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The History of Ballyhagan and Richhill Meetings 1654 - 1793 - 2004
Chapter 8
The nineteenth Century

The opening years of the nineteenth century saw a failing away in a number of Friends' Meetings throughout Ireland. This period is referred to as "The Separation". In some meetings the leading Friends resigned, in others several were disowned. A close observer of these events wrote - “there had taken place throughout Ireland a separatist movement of such magnitude as to threaten the downfall of Quakerism in that nation." (82)

The cause of the decline in the Society of Friends stemmed from several causes, including internal disunity among the membership, together with a reaction against the very strict discipline imposed. The main reason, however, appears to have been doctrinal, as unsound views were promulgated which caused deep divisions.

In looking back at these sad events, one thing is evident and that is that the Society was weakened to such an extent that it took many years to recover.

It was following these searching times that William Forster, a well-known English Quaker spent several months in Ulster in 1813 visiting almost every Friends' family. (84) He writes in his journal regarding his visit to Richhill - In visiting thirty-six families and attending their meetings, we travelled considerably above 100 miles. Many of the Friends are in low circumstances; some of them living in poor cabins, and apparently strangers to much of what we consider the comforts of civilized life, but generally in a state of independance, holding a small portion of land, from six or eight to thirty or thirty-five acres. They grow their own flax, which is spun, and in many instances woven, in the house, and sold in the market as it is made. This is the support of most of the inhabitants in this populous province. Almost every family has a little land. .... So there is scarcely a family without a cow and whose land does not furnish their own peat". (85)


The Evangelical Revival of 1858/9 and subsequent years brought a quickening to the life of religion in Ulster. The effects were noticeable in a variety of ways with a new emphasis on Christian discipleship and the earnest preaching of the Truth as it is in Jesus with fervent desires that all might come to Christ and be established in the faith and hope of the Gospel. (83)


We naturally wonder if all the meetings and other activities ceased at Ballyhagan when the new meeting house opened at Richhill. There is evidence that a day school for the children of Friends was held in the vicinity of Ballyhagan, if not in part of the meeting house itself. Two Friends were appointed by the Monthly Meeting to inspect the school and see if they had suitable books, and if not, to order supplies from Dublin. The Friends appointed reported that numbers were very small, as some of the children were employed at home. (86) "The master was admonished to be very attentive to his duty and encourage Friends as much as possible to send out their children". (87) This school is unlikely to have continued for long, especially when the boarding school at Lisburn became a Quarterly meeting School in 1794. This will be referred to later.

If ever a local school for Friends' children was commenced at Richhill, after the meeting moved, it did not continue long, as the report was that the school had not been held for some time past in Richhill for want of a suitable place to hold it". (88)

According to one source a School for Friends' children was held at Richhill in 1794 with about 30 children, and the teacher was Ephraim McQuillan, (89)

An encouraging note in the Minutes of the Monthly Meeting at this period and indeed during the nineteenth century had to do with the boarding school at Lisburn which had been commenced in 1774, for both boys and girls of Ulster Quarterly Meeting. The superintendent of this school was the well qualified schoolmaster from Dublin, John Gough, author of the widely known arithmetic text book. The school was handed over to the Quarterly Meeting in 1794 and a committee was set up to be directly responsible for the running of the school. The first Richhill members appointed in 1793 on the committee were James Nicholson, William Nicholson and John Morrison.

At the Monthly Meeting held 6th month I9th 1794 the meeting was informed that Richhill Meeting had the privilege of sending three boys to the school and they would be ready to receive them on 15th 8th month next. Two Friends were appointed to suggest names, which they did at next Meeting. The following boys were approved, James Morrison's son (no name given), Mary King's son, Joseph and Samuel Williamson's son, William. Four months later the meeting was informed that girls could now be accepted and the first girl selected was Sarah Haddock, daughter of James and Rebecca Haddock, who was aged near nine years. We would consider this an early age to go to boarding school, especially when we remember that some of these children might not see their parents again for several years. This was because of the difficulties of travel, and owing to the fact that no vacations from the school were approved till after 1849. (90)

It was an added interest to have annual reports from the school coming to the Monthly Meeting. Local Friends were concerned to be on the lookout for children who might benefit by becoming pupils. A collection was taken up each year for the school and in some instances financial help was given to parents towards school fees. Providing their quota of members to serve on the school committee was a continuing duty of the meeting. For generations young people of both sexes followed each other in being educated at Ulster Provincial School (as it was known at first). The cultural benefits received at the school remained with them all through life. The guarded education, methodical training and general atmosphere of the school left its stamp on the young people who had been there.


