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The History of Ballyhagan and Richhill Meetings 1654 - 1793 - 2004
Chapter 7
Transfer of the Meeting to Richhill 1793

The Society of Friends is noted for the care which it takes in preserving their records. This may be true in general, but a laxity in recording the minutes of the monthly meeting at Ballyhagan is noticeable in the decade prior to the meeting moving to Richhill.

Richhill Village Circa 1900
Richhill Village Circa 1900

The minutes of the meeting held 1st month 13th 1785 are incomplete and following this is written "several years wanting" following by eight blank pages.

Apparently the clerk of that period kept a "rough note-book", in which the minutes were entered at the time of the meeting, and then later on they were written into the official book. These missing minutes were never entered, and the rough book has not survived, so we have no clue what matters came before the meeting during these crucial years. The next meeting of which we have any record was in 12th month 1791. The meeting which was held on 6th month 26th 1793 has only one minute and it is of minor importance. Underneath is written ' "The proceedings of ensuing monthly meeting are lost."

Following this are the minutes of the first monthly meeting which was held at Richhill on 8th month 22nd 1793, these are given in full in the appendix - Page 813. The gaps in the records of the meeting during the last years at Ballyhagan are unfortunate, as it was during this period the proposal to build a new meeting house would have been considered.


The next source of information which was consulted was Ulster Quarterly Meeting minute book Quarterly Meeting 1/4 1785 - 1801. (66) From these records we learn that the state of Ballyhagan Meeting House was giving concern, and the matter was reported to Quarterly Meeting on 8/8/1789 and a committee was appointed to survey the building and undertake repairs with the meagre funds in hands. Here the matter seemed to rest until Quarterly Meeting held on 5/2/1791 when a representative from Ballyhagan Meeting was present and laid a proposition before Friends of 1he propriety of having a new meeting house more convenient than the present one to the Friends of the said meeting in general " Another committee was appointed to confer with local Friends about the advisability of the scheme, and report back to next Quarterly meeting. In actual fact the report did not reach the Quarterly Meeting until 15/10/1791, at a meeting held at Moyallon. The following written report was then presented, which is now given in full.

'”We the committee appointed by the Quarterly Meeting to consider the proposition for changing the situation of Ballyhagan Meeting House having taken the matter into consideration and conferred with Friends of Ballyhagan on the subject, are of the opinion the town of Richhill is the most eligible situation that can now be procured for said purpose in which point we have the satisfaction to find that there is a general concurrance of the members of said meeting. We may further observe that we have had an offer from the landlord of the town of a commodious plot of ground in perpetuity, sufficient for erecting (meeting house) and also for an house, park and burial ground." The minute then concludes - "The following Friends are requested to assist the Friends of Ballyhagan Meeting in procuring a proper deed of this ground which has been offered for the purpose, and to give such other assistance as may be necessary in the enclosing of the place and in the plan and building of the Meeting House, etc. Applying for subscriptions from Friends of the Province in aid of the work viz. Joseph Nicholson, James Christy of Lurgan, Thomas Phelps and Jno. Hancock."


It is evident from this minute that the proposal to build on the new site had the whole hearted support of local Friends as well as the blessing help and support of Ulster Quarterly Meeting. It is noticeable that in the written report to Quarterly Meeting the committee points out that "we have had an offer from the landlord of the town of a commodious plot of ground in perpetuity." This phrasing gives the impression that it was the landlord who had made the first approach and offered the attractive site in Richhill. The village at this time seemed to have a promising commercial future as its weekly linen market was well known throughout Ulster, attracting buyers from far and near. Lewis tells us that the average value of linen sold here was £2,600 weekly (67) a considerable sum for a cottage industry. Richhill had the added advantage that it was at that time on the main stage-coach route from Belfast to Armagh, with connections to the west of Ireland. It also had a road leading to Dublin and the South, via Markethill and Newry. All these considerations would have been borne in mind by Friends when making the decision to accept the offer. Another point which may have helped to decide the issue was that it would be more advantageous to have the meeting house and burial ground in close proximity. It was inconvenient having the burial ground at Money, so far removed from the meeting house, in addition the difficult access and question of the lease of this property was always cropping up.


The landlord referred to who offered the site on which to build was William Richardson who lived at Richhill Castle. So as to have a picture of this family it is necessary to go back to the Plantation of Ulster which commenced about 1609.

A certain Francis Sacheverell from Leicestershire, England, was given a grant of 2,000 acres in this part of Co. Armagh on condition that he would settle it with suitable tenants. The original Francis had a son also called Francis, who succeeded him. He lived in a fortified house or castle in the adjoining townland of Mulladry; this house was destroyed during the rebellion of 1641 and never rebuilt.

