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More Information on the Quaker Tapestry and Quakerism

The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers at they were dubbed by non-members, originated in the English north-west during the mid-seventeenth century. It sprung from the same journey of spiritual enquiry that characterised the Reformation. Its chief spokesman was George Fox, born in 1624, the son of a weaver, and the Society that he promoted was seen as "a fundamental recovery of the Christian vision."


The origin of the term ‘Quaker’ stems from the fits of trembling which members of the Society were said to experience at their meetings, as recorded in the personal testimony of one Thomas Braddock who died in Ballitore in 1731. His account describes his own conversion or convincement to Quakerism during a meeting after having been an uneasy member of the Church of England:

"I went however to one of them (a meeting) and sat with them about half an hour, when the great power of the Lord came upon me, and make me fetch many deep sighs and groans, with tears; and a trembling came over my whole body ..... and then the voice of the Lord came unto me, and said, "These are the people thou must join with, and if thou be faithful, I will be with thee to the end of thy days, and thou shalt have life everlasting in the world to come." I gave up freely to the heavenly vision, and was willing to obey the Lord’s counsel; and the shaking and trouble abated."

Quakerism was typified by a more personal relationship with God not distanced by the structured, hierarchical forms of religions such as Catholicism and the Church of England. The early Quakers believed that people could have direct access to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through a person’s "inward light" and, consequently, there was no need for a clergy or paid ecclesiastical officials. The Society was not however without common, collective values and observances.

Briefly these were as follows:

Egalitarian treatment of both men and women.
Belief in non-violence and a single standard of truth-telling.
The setting aside of traditional customs of worship and the avoidance of superfluous fashion.

The man chiefly responsible for the introduction of Quakerism to Ireland was William Edmundson, born in Westmoreland, England in 1627. In 1652 soon after his first exposure to Quaker ideas, he moved to Dublin, where he set up business. Later, prompted by the larger population of protestants in Ulster, as well as financial considerations, he moved to Lurgan, County Armagh, where he presided over Ireland’s first Quaker meeting in 1654 – 2004 marks the 350 th anniversary of Quakerism in Ireland. By 1660, the Quakers had established thirty meeting houses in Ireland.

Quakerism spread slowly and gradually in Ireland. In 1656 there were signs of its beliefs penetrating the Cromwellian army then active in the country. It is estimated that by 1680 there were 780 Quakers in Ireland, with 340 in the northern province, 163 in Munster and 295 in Leinster. While on the subject of Quaker origins we will add that Richard Shackleton (1643-1705), the father of Abraham, the founder of Ballitore School, was the first Shackleton to become a Quaker. Typically Quakers were often involved in business, among the most notable were Bewleys Coffee, Jacob’s Biscuit Factory (1851), the Dublin and Kingstown Railway Line (1831) and the St. George Steam Packet Company (c.1831). Their frugal lifestyle, hard work, and interest in education made them an upwardly mobile group.

Success commercially was offset by the persecution suffered by Quakers as a result of their beliefs. They refused to pay tithes to support the Church of England of which they were not members. They did not have a paid clergy or churches in the conventional sense. Instead they opted for meeting places as they believed the sanctity of religious gatherings lay in those present rather than in a physical building. Ballitore has no church or "steeple house" as Quakers called them. Meetings were held monthly and quarterly, as well as at provincial level. The men’s meetings dealt with matters relating to property such as meeting houses, while the women were responsible for marriage arrangements, the poor, widows and orphans, and other social matters.

Quakers did not use the conventional names for the days or months as they were named after various pagan gods. Instead Sunday was First Day, Monday was Second Day, and, in the same manner, months were called First Month and so on. Their standard of truth prevented them from swearing judicial oaths and consequently they often had difficulty if involved in court proceedings or some business transactions. Their denial of false social conventions was a major reason for the commonly held perception of Friends being odd and peculiar, and possibly contributed to their being somewhat alienated from the rest of society.

They wore plain, dull clothes; this was urged to the extent of indicating the colour of cloth to be worn and width of cuffs in dress. Objection to decoration even extended to the display of images on china. They used the archaic singular pronoun, "thou" and "thee", in their speech believing that "you" should be preserved for God alone; neither would they refer to anyone by a title e.g. "Your Honour."

