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Friends' Meeting House, Moyallon, Co. Down
Photograph of Friends Meeting House, Moyallon, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
19 June 2002 © Robert F. S. Sinton

The meeting house at Moyallon has a charm and simplicity not only in its setting but also in its design and architecture. It was built in a chosen position adjacent to the river Bann with its broad meadows and pleasant pasture land alongside. The building itself is surrounded by large mature trees, which give an air of peace and tranquillity to the precints. At one end of the meeting house is the burial ground in which stands an ancient beech tree of majestic proportions. Such is the rural setting of Moyallon which is aptly described by the poet: -

"There, closely veil'd with many a twisted bough,
Retired Moyallon lifts her modest brow -
Oh boast fair village, boast with honest pride,
The blameless race which in thy shades reside". [1]

The rise of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in the mid seventeenth century was generally attributed to George Fox (1624-1691). Notwithstanding widespread persecution the new movement rapidly grew, not only throughout England and America, but also in Ireland with important communities in France, Holland and Germany.

William Edmundson, a native of Cumberland, has been described as "The Apostle of Quakerism to Ireland". He was born in 1627 and later became a soldier in Cromwell's army and fought at the battle of Worcester. In the year 1653 through the preaching of one of the early Friends, James Nayler, he became fully convinced of Friends distinctive teaching and embraced the new doctrine. In 1654 we find him settled in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, where he opened a shop. He with his wife, brother and three or four others met in their home waiting on and worshiping God and desiring earnestly that they might come to know Him, not through intermediaries but for themselves. That marked the commencement of Quakerism in Ireland, and within a short time throughout the country there were other small groups meeting in a similar manner in their own houses seeking the guidance of God and communion with Him.

A characteristic Quaker belief is that in the sight of God all men and women are equal; neither scholar, nor king, nor judge, were to be ranked higher than the ploughman. This was a strong doctrine, not always welcomed by the authorities of church and state. It also laid a heavy responsibility on the individual, man or woman who accepted it. Many faced cruel persecution, imprisonment, even death, and the rigours of seventeenth century travel on land and ocean with remarkable fortitude and physical endurance. They believed they were following God's will in "Publishing Truth" as they termed it not only by their lips but also by their lives.

Meanwhile the meeting at Lurgan continued to grow in numbers and attracted to it some living at a distance. This now brings us to the year 1692 and the following quotation taken from the first Quarterly Meeting Minute Book (now in Dublin) speaks for itself.

"At a meeting at Ann Webb's the 16th of 2nd Mo 1692 some Friends now dwelling at Moyallon near Knockbridge who finding themselves so remote from all meetings have offered their desire of keeping a meeting amongst themselves, which being considered this meeting gives consent that the said Friends may have their request in respect to keep a meeting, provided they may not thereby be separated from Lurgan Meeting (being formerly of it) but from time to time be subject as required upon occasion".

Thus it was that the first Friends Meeting in the vicinity of Moyallon was held in a private house and that probably in a humble home.

The Quaker cause in the area received considerable impetus when Alexander Christy from Aberdeen, Scotland (born 1642) acquired the townland of Moyallon about 1680 and engaged in the linen and bleaching business. He and other members of his family became Friends. It was his son John Christy who provided the site for the Meeting House and was the moving spirit in having it built in 1736. It was further enlarged by Thomas Christy (son of John) before 1780 and a clear title was given as follows :-

"for a Meeting House and Graveyard for the said Society of the people called Quakers, for ever, and for no other trust, use, intent, or purpose whatsoever".[2]

The Christy property in the district passed on in the female line to the Wakefields and later to the Richardsons by whom it is still held. The attendance at the Meeting at this period was considerable, many Friends families having settled in the district and other local people joining in worship. Some of the families connected to the meeting were: -

Bells Fennells Nicholsons Sintons
Brownlows Greeves Phelps Turtles
Bullas Hallidays Pirns Uprichards
Calverts Haughtons Reids Wakefields
Chapman Mortons Richardsons Wardells
Davies Mullans Shemelds Whites
and Others.

The meeting at Moyallon continued to play an important part in Ulster Quaker activities over two centuries. Individual members took their place on the Committees of Lisburn and Brookficld schools, attended Yearly meetings at Dublin and London etc., and generally assisted in the outreach of the Society at home and abroad.

The Quaker historian Isabel Grubb has stated that "In the North of Ireland in the early part of the 18th Century most Friends were very poor; many left the country and sought new homes in America. About 200 years ago many of them, sometimes whole groups emigrated and they have proved to be a strength to the stock of American Quakerism. A number of those who went from Ballyhagan, Grange, Lurgan and Moyallon - Hewitts, Hobsons, Christys etc., formed a settlement which they called Monallon (now Menallon). This is still one of the strongest meetings in the central part of Pennsylvania; thus even Moyallon's daughter is over 200 years old".

From its first inception the Society of Friends both in England and Ireland laid great emphasis on education and schools were provided in most of the larger meetings. According to Lewis

'The School at Moyallon was established in 1788 and was supported by the Society of Friends until 1832, since which period it has been aided by an annual donation from the National Board'. [3]

The old School house was built in 1859 and was for the benefit of the whole community. This building is now in disrepair, and was replaced by a fine modern building in 1932. It is now in charge of the Southern Education and Library Board. The School at Moyallon has been described as "A legacy of Quaker influence" in the district.

While not directly under the care of the meeting a special room was fitted out and known as The Reading Room, this was adjoining Moyallon House, the home of the Wakefield's. For over a hundred years it was a centre for evangelism, missionary, temperance and Sunday School work also for missionary conferences and conventions where members of all denominations freely came together in the furtherance of christian fellowship.

Since 1934 an annual summer Camp lasting for about a week for young Friends and others has been held on the Meeting House premises, when Bible study, practical aspects of Christian living, missionary enterprise have been the basis of the gatherings, recreational activities are of course enjoyed to the full. In later years a younger age group meet at a separate time for a shorter period. Both these Camps are popular and we believe have an important part in formation of christian character.

The premises have been well maintained, heavy expenditure becoming necessary for the roof, exterior plastering of walls and renewing the floor in the main meeting room, and the addition of other modern facilities.

Early in 1976 the Meeting House was listed by the Government Department concerned as a building of Special Architectural and Historic Interest.

As we approach the end of the present century our hope is that the purpose for which the building was built may be continued and that is the Worship of Almighty God.

[1] Mary Leadbeater's Poems - Published 1808 - Page 125.

[2] Manual of Trusts - Ulster Quarterly Meeting 1972.

[3] Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 2 Vols. By Samuel Lewis, London 1837.

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