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The History of Ballyhagan and Richhill Meetings 1654 - 1793 - 2004
Chapter 4
Life in Rural Ireland - 1716/1740

Among the manuscript records preserved by the Meeting is a "Will Book” dating from 1716 - 1740. In addition to the wills there are detailed inventories, usually taken by the executors after the death of the testators. There are several inventories and no corresponding wills, and it is supposed that in these cases they died intestate. This book was described in detail by J.R.H. Greeves who prepared a valuable set of abstracts of the wills. (38)

Dr. R.A. Gailey of The Ulster Folk Museum has contributed an important essay on the subject to "Folk Life" based on these inventories. (39) His detailed analysis of the goods mentioned in the inventories is most illuminating and his findings are classified under different headings and throw considerable light on social conditions and on rural and domestic life in Ulster at this time. Dr. Gailey feels that these inventories are an unique source of information, listing as they do the household belongings and equipment of farmers, weavers, etc. It is an interesting exercise to observe the salient points which Dr. Gailey high-lighted in the wills and inventories reviewed, bearing in mind that he was a complete stranger to Quaker life and teaching as practised by these Friends in Ballyhagan at this period.

"Quakers never formed a major numerical element in the make-up of society anywhere in Ireland, but they placed much emphasis on literacy. Recognizing that they dissented from establishment attitudes on many matters, they took care to document their doings in order to be able to prove the extent to which they lived not only by their own standards but also to which they observed the law in respect of property.

As a religious society, Quakers stressed their independence on these matters, and so they had their own rules to ensure that justice was done to the widow and children of a man who died." (40)

It has been (and still is) a longstanding tradition amongst Friends that their members be encouraged to make their wills in time of health and to see that an equitable distribution be made to their dependants. Failure to make a will frequently causes trouble and dissension among families, hence the care in this regard.

Apart from Dublin and Ballyhagan Meetings, the practice of having a special book for the purpose of recording wills does not appear to have been general in Ireland. Albert Cook Myers states "This custom was brought from Ireland to Westmoreland as a similar will book was kept in Kendal beginning in 1699." (41)

The Will Book contained 24 wills of which four are missing. There are 25 inventories; in some cases there are no corresponding wills. Nearly all the testators were connected by marriage. The community was a farming one, keeping its distinguishing religious views in the midst of other sects.

Taking a rapid glance over the items listed in the inventories some conclusions can be reached. The items listed can be grouped into certain definable categories as under.


As one would expect the items listed under this heading appear to be of a plain and serviceable type. All the households listed had chairs, in some cases they are listed as having rush-bottoms. Chairs with arms are noted and in a few instances some are described as being made of oak.

In some of the less well off homes stools took the place of the chairs. Tables of various types are listed, including "fall tables" presumably drop leaf tables, in two homes. Oval tables are also noted in two instances. Apart from other references to 'large framed table' and 'square table' no other details are given. Kitchen dressers are mentioned in six lists, one of which is noted as being made of oak. Cupboards, presses and chests of drawers occur in a number of the lists. Bedsteads, sometimes described as being made of oak were usual in each case. These included feather or chaff mattresses and on occasions the list included bedding - not further described - also 'hangings', so that presumably these were required for four poster type with curtains which could be drawn. Only two of the lists included cradles whilst two houses had clocks. In the case of William Richardson the timepiece is described as much out of order. We are informed that John Brownloe's clock was kept on the stairs, so it may have been of the grandfather type.


From the descriptions given all the homes appear to have open fires on the hearth, using turf (peat) possibly augmented with wood as fuel. They list crooks or hearth cranes from which pots and griddles could be suspended. Most lists include particulars of iron pots, frying pans and griddles; only in one list is a copper pan, kettle or saucepan designated.


It has been noted how few references there are to delph or crockery domestic dishes in the inventories. Was this because there was no evidence of a pottery in the district?

Wooden containers, plates and dishes are listed in every household represented. Two-thirds of the households used noggins as drinking .vessels; they were made from wood and were circular in shape and were stave built with one stave left longer than the others to serve as a handle. Other houses had 'piggins' a larger size vessel of similar construction. Dr. Gailey suggests that they may have been used for milking. Barrels of various sizes were in general use, as were tubs. Churns were also common, some houses had more than one. Pewter-ware plates and dishes came next in popularity to wooden dishes. Seven houses had pewter cruets. Probably most houses had wooden spoons, regarded as too insignificant to have been listed. Strangely enough no mention is made of knives or forks in any of the lists. Nine houses had glass bottles which are enumerated and they were obviously regarded as valuable.


