The Quaker religion in Ireland
The Quaker religion began in England in the 17th Century. A young man, George Fox became disillusioned with the religious life of the time, it had become bogged down with traditions, rituals and power politics. He found many others who felt the same and together they tried to live out the Christian message more simply.
They called themselves The Religious Society of Friends. “Quaker” was a nick name which stuck, and now they are known as Friends or Quakers.
The first recorded Friends Meetings for Worship in Ireland were held in 1654 in, Co. Armagh and there are now about 1,600 members in Ireland
Their Meetings for Worship are central to the life of Friends. These are public meetings – anyone who wishes to attend is welcome. Anyone present who feels moved to do so may speak, pray aloud, or read from the Bible or other writings. The special quality of Quaker worship depends on the prayerful participation of everyone present.
The Quakers have no paid ministers, every member undertakes responsibilities according to his or her abilities. Quakers have always put men and women on an equal footing. Decisions in meetings for Church Affairs are made by discerning the “sense” or “feeling” of the meeting and not by voting.
From the beginning Friends have opposed all war as inconsistent with the spirit and teaching of Christ. Quakers do not claim that theirs is the only path to God, but simply that it is the right way for them.
Quakers in Business
In its early days almost all the breadwinners in The Religious Society of Friends were small farmers, shopkeepers, employees of the state and suchlike. Gradually from the late 1600s many business enterprises, of a wide variety of types, were developed by Quaker families. These were often very successful. Some famous names still around today include Bewleys (coffee and cafés,) and Jacobs (biscuits).
So how were the Quakers so successful in business? Modern business has become so competitive, and the profit motive so strong that it is hard to imagine the influence their religious convictions exerted on them. They simply believed it was right to offer a good product for a fixed, and reasonable, price. They believed in honesty and integrity in all their dealings. A simple life-style, and not over-extending themselves financially, allowed them to build up their resources. Strict rules governing business methods for members meant that they were increasingly trusted with money, and some became bankers, Various laws, including those related to swearing oaths, prevented Friends from attending university and joining the professions for a couple of centuries, so they put their energies into business instead. Friends were good employers, and this led to a loyal workforce.
Also, and importantly, the structure of The Society of Friends from its earliest days, with a system of representatives from Meetings regularly visiting other Meetings, often in other parts of the country, created a network of relationships between like-minded individuals and families. It was natural, therefore, that they would hear about, support, participate in and emulate each other’s ventures.
Quakers and the Irish Famine
Quakers are remembered for what they did after the potato crop in Ireland failed in 1846 for the second year running. When they realised the seriousness of the famine, straight away they formed a committee to give help. The joint secretaries were Joseph Bewley and Jonathan Pim. Funds, food and clothing were sought from Quakers in England and America.
Visits were made to the areas in most need, mainly in the west, where the potato had become virtually the only food of most of the population. Food was distributed to the needy, whatever their religion, with no strings attached. Soup kitchens were set up in towns and huge quantities were provided – there is a small plaque in the wall of Monkstown Meeting House where it was dispensed.
During and after the famine large quantities of seeds for other food crops were distributed and grants were made to fishermen to repair and replace boats and nets. Agricultural training was also provided, and a model farm was established in Co. Galway.
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”
Written by: Tara Gleeson
Edited by: Aisling Flanagan
Uploaded by: Sarah Hoey