Early in 1950, Lily J. Loney, who was then librarian of the small Quaker Library at the meeting house, discovered among the other books, an old tattered manuscript book, with some of its pages barely legible. On close examination it was found that this book had been used at one time as the Treasurer's Account Book at Ballyhagan. It contained detaiIs of cash received and paid out for the years 1714 -1745. Most of the entries give but meagre details of the reason for the payments, but we get a glimpse of the care that was bestowed on those connected to the meeting, who were living alone and elderly, or were ill, in prison, or in financial straits. Frequent entries occur recording a payment for carrying a letter to an adjacent meeting, such as to Castleshane (Co. Monaghan) or Grange near Charlemont, or to Lurgan or Moyallon. These letters usually concerned the arrangements for the itinerary of a visiting Friend. The payment to those who conveyed the letters ranged from 4d. to 1s. 1d. Other payments noted include, "1s 11d. paid for shoeing travellers' horses 1724", another, "sent to Robert Barns in prison by Thomas Toppin 5s 5d. 1724." Perhaps some future historian will study these entries in greater detail and gain from them some interesting facts about the social history of the time. It is not clear why the book did not continue to be used for keeping the Treasurer's accounts.

There were still many pages left in it when records ceased. It seems to have remained unused till 1822 when the Monthly Meeting set up a lending library at Richhill and this book was again pressed into service as a book to record the borrower's names, title of book, date taken out, and returned. The book commenced its new role by setting out in detail a set of rules as to how the library was to be run, to whom the books were to be lent, the limit of time allowed for reading and in the event of a book being lost, the borrower to be responsible for cost of replacement.

The library was well organised and contained approximately 75 to 100 books of Quaker interest. Records of borrowing exist from 1827 till 1834. In the year 1827 the total number of books borrowed was 140 after which the numbers decreased. As is usual in most meetings there were some avid readers: one Friend, Benjamin Hobson, borrowed 45 books during the period. It is interesting to note the titles of those in greatest demand at this period. They were John Gough's History of the People called Quakers in 4 Volumes published in Dublin 1789-90 (91) and Barclay's Apology. This appears to have been the commencement of the earliest organised library and it has continued to play its part in the life of the meeting ever since. The reason for its coming into existence when it did suggests that there was a thirst for knowledge among the rural community who attended. It also indicates that there was a greater degree of literacy among the borrowers than among some of their neighbours. When we compare conditions today with those in existence over 150 years ago we feel that those who instigated this feature of literary culture within the community were pioneers in this respect.


There is an interesting account given by a visitor who attended Richhill Meeting in 1837. Jonathan Binns (92) who was employed by the Government as an assistant Agricultural Commissioner to carry out a survey on rural life and conditions in Ireland. During the course of the enquiry he was stationed for a time at Markethill and when there he attended the Meeting at Richhill, as detailed in the following extract -

"On the sabbath I attended the Friends' Meeting House at Richhill, a neat village five miles from Markethill. About forty families, members of the Society attended the meeting and I was informed that very often sixty other persons, not members, frequented the Meeting. For the most part these persons are engaged in agricultural pursuits." (93) After attending the meeting, he accepted an invitation home for lunch from one of the members - John Allen, The Retreat, Hockley, Armagh. The Retreat was a family home commenced in 1824 and devoted to the humane treatment of those suffering from mental disorders, so that a restoration of health might be effected. A contemporary description of the institution was "A House of Recovery". This was in marked contrast to the treatment then given in many of the County Asylums, where harsh and repressive methods were used which seldom led to recovery. J. Binns continues - "John Allen's system of management consists of lenient measures, calculated to render confinement as little irksome as possible, and is on a principle similar to that adopted at the Retreat, York, which place he visited in order to qualify himself the better for the discharge of his important duties. The patients are scarcely sensible of restraint; they enjoy the liberty of rambling through the grounds and gardens and are allowed every variety of amusement, consistent with their lamentable condition. By these judicious means, many have been restored to health ……His terms vary, according to the state of the patient from £30 to £60 per annum. I found John Allen an enthusiast in gardening and agriculture both of which he practices on a small scale. In his farm he cultivates all kinds of green food in drills, but his method is laborious and expensive for want of suitable implements." (94)

