A Historical Account of the Quakers in Cork

This is a short historical account of the Quakers [The Religious Society of Friends] in Cork. Their community has been in Cork since 1655, and there were once Quakers in Skibbereen, Bandon, Charleville and Youghal. Many Cork Streets and physical features are named from Quaker families, such as Penrose Quay, Beale’s Hill, Pike’s Lane, Newsom’s Quay. The names Baker, Wright, Harris, Beale, Newsom, Haughton and many more are still in popular memory.

The Quaker community is known historically as a Christian body, but lacking such typical features as clergy and liturgies. Its message was first brought to Cork by Elizabeth Fletcher and Elizabeth Smith. Some of the first Quakers were Cromwellians but became convinced that violence and fighting was inconsistent with the peaceable gospel of Jesus Christ. Quaker communal and egalitarian assumptions, as well as their pacifism, challenged  the political and religious establishment. William Penn (1664-1718), writer and statesman, started his Quaker career in Cork. He inherited estates in Shanagarry. Later on he organised Pennsylvania as a  state based on principles of tolerance and democratic discussion.

Cork Quaker families were very inventive and adaptable business people who  avoided monopolies and exploitation. They tried to be useful citizens.  Some became very wealthy, but that was not always good for their spiritual life which aimed at simplicity. Some Quakers owned big houses in what were then suburbs. ‘Bessboro’ was the home of Ebenezer Pike. There were Carrolls at ‘Hyde Park’ and the Penroses at ‘Woodhill’ and Harveys at ‘Tivoli’ and ‘Pleasant Field’ and other families could be named

Many Quakers lived around the centre of Cork. Some were big merchants and others small shopkeepers, trades people or clerks in offices. During the nineteenth century, Abraham Beale owned an ironmongery at Patrick’s Quay and a spade-mill at Monard.  Carroll’s Quay is named after the family of the same name. Penrose Quay commemorates another Quaker and the original office for the St George Steam Packet Company, initiated by individual Cork Quakers still exists.  In Patrick Street were the Newsoms, remembered for their grocery business, the Sikes and the Wrights. The Haughtons once owned an ironmongery in North Main Street. 

Quaker Soup KItchen Cork 1847
A  Illustrated London News engraving of the Cork Quaker soup Kitchen in 1847.

Some Quakers, with their fellow citizens, tried to help the needy in the city. The name of William Martin, a baker, is remembered as one who encouraged Father Mathew to take up the teetotal cause that helped to improve the lives of millions. A Youghal Quaker Anna M. Haslam (1829-1922) (née Fisher) was a pioneering feminist. In 1846, during An Gorta Mór [The Great Hunger] (1845-48) the Quakers set up a relief committee. They hoped their example might give leadership to other citizens.  The Cork Auxiliary was the first to be set up and supplied substantial soup from Adelaide Street.  At centres where there were no Quakers, they worked on a strictly non-sectarian basis through both Catholics and Protestants. With their wide contacts they were able to collect money and import grain and food supplies.

The original Quaker Meeting House, built in 1678 and rebuilt in 1839 was at Grattan Street in same building as the Southern Health Board. The present Meeting House, built 1939, is at Summerhill South where the Quakers continue to assemble for their public meetings for worship  each week.

Among books on the Quakers in Cork City Library are Merchants, Mystics and Philanthropists: 350 Years of Cork Quakers (2006)and A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Quakers (1997 and 2008 2nd ed) by Richard S. Harrison; Olive G. Goodbody, Guide to Irish Quaker Records(1654-1860)(1967) and Maurice J. Wigham, The Irish Quakers. (1992) .Cork City Archives has microfilms of Cork Quaker records and the Boole Library (UCC) has a significant collection of nineteenth and eighteenth-century  Quaker books.

Richard S. Harrison [Risteárd Mac Annraoi], a graduate of Trinity College (Dublin), is a published authority on Irish Quaker history. He has contributed to the Journals of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and of the Friend’s Historical Society. He has also written on Cork local history. At present he is involved in schemes to develop the practical use and enrichment of Ireland’s own language through making world literature and non-fiction available in Irish.

Richard S. Harrison


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