The village of Ballytore, immortalised in print by Mary Leadbeater, is about to embark on a FAS Scheme designed to restore the writer’s house in the centre of the village. Lying vacant and derelict for many years the Leadbeater house at the corner of the village square has been perilously close to demolition on several occasions but now it’s future seems assured.
Mary Leadbeater, daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Shackleton, was born in Ballytore in December 1758. Her father was master of the Quakers school which his own father, Abraham Shackleton had founded. Ballytore, which derives it’s name from Baile, meaning town, and Toghter corrupted to Tore, meaning a bog, was first settled towards the end of the 17th Century by two Quakers, Abel Strettle, a Dublin Merchant and John Barcroft of Mountmellick, Co. Laois. In time it was to become an important centre of Quakerism and Quaker meetings are still regularly held in the restored Quaker Meeting House.
In 1726 a young Yorkshire Quaker, Abraham Shackleton, opened a boarding school in the village. Famous former pupils of the Ballytore School included Edmund Burke, Parliamentarian, who joined the school in 1741, Paul Cullen, the first Irish Cardinal, a pupil for 4 years from 1813 and Napper Tandy, the Irish Revolutionary who attended the school in 1749.
Richard Shackleton’s daughter, Mary, married William Leadbeater in June 1791. Her sister Sarah married Thomas Chandlee, a linen draper in business in Athy. Chandlee was largely responsible for the building of the Quaker meeting house in Meeting Lane, Athy in 1780.
Mary Leadbeater published a number of books during her lifetime, the first in 1794 titled “Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth”. This has been described as one of the earlier attempts to provide light and instructive literature for young people. In 1808 “Poems by Mary Leadbeater” was published in Dublin and London. She was more successful with her prose writing than with poetry and within 3 years she had published “Cottage Dialogues”. The characters in this little book are two women, Rose and Nancy, who speak in the idiom of the Irish peasant, one the careless idle person, the other an industrious frugal housewife. It proved extremely popular and ran to several editions and three separate series. In 1813 was published “The Landlord’s Friend”, a sequel to “Cottage Dialogues” before Mary Leadbeater and Elizabeth Carleton co-authored “Tales for Cottagers accommodated to the Present Conditions of The Irish Peasantry” which was published in 1814.
Nothing further was published by Mary Leadbeater until 1822 when “Cottage Biography” and “Memoirs and Letters of R. and E. Shackleton” appeared. R. and E. Shackleton were her parents, Richard who died in 1792 and Elizabeth who passed away in 1804. Elizabeth Shackleton was the daughter of Henry and Deborah Fuller of Fuller’s Court, Ballytore, and grand-daughter of John Barcroft, one of the original proprietor’s of the lands at Ballytore. The last book published in Mary Leadbeater’s lifetime was “Biographical Notice of Members of the Society of Friends who were resident in Ireland” which went on sale in 1823. Within 3 years Mary Leadbeater was dead. She was buried in the Quaker graveyard in Ballytore.
During the greater part of her life Mary Leadbeater kept a diary recording the events and people of her native village. This was published in 1862 as the first Volume of “The Leadbeater’s Papers” and it gives us an important and well written account of life in Ballytore between 1766 and 1818. The diary entries concerning the 1798 Rebellion are especially important being an impartial observer’s account of the events of that time. The Second Volume of the same publication consists of some of the extensive correspondence which Mary Leadbeater conducted with a number of important people. Apart from Edmund Burke’s letters it includes her correspondence with the poet George Crabbe and Melessina Trench, mother of Archbishop Richard Trench of Dublin. Archbishop Trench was a cousin of Rev. Frederick Trench, Rector of St. Michael’s, Athy, the last Sovereign of Athy whose untimely death following an accident in 1860 led to the removal of Preston’s Medieval Gate, then located in Offaly Street. George Crabbe was an English poet whose most famous works, “The Village” and “The Parish Register” are important poetic portraits of late 18th century village life.
The works of Mary Leadbeater, popular at the beginning of the last century, are now almost forgotten and except for the reproduction some years ago of an edited version of Volume One of the Leadbeater papers by the Stephen Scroop Press, her works have not been re-published.