Advertisment for The Retreat, Armagh

In an article in a contemporary newspaper we learn that John Allen was concerned about obtaining a reprieve for a man condemned to death for murder and held in Armagh Prison. The accused protested his innocence to the last and all the sustained efforts of four clergymen and John Allen, (representing the Society of Friends) to obtain a reprieve were unavailing. The execution took place publicly outside Armagh Prison on April 20th 1842. According to the article referred to John Allen had offered to be responsible for looking after the condemned man at the Retreat if released. (95)

One gathers that John Allen advocated the abolition of capital punishment, which was still widely used for a number of crimes. In seeking to take positive action on behalf of a helpless fellow man he showed the love and compassion of Christ in a practical manner. Successive members of this family of Allens continued the healing ministry at the Retreat for many years and several were prominently associated with the meeting, but none of their descendants are among the present membership. At the southern end of the burial ground at Richhill there is a row of headstones on which the names of many members of this family are recorded.


Early in 1830's some complaints were being openly expressed that the Meeting House at Richhill had been built in the wrong location to suit the great body of the membership who were living around the Ballyhagan, Loughgall and Kilmore, area. In order to attend meeting (both on first day and mid week) they had long distances to travel either by walking or by horse.

Things came to a head in the Monthly Meeting held in 11th month 1835 when it was decided to send a minute to Ulster Quarterly Meeting pointing out their difficulties and asking for the Meeting's help and guidance. The Quarterly Meeting acted as we would have expected; they appointed a strong representative committee of nine men to confer with Richhill about the matter and report back. No conclusion could be reached and so the matter rested for several years.

In the Monthly Meeting held in 2nd month 1842 the subject came up again. At this meeting it was stated that a suitable site was available for the erection of a meeting house. Where this actual site was is not defined. The proposal was that the meeting should be divided; those who favoured the new location should leave and those who preferred remaining at Richhill should continue meeting there. It was decided to ask permission of Quarterly Meeting to build on the new site. It is not clear whether the matter ever reached the Quarterly meeting as the final decision was resolved at the following Monthly Meeting held 3rd month 24th 1842.

"The subject of having a second meeting house for the convenience and accommodation of several families of Friends who reside at such a distance from our present meeting house as to make it difficult for them to attend their Religious Meetings as they could wish has been brought before us at this time and solidly considered and it appearing to be the sense and judgment of the meeting that we are not in a fit state to separate or have a second meeting house it is therefore concluded that we continue on in our usual way until some further opening may appear to relieve Friends in this respect".

It was a wise decision which was loyally accepted by all as the matter did not come up again.


Marriage among members of the Society of Friends was always regarded as a solemn undertaking and not one to be entered into lightly. Furthermore it was looked upon as an ordinance of God and not a mere civil contract and it was expected that the ceremony itself would take place in a meeting for worship.

Those contemplating marriage were required to follow strict rules of procedure before being permitted to proceed. They were expected to appear in person and declare their intentions in the local business meeting, which in turn appointed committees of both men and women Friends who were required to make discreet enquiries as to whether paternal consent had been obtained and if both parties led a blameless life and were free of other engagements.

Final consent had to be obtained from the Quarterly Meeting and notice of the proposed marriage had to be given out at two meetings for worship allowing a suitable interval between. The marriage itself usually took place at a mid week meeting for worship. The committees which had been appointed remained in off ice till after the wedding, making all necessary arrangements that the procedure before and after the wedding was carried out with moderation and decorum. Care was taken to see that the marriage certificate had been prepared; it was also necessary to see that it was signed and witnessed.

