Quaker Heritage

Heritage Trail

This is an opportunity to stroll through the town of Mountmellick and explore its historical and cultural depths. Starting at the Museum the trail takes the format of two circuits set in a figure of eight, which facilitates a looped walk encompassing the whole character of this intriguing town, with storyboards at each point. Guide Book and Map are available in the Museum.

Genealogy:

If you are interested in tracing your family history, the Museum has a database of Quaker Records dating back to the 17th century.

Quaker Heritage & Families

The Quakers of Mountmellick

The Religious Society of Friends, more popularly known as Quakers, have made a significant contribution to the cultural and economic history of Mountmellick. The first Quaker families arrived in Mountmellick in the mid 1600’s. Their industrious nature and honest ways created prosperity, wealth and employment and the development Mountmellick into a town of great commercial importance. The Quakers who originated from England, belonged to all levels of society and over the years, they set up brewing, weaving and other manufacturing industries throughout the area. Many also settled on farms and developed skilled trades.

William Edmundson, a former Cromwellian soldier, was the first Quaker in Ireland and, with five other Quakers, Richard Jackson, John Edmundson, John Thompson, William Moon and John Pim, settled in Mountmellick in 1659. Mountmellick, at this time, had a population of 175, of which 95 were English and 80 were Irish. It was the third largest town in Co. Laois after Mountrath (population 223) and Maryborough (now Portlaoise population 198). From these small beginnings, the town of Mountmellick grew and expanded into a thriving industrial centre of the midlands and the Quakers have been synonymous with this expansion to the present day.

Over the years, the Quakers went on to gain a major reputation as reformers. They opposed slavery and warfare. They were involved in prison reform and attempts to abolish the death penalty. Quaker schools were regarded highly for the quality of their education. Throughout Ireland, the Friends gained recognition for their work in famine relief particularly during the Great Famine of the 1840’s when, many of the Quakers in Mountmellick endured severe losses.

The central belief of the Quakers is the concept of the "Inner Light" representing the spirit of Jesus Christ and they believe in a direct line of communication between God and man without the need for clerical intervention. They believe in a personal interpretation of scripture and, over the years, the phrase "plainness in speech, behaviour and apparel" became the standard by which the Quakers lived.

Quaker Meeting House

Although the Quakers held their first meeting in Mountmellick in 1659, it was not until 1709 that the first official Quaker Meeting House was built. The House was used for worship, meetings and as a disciplinary court. The original building was small and it was replaced by a new House in 1804. Meetings for worship were discontinued in 1921.The building is still used today as a Church of Ireland Youth Hall.

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The Quakers and Education

The first Quaker school in Mountmellick opened in January 1786. Jonathan Pim, John Helton, John Gatchell and Mungo Bewley, the forefathers of Quaker Education in the town, built the boarding school to provide education for poor Quaker families.

Boys and girls were taught separately, using two separate curricula. Boys learned writing, arithmetic, catechism and also farm skills. The girl’s subjects, initially included knitting, sewing, domestic skills to train them for domestic service. However, by the 1850’s the girls had a broader curriculum geared at producing young ladies and subjects included French and German language, art, "fancy" needlework and decorum. These were supplemented by lessons in etiquette, which was taught in the garden.

In a government report in 1858, the school "deserved the utmost praise and was the most credible managed school of its kind in Ireland".

By 1885, however, it was decided to teach the boys and girls in separate schools. The boys were sent to Newtown, Waterford, which remains a Quaker school to this day. The girl’s school remained in Mountmellick until 1921 when the school was sold to the Catholic Order of Presentation Sisters. Education has continued on the site and the present day Mountmellick Community School opened in 1991.

In 1824 three privately owned Quaker Schools were recorded in Mountmellick and these were the only private Quakers schools in Co. Laois.

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O' Connell Square

Formally known as Drogheda Square, O’ Connell Square is, perhaps, the most town square in Georgian architecture in the county. It dates back to the late 1700’s. Most of the properties were built by Quaker families.

Mountmellick Community School was once a prominent Quaker School

Quaker families and Commerce

Over the past 300 years, the Quakers have played a central role in the development of industry throughout the Mountmellick area. The Bewley, Beale and Pim families are particularly synonymous with this legacy.

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The Bewley Connection

The Bewley family is French in origin. They moved from France to the north of England in the middle ages. During the religious turmoil of the 17th Century some members of the family became members of the Religious Society of Friends.In 1700, at the age of 23, Mungo Bewley came to Mountmellick.

In 1780, Mungo II, grandson of the first Mungo, established a linen factory which employed over 150 local people. He was also one of the founders of the Quaker School in Mountmellick. His eldest son, Samuel set up a silk business in Dublin, and in 1834, his second son Charles established a tea importation business. Charles’s business over time developed in Bewleys’ Oriental Cafés which for generations have held a special place in the heart of Dubliners and are still in operation today.

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The Beale Family

Thomas Beale came to Ireland in 1652. It is claimed that he was a descendant of Robert Beale (1541-1601) who was Clerk of the Council of Elizabeth 1st.

By the 18th Century the Beales were industrial leaders in the Mountmellick area. William (1765-1818) and Joshua (1770-1815) were cotton manufacturers at Irishtown/ William’s son.Joseph, diversified into cotton, wool, brewing, and flour milling businesses. The family provided much employment up to famine times when economic circumstances forced the Beale family to emigrate to Australia.

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The Goodbody Family

Robert Goodbody was born at Mountmellick in 1781, the son of Mark and Elizabeth (nee Pim), both Quakers and merchants. He settled in Clara on 17th October 1825 where he took over the Brosna mills, formed the Brosna mills company which later became Robert Goodbody and Co., Robert Goodbody and Sons and eventually M. J. and L. Goodbody

Robert Goodbody, ancestor to nearly all the family of that name in Ireland, was the second son of Mark and Elizabeth (Pim) Goodbody of Mountmellick. He married (first) Margaret, daughter of Jonathan and Sarah (Robinson) Pim, by whom he had six sons; (2nd) Jane daughter of James and Deborah (Bewley) Pim (no issue). In the 74th year of his age he wrote a full retrospective account of his life. The early part contains much of local interest, of marriages into, and visits between other Friends’ families, and details of life of the period.

The original of the memoir or account is held at the Library of the Society of Friends, Dublin.

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The Pim Family

John Pim was among the original settlement of Quakers in Mountmellick in 1659. Like his fellow Quaker pioneers he was young, aged only 18, when he arrived in Co. Laois. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Pims were associated with many industries, including soap, glue, candles, tobacco, snuff, baking, brewing and malting In 1956 James Pim and Sons, Market Square, were grocers, wine merchants and woollen drapers. The Pims founded a successful bacon factory around 1926 at Church Lane.

Another branch of the Pim family moved to Dublin 1795. James Pim has been described as the "Quaker father of Irish railways" and he was involved in the building of the first railway line in Ireland between Dublin and Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) which opened in 1834. The Pim family are still resident in Mountmellick and own a well known stud farm at Anngrove

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Guide books and maps are available in the museum

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