Religious Society of Friends (Quakers): Limerick Papers

The Religious Society of Friends was born during the turbulent seventeenth century, a time of religious and political upheaval. Many people became disillusioned with the chaos emanating from the established Christian churches and sought new ways to live out the Christian ideal.

It was in this spirit that George Fox and a group of ‘Seekers’ founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1652. The principal element of their faith was and remains the idea that each person is capable of direct experience with the Holy Spirit without interference from any other person as an intermediary.

They advocated a simpler way of practicing the Christian way of life, which included freedom of religious choice, equality of the sexes.  Life itself is a sacrament and spiritual baptism. Friends were to be sober, simple, plain, honest, unostentatious, industrious, courageous.

The poor would be cared for, there would be no tale-bearing or detraction and there would be no swearing of oaths[1]. The organisational structure of the Society of Friends has remained largely unchanged since its inception. It is framed around the Meeting for Worship which is held every Sunday.

In order to facilitate this, Monthly Meetings are held to manage church affairs, on top of these there are Quarterly Meetings, one for each province, held and these in turn are coordinated into the Yearly Meeting which is a national event. There are no paid ministers or officials, the Friends manage the church themselves, with ‘Elders’ appointed to look after the spiritual welfare of other Friends.

The Religious Society of Friends began to preach in Ireland in 1654 and the first meeting of Friends in Ireland was held in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Shortly after this the Quakers arrived in Limerick and the first meeting of Friends was held in the home of Richard Pearce in 1655. By the following year the Quaker population of Limerick had risen to about 70 people.[2]

At first, meetings of worship took place in the homes of Thomas Holmes and Richard Pearce. Later in 1671 a meeting house was erected in Creagh Lane and here they remained until 1807, when a new Meeting House was built in Cecil Street. In 1832 a Friends’ burial ground was established near Peters Cell.

Persecution of the Quakers was widespread in the seventeenth century. In 1656 Henry Ingoldsby the governor of Limerick City forbade people from interaction with Quakers on penalty of being turned out of the city. Many Quakers were driven from their homes and imprisoned for their beliefs.

This did not deter the Friends however and in 1671, under King Charles II limited religious liberties were granted, the Friends built a meeting house in Creagh Lane. Acceptence came slowly but surely and by 1687 three members of Limerick Corporation were Quakers.[3]

Things further improved for Quakers when England and Ireland came under the control of William and Mary. Persecution continued however, largely due to the refusal of Friends to swear Oaths. This was to be a source of continual contention for the Friends, who were forced to pay tithes, these are recorded in the Book of Sufferings.

The Religious Society of Friends is well known for its charity work and innovation.  Perhaps the most cited incidence of this is during the Famine in Ireland when Friends formed Relief Committees which provided food to anyone in need regardless of the religion.

They provided for the setting up of soup kitchens as well as distribution of seeds for other food crops. About €14million in today’s money was raised mainly from Friends living abroad.[4]

 This collection contains the minutes of the Limerick men’s and women’s Meetings. The minutes record discussions on travel, marriage, removals and correspondence from friends in Ireland and abroad. The collection also contains a Record of Suffering 1777-1857, which records goods seized from Friends in lieu of tithes to the Established Church.  ‘8th Month  Taken from Wm McAllister by Patk. Lahiff, Tithemonger under Maurice Crosby Dean of Limk. for a demand of  17 for a two years tithes 3 carloads Hay worth [ab] 2.0.0.’ 

The  collection also includes Account Books, Notices of Removals, records of Friends removed form the Society for improper behaviour, notices of friends transferring from and to other meetings and records of Quaker  Births, Deaths and Marriages. The Relief Committee Minutes books record the decisions of the relief committee in relation to relief in Clare and Limerick during the Famine period;  ‘we are directed to place at thy disposal five pounds, to be given on loan to assist the poor fishermen of Kilkee in repairing nets, boats…which we trust may be useful to them.’  6 July 1847. 

On the same day the committee also refused an application from the Guild of Weavers in Limerick City, writing that they expect to be able to adopt such measures as will assist the destitute poor in parts of this City without reference to any particular class’. 

The collection is a wonderful insight into the Quaker community in the Limerick area, documenting their births, deaths and marriages, their monthly meetings and their response to prevailing social and economic conditions.  

 

References:

[1] Society of Friends website: http://www.quakers-in-ireland.org/

[2] Sean Spellissey, History Of Limerick City, The Celtic Bookshop 1998.

[3] Sean Spellissey, History of Limerick City, The Celtic Bookshop 1998

[4] Society of Friends website: http://www.quakers-in-ireland.org/

 

Creator(s)

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: N.A.

Use Restrictions: 

Copyright is held by the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland. Reproduction for personal use including downloading from a website is permitted. Permission to publish any of the material should be obtained from The Curator, Friends Historical Library, Stocking Lane, Dublin 16 qhist@eircom.net. The use of excerpts in  scholarly publication will usually be permitted without fee, provided due acknowledgement is made. Resale or commercial use of the material is not permitted

Related Materials:

Limerick Society of Friends Munster Province Records