In the records of the meeting both at Ballyhagan and also at Richhill there are frequent references to such arrangements being carried out. This was the usual procedure when the marriage was between members of the society and carried out according to their usages. If a member of the meeting (either man or woman) formed an attachment with a non-member such a marriage was not permitted to take place in the meeting house. On the other hand it was considered a serious default if the marriage should take place in a church where a priest or minister would officiate.

Many young people "married out" (the phrase frequently used) and were invariably disowned from the meeting. A few were reinstated if they expressed sorrow for what they had done. Others continued to attending meeting, but were debarred from business meetings. We gather that by far the greater number who married in this way became disassociated from the meeting permanently owing to this harsh form of discipline then being enforced. It was a stern law to carry out and as a result families were divided and over the years the membership of the meeting and the Society was considerably reduced. It was not until about 1860 that the marriage regulations were relaxed and marriage with a non-Friend was allowed in meeting or church.


It became increasingly evident that another boarding school was required to cater for the needs of the boys and girls who were growing up and were attached to the country meetings of Friends in Ulster. These were the children of parents, who for one reason or another, had been deprived of their membership and had been disowned in the majority of cases for "marrying out".

Disownment did not prevent attendance at meetings for worship, and many continued to attend and in due course they brought their children along also. In the main these lapsed members were living in rural areas and were engaged in work on the land and many were very close to the poverty line. Their children were precluded from admission to the boarding school at Lisburn (even if they could have afforded to pay the fees) as they were not members. These children were growing up without the advantages of education and the moral and spiritual training which young people at this formative age require.

For a number of years Dublin Yearly Meeting was concerned about the condition of such children, and1n 1830, decided to carry out a survey of the numbers involved. The estimated number of children of the class referred to in Ulster alone was 531 children in 219 families, the majority being in the country meetings of Grange, Richhill and Lurgan, as well as those in the other Provinces of Ireland.

Matter's came to a head following a visit to Ulster by that noted Quaker Minister Stephen Grelett in 1833. (96) The Yearly,Meating held in 1834 in Dublin passed the following mlnute -

"This meeting is engaged cordially to encourage. our Friends of Ulster to persevere in their attention to the individuals who have been under their care in reference to their moral, and religious state and the Friends of that Province are recommended to organise an association to promote this object and that a list of donations and subscriptions for the purpose of assisting Friends be now entered".

As a result, a farm of 24 acres, was purchased at Brookfield near Moira, buildings were put up and a school was commenced in 1836. It was so organised that the boys would be expected to work part-time on the farm, helping with the crops, providing vegetables for the school and looking after the farm animals. It was thought that by this means that the school would be almost self-supporting in food, and at the same time provide the boys with practical training in agriculture and farm management, Iearn about the rotation of crops and, land improvement methods. The school was of course to be run on a co-educational basis. Girls would not be expected to work on the land; their sphere of duties was to be within the household. They would be expected to help in the kitchen, cleaning and general household management, as well as working in the dairy, churning and butter making; helping, with needlework, dressmaking and similar domestic accomplishments would be expected from them. Elementary school subjects were to be taught part-time. The, main objective was "to train the children in a religious life and conversation consistent with our Christian profession". (97)

Friends throughout Ireland supported the institution financially, so that parents were relieved from paying high school fees, otherwise many would have been unable to send their children.

When school days came to an end some of the children were placed as apprentices with Friends in Dublin, or throughout Ireland, others returned to their homes better equipped for the duties of life and quite a number rose to positions of responsibility at home and abroad.

The writer feels that he personally owes a debt to the school at Brookfield, as both his father and mother were at the school as children. Both his parents came from homes where one of the partners had been disowned for "marrying out".

Over the years there were many children connected with Richhill Meeting who attended Brookfield and later became responsible and useful members of the meeting.

The school continued to function till 1922, when it ceased to operate as a Friends' school, the reason being that the purpose for which it had been commenced no longer existed - disownment had become very rare indeed, and the type of family for which the school had been set up was no longer in existence.