Male Friends would not remove their hats in female company or on entering a courtroom. With their belief in non-violence they did not think it proper to celebrate a military victory even for their King, and this led to their public persecution due to the mistaken belief that they were not loyal subjects of the Crown. One serious effect of Quaker beliefs was that they suffered fines and imprisonment particularly for their refusal to pay tithes, and even for not removing their hats in court!

The Quakers were the first large religious organisation to allow women to preach. William Edmundson who had played an important role in early Quakerism in Ireland had been convinced by the witness of women preachers in England. However, by 1700, with Quakerism well established in Ireland, women were no longer encouraged to undertake preaching and leadership roles in the Society.

The Down Survey of 1654 refers to the townland of Ballitore as comprising 380 acres of mostly arable land, worth £120. The site in County Kildare, the present day location of Ballitore village, is 28 miles from Dublin and is a little off the high road from Dublin to Cork. It sits in a valley and is surrounded by gently rising hills except where the river Griese takes its meandering course from its source at Tubber in County Wicklow to where it meets with the Barrow in County Kildare. Although the land in Ballitore was reclaimed by drainage and careful cultivation, it derives its name from its former marshy condition, Bally, i.e. a bog. In 1654, however, it is clear there was no substantial habitation at the site.

The original purchase of the valley is attributed to two prominent members of the Society of Friends, John Barcroft (1664-1724) and Abel Strettel (1659-1732) at the end of the seventeenth century, although there are no leases in existence to verify it. The story records that the two men, travelling along the main Dublin to Cork road, were pausing to rest their horses when their eyes were caught by the valley and the winding river Griese which flows through it. The two decided to buy the land and "began to plant ...... groves, orchards, and thick hedgerows" in the vale that had been until then "very bare of wood". Thus was born the village of Ballitore.

The Quaker Tapestry is a unified crewel embroidery of seventy seven separate panels that celebrate the spiritual insights that have motivated the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) since it was founded by George Fox in 1652. The tapestry began in 1981 in the Friends Meeting in Taunton, Somerset, where Anne Wynn-Wilson was responsible for a childrens class, sometimes only one boy; they met on Sundays in a gloomy room in the old part of the Meeting House.

Ann Wynn Wilson had studied the Bayeux Tapestry. She was entralled by the idea of telling stories by means of embroidery, of which the famous 11 th century tapestry is a supreme example, and the possibility of using embroidery to

  • tell the story of Quakerism
  • create a craft project that could be shared among Friends
  • In the course of working together, get to know each other

To mark 350 years of Quakerism in Ireland and their association with the village of Ballitore, Kildare County Council Library and Arts Service wish to engage an artist who will work with 350 people (adults and children) to create a tapestry in response to the Quaker culture. The completed tapestry will be on permanent display in the Quaker Museum and Library in Ballitore.

The artist will be required to

  • Familiarise themselves with all aspects of the Quaker culture
  • Identify key groups within the Ballitore area, including schools who will work with the artist on the tapestry project
  • Devise a work schedule including
  • Sourcing materials
  • Co-ordination of tapestry design
  • Co-ordination of school and community group visits
  • Facilitation of tapestry workshops
  • Budget monitoring
  • Liase with and feedback to Kildare Library and Arts Service
  • Presentation of finished tapestry
  • Project evaluation
  • Organise and collate individual profiles from each of the participants
  • Attend and support launch event

The artist must

  • be available to commit to the project from September to December 2005
  • have their own transport
  • have technical skills relating to textile/ tapestry
  • have group/ facilitation skills

It is expected that the project will commence in mid September.
The project must be complete by Friday 10th December 2004.


Artists fees (180 hrs) 30 hrs weekly x 6 weeks

Hourly rate € 40 x 180 hrs € 7, 200

Travel expenses Flat rate € 400

Art materials (paper, fabric, threads, scissors, etc for 350 participants) € 4,000

Photography/ recording of work

Compiling profiles of participants € 550

Launch fees, refreshments, etc € 800


TOTAL BUDGET € 12, 950