When Francis Sacheverell died in 1649 he left an only daughter Anne, then aged 17, as his sole heiress. She married an army major named Edward Richardson in 1654, and it was he who built the Castle at Legacorry (as Richhill was then called) about 1665.

According to the Hearth Money Rolls of 1664 there were then twenty houses in the village, each with one hearth and the names of the occupants still exist. The village soon became known as "Richardson's Hill" and in process of time it was further shortened to "Richhill" by which name it was generally known from 1737 onward. At the period of which we are writing the occupant of the Castle was William Richardson (great grandson of Edward). He was the local member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons, Dublin. He seems to have been not only a popular landlord, but also a man of liberal views, as some years earlier he had given grants of land to build places of worship in Richhill, to the Independent or Congregational body, whose Church was built in 1779. The Presbyterians of the district, who prior to this were worshipping at Vinecash, were given a plot of land rent free on which a church was erected in 1782.

By this period of time Quakers were becoming known in Ulster for their thrift and industry. The linen business was making notable progress both in the quantity of goods produced, also by improved methods of manufacture and already Quakers were prominent in the establishment and advancement of this great industry. (68)

It is true Bessbrook had not yet emerged as the great commercial centre it was later to become, but it is interesting to note that one of the early firms associated with linen manufacturing at Bessbrook was Joseph Nicholson & Sons (69) who purchased the property there in 1802 continuing operations till 1845 when they sold to the Richardson family. (70)

Quakers had the reputation for assisting their poorer members, the elderly amongst them received care if necessary. Particular attention was taken that all Quaker children would receive an adequate education and day schools were available in most meetings. It is likely that William Richardson bore these points in mind when he offered the site, as by encouraging Quakers to come to the village he might be benefiting the entire community.

Richhill Meeting House with Friends Hall
Richhill Meeting House with Friends Hall

Care was expressed in the Quarterly Meeting minute of 15/10/1791 that a proper deed of the ground should be obtained but it was not signed till "Tenth of October 1793." The meeting house had already been built, so we gather that the relationship which had been established between the landlord and Friends was a trustful one.

The deed or lease was framed in the usual legal terms, and is signed by the landlord on the one hand, and by the following Friends, John Morrison, Cavan (townland), William Nicholson, Tallbridge, James Christy, Stramore, Co. Down and Joseph Nicholson, Bernagh, Co. Tyrone. In 1811 the above trustees had a new lease drawn up, transferring the holding to eight new trustees who held the property on behalf of Ulster Quarterly Meeting. There were other eventualities covered in these leases which it is not proposed to enlarge on. There is, however, one interesting fact mentioned in both of these documents, describing the location of the ground in Richhill as follows - "That piece of ground situate in the town of Richhill aforesaid formerly in the possession of Thomas Walker and James Robinson with a piece of ground formerly called The Anabaptist meeting house yard with the road leading from the street called Irish Street to the same meeting house yard." Apparently an Anabaptist Meeting House had existed at an earlier period on approximately the same site as the present meeting house. Practically nothing is now known about this sect's existence here, it may be they had already died out at this period and only the location of their meeting place remained as a memory.

In some ways Anabaptists, who were a dissenting body, held similar views to Friends on some subjects, but as their name implies they practised adult water baptism. Their history and practices are fully described in Robert Barclay's book. (71)

Interior of Richhill Meeting House
Interior of Richhill Meeting House - © Bob Sinton

The only reference to a meeting being held at Ballyhagan after Richhill was opened was during the visit of an American Friend, Job Scott, who arrived in Ulster from Dublin accompanied by a young Dublin Friend, Thomas Bewley, Jr. During the course of this visit two meetings were held at Ballyhagan and one at Richhill. In his Journal he mentions having had a good meeting "among Friends and others at Ballyhagan on 8 month 22nd 1793. (72) (incidentally this was same date as first Monthly Meeting at Richhill. (See Minutes in Appendix).

He had noted in the course of this visit to Ulster - "The doctrines of the everlasting Gospel, in most of the meetings in the North flowed like oil on the Spirits of the people." (73)

He also mentions being present at a second meeting at Ballyhagan about 9 month 9th 1793 and his comment regarding this was long, silent and suffering but ended triumphantly." He mentions immediately afterwards having attended a meeting at Richhill and his comments were "dull and painful." This was the "quietist" period amongst Friends, and it was not uncommon for a ministering Friend to attend a meeting, to which the public had been invited, and find he had been given no message and the meeting would be held in complete silence, in which case is it any wonder it would be designated as "dull and painful?"

When Job Scott returned to Dublin he appeared to be in his usual health and he engaged in several strenuous weeks travelling and visiting meetings in the South of Ireland. When he arrived at Ballintore, Co. Carlow, he was far from well, and then became seriously ill - small-pox was diagnosed, from which he did not recover.He died on 11th month 23rd 1793 within months of being at Richhill. The memory of Job Scott remained with Friends in Richhill Meeting for generations. His experiences and writings were quite frequently referred to up to the opening years of the present century.