In reading through the minutes of the Monthly Meeting a rather unfortunate case is recorded of the disownment of a family. The first evidence of trouble occurs in the meeting of 8th month 1868, when a report was received from a Committee which was appointed to visit the Friends in question. Several grievances are mentioned, none of which appear to have been insurmountable if a little "come and go" on both sides had been evident. The family consisted of the mother, Ann (usually known as Nancy) Chapman, a widow, living at Clonroot, Portadown, with her grown-up sons and daughters, Robert, Thomas, Mary, Isabella and Hannah. They were known locally as "Nancy's ones" to distinguish them from relatives of the same name, who lived at Battlehill, a short distance away.

The trouble seems to have arisen when members of Nancy's family, acting in unison, repeatedly disturbed the meeting for worship, by publicly denouncing those who differed from them. They refused to accept the discipline of the Meeting, declaring that they themselves were the only true Friends left. Their behaviour and attitude was similar to other dissidents, which occurred in other parts of Ireland, some years earlier, who were known as "The White Quakers" (see Isabel Grubbs Quakers in Ireland Pages 126 - 130).

Reviewing the situation impartially, after the lapse of more than a century, it seems a great pity that the breach was never healed. The meeting made repeated efforts, which continued for over a year, to effect a reconciliation, but all attempts failed, and finally, separate testimonies of disownment were prepared for each one also for John Haydock (the only Friend who supported them in their action) on 8th of 7th month, 1869.

This family led blameless lives and were highly respected in the countryside where they lived. When they were denied access to the meeting house at Richhill, they met each week for worship, after the manner of Friends, in their own kitchen, on both first day and fifth day mornings. Anyone was welcome to join with them on these occasions. I can recall going with my father and mother, when we were kindly received. Some members of the family were usually led to participate in vocal ministry during the course of the meeting. After attendance at these gatherings one was impressed with the deep sense of reverence and worship which prevailed. These meeting continued to be held so long as they were able to carry on, probably into the 1920's.

Each one of the family wore the distinctive Quaker dress and used the plain language associated with early Friends, both among themselves and with any outside contacts they had.

They lived very much withdrawn and sheltered lives and had the minimum association with their neighbours. None of the family ever married, after they became separated from the meeting, and so they have left no direct descendants. As they died, one by one, all were buried in the burial ground at Richhill, but no stone marks their last resting place.

NOTE: Perhaps the statement that “they left no descendants” requires some qualification. The eldest daughter in this family was Ann Chapman, and she had already married a local man called Samuel Montgomery; she had left home and so was not included with the others when the disownments occurred. Ann, had a daughter Eliza who married Jonathan Hewitt, who belonged to another denomination, but some of whose children afterwards became Friends. Many will recall with thankfulness Heather A. Hewitt (a grand-daughter of Eliza) who married William McDonagh, The Old Mill, Richhill. Heather was such a gracious helpful member of the meeting during her all too brief life. When she died in 1972 she left behind five sons, who are members of the meeting and are directly linked with the above family.

(82) Thomas Greer in Greek Letters P.R.O. (N.I.) Rat 1044118.
(83) Quakers in Ireland 1654 - 1900 Isabel Grubb.
(84) Ibid.
(85) Memoirs of William Foster. Benjamin Seebohm Vol. 1 Page 155.
(86) Monthly Meeting Minutes 9th month 19th 1793.
(87) Ibid.
(88) Monthly Meeting Minutes 11th month 21st 1793.
(89) Some Ulster Yesterdays - Mary Waterfall Page 22.
(90) A History Friends' School Lisburn - Neville H. Newhouse Page 47.
(91) Written by John Gough, first Headmaster Friends' School, Lisburn. The history was written when at Lisburn. He was engaged on the work over a period of eight years. He died just before final Volume was completed.
(92) Jonathan Binns was a Friend. A member of Lancaster Meeting. England.
(93) The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland in Two Volumes by J. Binns 1837.
(94) Ibid.
(95) "Ulster Times" Lurgan April 21st 1842.
(96) Described in the Dictionary of Quaker Biography. Reference Library Friends House. London. “A Christian in the Apolostic succession, waiting for and receiving immediate divine guidance".
(97) From Minute Ulster Quarterly Meeting held at Grange 9th month. 1933.
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