burial Ground, none of which seem to be very satisfactory or conclusive and so far as we can trace the lease must have been allowed to lapse. When the Meeting moved to Richhill a new Burial Ground was laid out beside the Meeting House there and gradually this was recognised as the one to be used by the Meeting. The old Burial Ground at Monie has passed out of Friends' hands for many years, and is now used by the families of those who have burial rights there. In May 1978 a notice appeared in a local newspaper convening a meeting of those who claim burial rights, to arrange for the general administration of the above ground.

(17) History of Rise & Progress of Quakers in Ireland 1653 - 1751. John Rutty Dublin 1751.
(18) Between Kilmore Church and lane to Monie Burial Ground on the left.
(19) Map of County Armagh carried out for the Archbishop of Armagh by John Rocque 1760.
(20) Sufferings of the People called Quakers by Joseph Besse in 2 Vols. Page 467.
(21) William Edmondson's Journal.
(22) A selection from the writings of T.G.F. Patterson 1975. County Armagh Apples Ch. 9.
(23) Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 11 Page 183 - S. Lewis 1837.
(24) Journal of George Fox J. Nickalls Edition Cambridge 1952 Pages 8 and 24.
(25) Ibid.
(26) The Varieties of Religious Experience William James Longman Green & Co. 1913.
(27) History Rise and Progress of Quakers in Ireland - Rutty.
(28) Guide to Irish Quaker Records 1654 - 1860 - O. Goodbody.
(29) G. Fox Journal Page 544.
(30) Journal of Friends' Historical Society Vol. 45 1953 Article by Isabel Grubb.
(31) G. Fox Journal Page 545.
(32) Irish Names of Places P. W. Joyce 4th Edition Dublin 1875 Page 496.
(33) Ordnance Survey Field survey for Parish of Kilmore 1835.
(34) Copy Lease in P.R.O.N.I. Ref. T. 2682.
(35) Men's Meeting hold 1st of 4th month 1784.
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