Kildare Heritage Project set up some time ago to computerise all genealogical records relating to Co. Kildare has produced an interesting booklet on the Quakers of Ballytore. The work of a number of young people on a FÀS Employment Scheme, the booklet brings the reader through a brief review of the sites and the historical figures associated with Quakerism in the South Kildare village. Starting with a note on the history and development of Quakerism in Ireland we are told that the Quakers were the first large religious organisation to allow women to preach. Whether in furtherance of gender equality or not I do not know but the members were also not prepared to remove their hats in female company. The wonderful eccentricity of what is here described as their “plain dull clothes” marked them as a people apart. Mary Leadbetter’s long poem entitled “A view of Ballytore taken from Mount Bleak,” written in 1801 is reproduced by mercifully only its first 23 lines. Mary, better known as a prose writer and biographer of village life in Ballytore during and after the 1798 Rebellion is perhaps one of Ballytore’s principal claims to fame. There is no doubt at all about the place of Ballytore School in Irish history. The school where such diverse characters as Edmund Burke, Henry Grattan, Napper Tandy and the future Cardinal Paul Cullen were educated was founded by Mary Leadbetter’s grandfather, Abraham Shackleton, in 1726. It closed down in 1836 but the importance of that small provincial school lived on not only in folk memory but in the writings of statesmen who had shared their early school days with the Masters of Ballytore.
The meeting house which still stands remains today a place of meeting for members of the Society of Friends who come from far and near on the first and third Sundays of each month. Many of the buildings identified with the Quaker settlement are still to be found in the village of Ballytore. One can sense the history of the place as you pass from the Mill at Griese Bank and the adjoining house, home of Abraham Shackleton, the last Shackleton headmaster of Ballytore along the road to the Meeting House. Across the fields can be seen Fuller’s Court and Ballytore House, built by descendants of John Barcroft and Abel Strettle, the original settlers of Ballytore. The home of William and Mary Leadbetter in the Square is now the site of building activity as yet another FÀS sponsored scheme helps to revive another important element of the heritage of the Quaker village. All these buildings get mention in the heritage project booklet but surprisingly the last resting place of the local Quaker families is apparently overlooked. Their graveyard, once surrounded by what was described by Mary Leadbetter as “rising hills encompassed round, fair hills which rear the golden brow and smile upon the vale below”, is now sharing the view with a newly erected bungalow. The family names of those buried are a roll call of the Quaker movement in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Shackleton, Chandlee, Webb, Haughton and Leadbetter are but some of the names discernible on the tombstones in this eerie place of grace where the bones of those who gave life to Ballytore now repose. Those involved in the production of this small booklet are to be congratulated on their efforts. The re-awakening of our forgotten past is always welcome, no more so than in this year of remembrance for the Great Famine from which time the Quakers of England and Ireland are owed a debt which can never be repaid by the people of Ireland.