Quakers have a meeting house in Limerick again


After an interruption of 41 years, the Religious Society of Friends again have their own meeting house in Limerick city. Built beside the Quaker burial ground at Southville Gardens, Ballinacurra, the meeting house is the third since the Quakers arrived in Limerick in 1656, just two years after the first meeting of Friends in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

The land at Southville Gardens was bought for the Friends by a leading Quaker merchant, Joseph Massy Harvey, who came to Limerick from Cork in 1786 to work as an assistant in Fisher Mark & Fisher's corn business. He married Miss Mark, took over the business and became a pioneer in importing logs of timber and sawing them into planks - and giving his name to Harveys Quay.

The three Quaker Alexander brothers who operated a thriving corn business were prominent in famine relief as well as the Limerick Savings Bank, Barrington's Hospital, the abolition of slavery and other reforms.

In 1820 Isaac Unthank was the co-founder with Henry Maunsell of the Limerick Savings Bank, which started from a small room in Cecil Street.

Among the members of the Bennis family who were Quakers was George Geary Bennis, whose gifts made Limerick one of the first cities to have a free library. He gave up his tea and coffee shop business opposite the former Cruise's Hotel in 1822 to carve out a new career in Paris, as the editor of Galignani the leading newspaper of its day.

He also ran a circulating library and was a printer and publisher of books, including McGregors History of Limerick and The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation by Sir Jonah Barrington.

In 1848 he saved the life of King Louis Philippe in a street fracas in Paris, for which he was awarded the title "Chevalier".

Such was the even-tempered and placid reputation of Quaker Thomas Grubb, that Reminiscences of old Limerick records that a £100 wager was lost when the trivial nit-picking of a customer failed to make him lose his temper.

Coincidentally, the construction programme of the new meeting house was supervised by Friend and architect Brian Grubb who runs his business in Clonlara over the Clare border.

Meticulously kept records of meetings, marriages, deaths, burials and transactions, trace the history of the Friends in Limerick from their arrival almost 30 years before the Siege of Limerick to the present day. Hiram Woods, an uncle of Irish international rugby player, Keith Woods is the present-day keeper of records and he records all meetings.

For the 200,000 Quakers throughout the world, meetings for worship are central to their lives and are open to all. Anne Goggin has calculated that there are 1,600 Quakers in the island of Ireland, and about 50 of these are in Limerick. "People drop into our meetings, never come again and then there are others who come and stay," she said.

The record of involvement in community service and as peacebuilders in their opposition to wars and conflict is based on the central Quakers belief that God is present in each person.

Founded on the spiritual feelings of George Fox during a period of religious upheaval in 17th century England, Quakers have a simple approach to Christianity, with a minimum of rules, regulations and ceremony.