Evidence is available from every inventory of farming activities being carried out by the persons named. Information as to the sizes of the various farms is fragmentary, but all appear to have been small holdings. The largest farm was one of 29 acres which was owned by James Brownlow of Grange, (The Diamond) of which 6 acres was meadow, 3 acres wheat, 10 acres in oats with barley, 2 acres in oats, 8 acres in oats and barley, and potatoes. One of the smallest holdings has 8 acres.

All the inventories include cattle. The number of cows vary from 14 to 3, and these were further augmented by considerable numbers of calves, heifers, etc. Sheep were not so common and appear only in 8 inventories and vary in total number from 29 to 6. Horses, including stallions, mares, foals and fillies were listed for all but two holdings.

The commonest crop both in terms of the number of inventory entries and in terms of quantity grown was oats. Almost as common was barley but the quantity was smaller.

Only two list flax as a growing crop, despite the fact that linen was being produced in several of the households. Other crops noted are pease and potatoes, the latter on only three occasions. This indicates that the potato was still looked on as a new crop in 1720-30 and had not become the staple article of diet it was later to become in pre-famine days.

Rather surprisingly only small quantities of hay seem to have been produced.

Lists of carts of various types are noted, often referred to as "wheel carts". Lists of agricultural instruments in use on the farm vary from ploughs and harrows to hand tools, such as spades, graips and pitchforks.


Undoubtedly the most important craftwork carried on by the Ballyhagan community was the production of cloth. Seven homes give evidence of producing woollen yarn.

Linen production was more wide-spread still, as only two of the households failed to list linen equipment of some kind. This is confirmatory evidence of the importance of linen as a cottage industry in mid-Ulster at the commencement of the 18th century.


Dr. Galley suggests that the Quaker community did not stand aloof from their environment. This is amply borne out by their financial involvement not only with their fellow Quakers but also with their neighbours of other religious persuasions. However, the Quaker willingness to interact with the surrounding community only went so far; it did not extend to inter-marriage, but this discrimination was aimed not only at the Roman Catholic community, but at the Protestants also. A measure of the success of their policy in this direction is provided by the family names of the testators included in .the Ballyhagan Will Book, some of whose families had probably resided in Co. Armagh since the 1650's. Without exception the names were British, and only sixteen per cent can be regarded as possibly Scots rather than English. In fairness to the Quakers of the period, it must be pointed out that they welcomed all who were willing to join with them, but it meant accepting their religious views and adopting their disciplined life style. Friends were ahead of their time in the place they gave to women, both in their church and in society.


The Meeting at Ballyhagan does not seem to have produced any outstanding Public Friends throughout its history. It is a generally accepted fact that rural life in Ulster was very difficult during the eighteenth century, perhaps more so than in either Leinster or Munster.

An interesting comment is given by William Savery, an American Friend, who visited Ireland in 1797. This visit was some years later than the period with which we are dealing, but conditions in rural Ulster would have been quite similar to what he describes half a century later. William Savery had been entertained by Friends in both the North and South. His description of conditions in both parts of the country is illuminating and can be accepted as a fair comment. He notes -

"The poor people in this part of the country (between Hillsborough and Brookfield in Co. Down) are busily engaged in sowing wheat, digging potatoes, etc. (Autumn 1797) the women everywhere without shoes and stockings. Potatoes with a little oatmeal sometimes, milk now and then and a bit of meat, make up their principal food. I visited a number of the poor in their cottages. The women spin, and the men weave linen, muslin, etc., and are very poorly clad, indeed almost naked. Their houses very cold with little light, but what comes in at the door; the walls of mud and straw, roof thatched, floors of earth, and small fires of turf, and while they pay dear to the landowners. A straw bed or two, with some stools, a table and a few bowls make up their furniture." (42)

Writing from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, on New Year's day 1798, he had this to say about the Clonmel Quakers he had met.