The concluding years of the eighteenth century were momentous ones from every point of view, with such dramatic happenings taking place as the French Revolution and the overthrow of the Monarchy in France. Nearer home the rise of the United Irishmen composed of both Roman Catholics and Presbyterians who were prepared to take up arms to achieve their ends. Several secret societies were emerging including the Orange Order in Co. Armagh. At this period England was engaged in war with both France and Spain and her resources were fully stretched.

What was Friends' role to be in view of all these developments? The Half Year's Meeting held in Dublin in 1796 was apprehensive of the way events were moving in Ireland and recommended that Friends who owned firearms should destroy them, in case they fell into the hands of anyone who would use them against their fellow man. (74) It had been further recommended that Friends should not join a secret society, especially one with a military objective.

Thomas Scattergood (an American Friend) visited Richhill in 1796 on a Monthly Meeting day, and this is what he records of that occasion. "After the Monthly Meeting concluded its business a few Friends were appointed to go from family to family and inspect their condition, particularly with regard to the testimony against war and fighting; and to endeavour to persuade Friends to put away all instruments of destruction and death out of their houses, in this time of commotion amongst their neighbours; it appears that several who had joined in those things and were brought under dealing and had condemned it." (75)

Among the "several" referred to were probably Abram and Isaac Pearson who in 1795 had written to the meeting as follows -

"Dear Friends,

Without considering the consequences of our running thro surprise admidst the tumult and in a warlike manner bearing arms. We have been sorry since for our doings, being brought to the same by Friends that visited us on that account and of the reproachfulness thereof that any of our Society violate and act so inconsistent with the principles we profess to our great loss we have been too ignorant of; but we hope for the future to be more careful not to give any occasion for such accusations."

We remain your loving Friends
Abram Pearson
Isaac Pearson


John Wesley paid repeated visits to Ireland, the earliest of which was in 1747. His first visit to Richhill was in 1762, when he addressed a large congregation in the Market House, this building was on the site of the present Church of Ireland, in the Square.

Other visits to the village followed in 1785 and 1787. Many who heard him were attracted by his earnest messages and a Methodist Society was commenced in the village. It was not till 1805 that the first Methodist Church was built; this building was later used as a day school, and a new Church was built nearby. (76)

John Wesley had met several Quakers during his visits to Ireland. He had consulted in a professional capacity Doctor John Rutty of Dublin on more than one occasion. (77) He also mentions the pleasant Christian fellowship he had with John Garrett of Dublin, whom he describes as "one of the most lovely old men I ever saw." (78)

After reading William Edmondson's Journal, Wesley wrote "His opinions I leave; but what a spirit was here' What faith, love, gentleness, long suffering! Could mistakes send such a man as this to hell! Not so. I am so far from believing this, that I scruple not to say "Let my soul be with the soul of William Edmondson". (79) Apart from a few Friends who joined the new movement the meeting continued, perhaps with increased zeal.


In a recent "History of Richhill Presbyterian Church" (80) the writer refers to a story that "the village was under a curse because of the murder of a Quaker in the place. It seems that the penalty was that grass would grow in the streets - a sure sign of poverty - which it did for fifty years." (81)

After making exhaustive enquiries, we have so far failed to unearth any evidence that a Quaker ever met such an untimely end as is described. The conclusion reached is, that this is only a story or myth, which has been handed down verbally and has no substance in fact. At any rate the village at present seems to be flourishing, many new attractive houses having been built and the population having more than doubled since the beginning of the century. There is now no sign of the grass growing in the streets, otherwise the judges would not have awarded the plaque for the best kept village in Ulster for a number of years.

(66) From Quaker Records Lisburn Meeting House.
(67) A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 2 Vols. by Samuel Lewis 1837.
(68) Quakers and the Linen Industry in Lurgan - W.H. Crawford P.P.O. (N.I.)
(69) Members of Nicholson family.
(70) Bessbrook A Record of industry in a N. I. village 1945.
(71) The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth- Robert Barclay 1876.
(72) Journal of Job Scott - London 1815 Page 345.
(73) Ibid. Page 346.
(74) Six generations of Friends in Ireland - Jane M. Richardson 1893.
(75) Memories of Thomas Scattergood - V.M. & Thos. Evans London 1845.
(76) History of Methodism on the Armagh Circuit - Lynn 1887.
(77) Wesleys one and twenty Visits to Ireland - R. Haire 1947.
(78) The Grubbs of Tipperary - G. W Grubb 1972 Page 143.
(79) The relations between the Society of Friends and Early Methodism - Frank Barber 1949.
(80) History of Richhill Presbyterian Church - Rev. Dr. A.R. Scott.
(81) Ibid.
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