Early days of the Irish Quakers

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In the years following the Cromwellian siege of Limerick in 1651, Quakers were to suffer greatly under the notorious governor of the conquered city, Col Henry Ingoldsby, who did everything possible to make life a misery for the sect known as the Friends. They were not alone in their persecution, Catholics were also greatly oppressed under this draconian regime. Franciscan Fr Conroy wrote that he witnessed one Daniel Moloney’s ears being cut off by the executioner for the crime of not denouncing a priest to the magistrates. He claimed that many other atrocities were so unspeakable that he could not mention them.

When they arrived in Limerick in the summer of 1655, Quakers Francis Houghill and Edward Burrough lost no time in attempting to spread their doctrine. Accompanied by James Tickleman of Youghal and Edward Crooke of Bandon, they entered St Mary’s Cathedral and attempted to speak. They were given short shrift by the congregation and assaulted for their troubles.

Undeterred, Burrough, sent out of town by the magistrates, was followed by a multitude, and when outside the walls, started to preach in the Garryowen district. Speaking from horseback, he directed the attention of his hearers to “the light that was in themselves as sufficient to lead aright without any outside guide”. Several respectable persons were convinced of the doctrine preached, among them Richard Pearce, Thomas Phelps and John Love, of whom we will hear more about later.

Quaker annals of the early years, compiled by JR Gough in 1835, gives us a clear picture of the barbarity of Ingoldsby and his governors. In 1655, William Ames was violently arrested and committed to prison where Ingoldsby “shamefully and cruelly beat him and caused him to be tied very hard to the neck and heels, and left in that position till the blood ran about him”. The governor was incensed that Ames, an officer in the Cromwellian army, had been converted to the Friends.

Sarah Bennett, whose husband commanded a troop of horse, was, on the governor’s orders, committed to jail for several weeks, without her Friends being allowed visit her or to bring her food or bedding. On release, she and another Friend were sent to Cork as vagrants, to be banished.

A particular object of the governor’s rage was Richard Pearce, whose business was suspended for several months, leaving him with no means of supporting his family. Divine providence stepped in, however. It happened that the wife of the officer in command of the garrison was taken suddenly ill in the middle of the night and Pearce, living near the castle in Bow Lane and skilled in medicine, was sent for.

After administering to the stricken woman, she recovered and her husband induced those under him to deal with Pearce so that he soon regained his business. He lived to be possessed of an estate worth several hundred pounds per annum.

John Love, mentioned earlier on as being among the initial converts to Quakerism, was one of the first to be persecuted for his beliefs. Having the audacity to plead on behalf of a Friend about to be expelled from the city, he was “treated cruelly” by the regime. Whatever the treatment, it was nothing compared to what was to befall him shortly afterwards when he was persuaded by John Perrot, to travel to Rome. Their mission? To convert the Pope (Innocent X). The pair reached Rome in 1658, and commenced preaching against the church. Not surprisingly they were arrested . Love suffered the tortures of the Inquisition and died under them. Perrot, was sent to a madhouse, where he wrote numerous books, addresses and epistles.

His detention excited much sympathy in England and several Friends travelled to Rome to procure his freedom. He was eventually released in 1661, but on his return to England was received with some coldness.

George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, as well as others, condemned the papers issued by Perrot from Rome, one of which propounded that the removing of the hat during prayer in public was a formal superstition, incompatible with the spiritual religion professed by Quakers. Perrot was indefatigable in preaching his opinions in England and Ireland, and was arrested in London.

Adaptable as ever, he eventually wound up in Barbados where he prospered for some time, but his schemes eventually came to nought, and he died, heavily in debt in 1671.

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