Welcome again all friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum to week thirteen in our series of articles relating to our museum and local history. We hope that this finds you well. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since we commenced this initiative. Thankfully our Covid restrictions are lifting and normality as we knew it is becoming more of a reality. In relation to our Embroidery Museum, and its possible reopening, we have a number of challenges to overcome to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors before this will be possible. We will keep you appraised of developments. Thank you as always for the growing readership and positive feedback which our weekly articles are now generating. Before I tell you about this week’s article I would like to whet your appetite and give you the heads up on a special story which will be published next week. In one of our previous articles published, Ger Lynch a member of MDA and Museum board told the story of those Girls selected from the workhouses during the famine times who were given assisted passage to Australia under a scheme known as the Earl Grey Scheme. We never knew what became of these girls, once they left Ireland. One of the young women selected from this scheme was Mary Miller who along with ninety-one other Girls from Laois was sent to Australia – so what became of Mary. Tune in next week to see how Mary fared, as relayed by her Great Great Great Grand Daughter Lou Walsh. It’s a story worth reading.
Before that however I will hand you over to Anne Sands (Museum Board member) who in a continuation of her articles on local places of historical interest this week tells us about the Quaker Meeting House and Masons who operated or still exist in Mountmellick.
Do tune in next week.
Chairperson Museum Committee.
Its over to you Anne
The past few months have revealed to all of us the truth in “Yeats” line that “All things hang like a drop of dew upon a blade of grass”, for many of us that sense of fragility and fear is a constant. “Maybe we might transfer our common sense of purpose, our shared determination to “defeat” an enemy that preys on the needy. Once the fight against coronavirus has been won, to invest, financially and emotionally and with similar level of heroism and selflessness into the lives of those who will continue to need it most”. (This was written by the sister of someone with special needs who died from the coronavirus).
The first record of Quakers in Co Laois dates from around 1654. Around that year William Edmundson visited two Quaker families in Rosenallis ( Next Town over from Mountmellick). The two families appear to have been the Cantrills of Tineil and the Chanders of Ballyhide. In 1859 Wlliam Edmundson with a group of other Quakers settled in the vicinity of Mountmellick. The first Quaker meetings were held in the house of William Edmundson in Rosenallis . Although the Quakers held their first meeting in Mountmellick in 1659 it was not until 1709 that the first official meeting house was built on the present deep back lane (known locally as Russell passage) site behind buildings on the east side of the town square, a prominent location in the town . On the 23rd May 1798, the following names were recorded at the meeting of the Society of Friends in Mountmellick, these represented the leading Quakers of Mountmellick at this time, William Neale, Nathan Gatchell, William Shannon, William Beale, John Milner, John Fayle, Jonathan Pim, Robert Thacker,, Robert Richardson, Richard Neale, John Gatchell, William Gatchell, Mark Goodbody, Richard Goodbody, James Pim, John Neale, Moses Pim, John Beale.
More Quakers came in the 1780’s when large scale industries were developed in the town, some owed by the Quaker families of Bewley and Beale and by 1800 a larger meeting house was needed. When this was built in 1805 the old meetings house became the women’s meeting room and the old Ministers gallery was rebuilt, re-using the original handrail of Irish oak. An upper floor was inserted into the room at this time, which was suitable for mission meetings. This large new meeting house was built attached to the old one, to accommodate the increased number of Friends associated with the Provincial school (located very close by) and with the new growing industries in the area. The new meeting house in Mountmellick was first used in June 1805. The speaker was a travelling preacher called Martha Smith from Doncaster. She had a companion called Elizabeth Hoyland who spoke after her. The meeting House was used for worship and as a disciplinary Court. Meeting were led by prayer, when no member led, the meeting passed in silence, ending in a handshake. Quakerism banned singing, dancing and bright coloured clothes. The central belief of Quakerism is the concept of the “inner light”, the inner light represents the spirit of Jesus Christ, without the need for an intermediary, a direct line of communication between God and man. The early Quakers denounced the idea of social classes, rank or distinction. They emphasised personal responsibility of behaviour and personal interpretation of the scriptures. This building was also used for lectures and discussions. Quaker number greatly declined after the famine along with many industries in the area. On July 18th 1915, Henry Bewley MD of Dublin gave an address in the meeting house entitled “ The Future Life”
The meeting house discontinued in 1921 when Mountmellick Provincial School located next door closed. This school was sold to the Presentation Sisters who renamed it St. Mary’s college, it became a community school in 1990. From 1930 the Meeting House continued to function and was used for Church of Ireland , Methodist, Presbyterian youth hall, for sports, badminton , billiards, table tennis, dancing, boys brigade, concerts, and in recent years by the boy scouts. It was considered one of the best venues for badminton matches in Co Laois. This building still stands today and its history forms part of the heritage trail walk around the town. Maybe you might consider taking this walk when next in the area.
The Masonic Order
One of the basic aspirations attributed to the Masons is to make "better men out of good men, better fathers, better husbands, better brothers and better sons. We try to place emphasis on the individual man by strengthening his character, improving his moral and spiritual outlook and broadening his mental horizons”. The masonic order is a charitable International non-denominational organisation. There are two lodges in Mountmellick which operate from the same building located in Church Street, each lodge having its own unique identifying number, they meet on alternative evenings once per month. Close by to Church Street is O Connell Square, named after Daniel O Connell who was a member of the masonic order. In 1839 Rev. Gideon Ouseley was given permission to preach there. He was a contemporary of John Wesley and his famous brother Charles Wesley who wrote many beautiful hymns. The Masonic Hall located in church St. was a former Methodist Chapel converted in 1884 at a cost of six hundred pounds. The contractor was a Mr Mackey of Donaghmore. On a cramped site it has lined–and ruled- cement façade with string course and alternating quoins. From the outside of the lodge an eye catching blue stained round glass window has a large Star of David, with larger hexagrams and pentagrams around its perimeter and a gold compass in the centre is visible. Two round headed windows are visible on the ground floor. The first floor hall with decoration by Silthorpe & Co, walls with gilded masonic symbols and segmented Carrell, vaulted ceiling painted blue with gold stars . Gothic furnishings include an fine throne chair by Thomas O Neill of Maryborough (Now Portlaoise). This building is still in good repair today and meetings of its members are held on a monthly basis. This article concludes the history of the churches, meeting house and the lodges in Mountmellick, all of which have served the local inhabitants for centuries, and are steeped in history and stories. Until next week best regards to all our readers from Mountmellick Embroidery and Historical Museum.
Mountmellick Heritage Trail sign at the Quaker Meeting House
Internal Floor Plan of Quaker Meeting House
Quaker Meeting Room - Historical Picture
Commemorative stamp marking the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Quakers in Ireland
Issued on 21st October 2004 - image shows George Fox founder of the Quakers
Masonic Round Glass Window showing the Star od David
Heritage sign on site of Masonic Lodge
Exterior photograph of Mountmellick Masonic Lodge
Wooden Cover for window, made during World War Two
to comply with blackout regulations during Masonic meetings