"They seemed to live like princes of the earth, much more than in any other country I have seen. Their gardens, carriages, horses and various conveniences with the abundance of their tables appear to me to call for more gratitude and humility than in some cases it is feared is the case. The easy situation of some is an injury to themselves and to their families." (43)

Two days later William Savery visited a Quaker home in Clonmel which in his Journal he described as "a very sumptious establishment indeed which I did not omit to tell him was too much so". He contrasted this with the poor Roman Catholics, many of whom, he said "did not get meat six times a year and had barely anything to eat save potatoes and salt." (44)

Most of the Friends in the Meeting at Ballyhagan were small farmers eking out a modest livelihood by constant manual work. The linen industry was still in its infancy and was confined to the cottages of the peasantry. Communications were slow and roads were mere tracks.

With all the demands to provide a living, time was still found to attend Meetings for Worship on Sunday and midweek. Friends were found who were willing to travel to Provincial or Half Year's Meeting in Dublin or to accept other appointments by the Meeting as required. It is abundantly evident that the Meeting at Ballyhagan made an impact on the surrounding district as in the early records of the Meeting the names of so many local residents occur. Some of those who identified themselves with Friends at this time continued this association through their children in later generations.

One such family was the Richardson family who lived in the Loughgall district. The first member of the family to join the Meeting was William Richardson (45) who was drawn to Friends through the convincing ministry of William Edmondson in 1660. Later generations of this family married into another family in the Meeting by the name of Nicholson which seemed to further strengthen the connection with Friends.

The family later moved to Lisburn where a further marriage alliance took place with the Quaker family of Hogg. It is from this branch we get the Richardsons of Lisburn, Moyallon and Bessbrook. This family was prominently associated with the great linen industry of Ulster last century with its extensive manufacturing centre in Bessbrook. The settlement which grew up around the mill became a model village without public house, police station or pawnshop and if we look at the motivating purpose behind this enterprise we find a great concern by the founders to use the advantages they had been given to help their fellow men:

Reference has already been made to the Nicholson family, members of which had been settled at Cranagill and Tallbridge, (46) Co. Armagh, since before 1600. At least one member of this family lost his life in the disturbances of 1641. The story is told of how an infant son and his mother escaped from Tallbridge House and how after a difficult journey reached England, where they lived till the troubles were over. The boy's name was William Nicholson. When he became of age his mother encouraged him to return to Ireland and claim his property. This he did and after settling down he joined Friends and is known in the family records as "William the Quaker". Succeeding generations of Nicholsons played an important part in the Meeting. We find them acting as Clerks, both to the local Meeting and to the Province Meeting. This family had widespread connections through marriage with other Quaker families such as Brownlows, Robsons, Cells, Clibborns, Allens, Hobsons, Beales, Pikes, Greers, Murrays and Malcomsons. (47)

There were several other families of faithful, consistent Friends connected to the meeting, who by their life and witness upheld the principles for which we as a people have been known in this area for over three hundred years. They include Allens, Pearsons, Brownlows, Delaps, Mackies, Hobsons, Johnsons, Toppins, Hewitts, Stevensons, Sintons, Towels, Grays, Creeths, Blackburns, Winters, Williamsons and others.

Rutty records the death of William Gray in 1736, an Elder of Ballyhagan Meeting. He had been an important Friend in the Meeting for over thirty years. "He is remembered for his consistency in life. He was given to hospitality, of a grave solid deportment, of a good understanding and a ready utterance, yet modest and diffident of his own abilities …He grew in his concern for the prosperity of the Church as he advanced in years." (48)


(38) The Will Book of Ballyhagen Meeting of the Society of Friends. In The Irish Genealogist Vol. 2 pp. 238 - 239.
(39) The Ballyhagan Inventories 1716 - 1740 in Folk Life Vol. 15 1977 pp. 36 - 64.
(40) Ibid,
(41) J.F.H.S. Vol. it No. 3­
(42) Journal of William Savery Page 2.56 London 1844.
(43) Ibid.
(44) The Grubbs of Tipperary - B. Geoffrey w. Grubb
(45) Six Generations of Friends in Ireland (1655 - 1890) by J.M. Richardson - Page 159.
(46) Sometimes spelled Taulbridge.
(47) J.F.H.S. Vol. lll No. 2 - Page 63.
(48) Rutty Page 323.

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