Quakers in West Cork

Posted on: 10th October, 2016

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

ABOVE: Quaker couple Bev Cotton and Miriam O’Donovan

Since their foundation in the 17th century by George Fox, the ‘Religious Society of Friends’, or Quakers, as they have come to be known as, have been encouraged to walk cheerfully over the world, answering to ‘that of God’ in everyone.

The central basis of Quakerism is the belief that each person can make direct contact with God, which led Quakers or ‘Friends’ to reject the need for clergy.

“There is no hierarchy, no ministers, no preaching, no creed, no gospel, none of that. It’s for each person, him or herself, to be responsible for the health of their own spiritual life,” explains Quaker Miriam O’Donovan to Mary O’Brien. “You seek ‘that of God’ in everybody and try to find that point of connection in everybody.”

Quaker meetings last for an hour in silent worship or occasional spontaneous ministry.

“If you feel moved by the Spirit or if there is something, even just a thought, that you really want to share, you might stand up and communicate this to the group. Everyone present will reflect on what was said. Someone else might be moved to say something, or no one might speak at all for the entire hour,” says Miriam.

Miriam and her husband Bev Cotton are members of the West Cork Quaker group, which meets once a month in Skibbereen. The couple has been attending meetings since they were both students at Oxford University.

“I was in my late 20s, happily married but wrestling with the world; busy with a small child, a job and my studies – I felt there was something missing from my life but I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” says Miriam.

“Every day, I walked past the Quaker meeting house on St Giles at Oxford with my daughter Phoebe in the pram. They had nice notices on the window and you could see that they were very involved in the community. One day I popped into their shop and got talking to this really lovely woman, an elderly Quaker and Elder of the Meeting.”

Miriam really liked what the woman had to say and started attending Quaker meetings.

“It was like taking a beautiful cool drink of water when I was in a very parched place in my life,” she reflects.

“I needed a space in my life where I could just sit down and reflect on how I was living it.”

Of course there is more to the Quaker faith than attending meetings. Quakerism is about the way you live your life in the community.

The work of Quakers during the Great Irish Famine has become a model for a wide range of Quaker action and relief work since then, to this day.

Many Quakers have been prominently involved in Oxfam from its foundation, and Quaker values influenced the way the organisation conducted relief work from the outset.

In May 1942, Quaker Edith Pye established a national Famine Relief Committee and encouraged the setting up of a network of local famine relief committees.

The campaigning work of the Famine Relief committees – during and after World War II – helped pave the way for the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949, governing the protection of civilians in wartime.

“It’s about going the extra distance,” says Miriam who, in her local community, has co-founded the Clonakilty Favour Exchange and was involved in setting up the ‘Incredible Edible’ project in West Cork. Miriam is also a passionate campaigner for disability rights in Ireland.

“I feel Quakerism has taken me outside my own personal concerns, encouraged me to lead a more participative life.

There’s a great social aspect to that as well of course. Your interaction with others tends to be around the doing of practical things in the community and you make great friends.”

Quakerism was first brought to Cork by Elizabeth Smith and Elizabeth Fletcher in 1655. William Penn (1644 – 1718), the founder of Pennsylvania, started his life as a Quaker in Cork.

According to David Butler’s book ‘The Quaker Meeting House of Ireland’ there were Quaker meetings in Kinsale, Bandon, Castle Salem and Skibbereen. The Bandon meeting house (1655 – 1807) was sold and partly demolished in 1807. In Skibbereen, meetings were held from 1694 – 1730. Kinsale meetings took place from 1655 – 1751 and meetings were held at Castle Salem from 1704 – 1730.

Along with other non-conformists, early Quakers were persecuted, even imprisoned, for their beliefs.

Quakers were excluded from universities, professions such as medicine or law were not open to them, and they were debarred from many public and civic offices.

Many Quakers took up professions in trade or industry, where they often prospered due to their basic integrity.

By the 19th century, Quakers were predominantly middle and upper-middle class tradesmen, merchants and bankers.

“Quakers introduced the price tags on products,” say Miriam. “A fair price for a fair product.” Although their success in business went against their spiritual belief in living a simple life, many Quakers channelled their wealth into philanthropic works.

Well-known Irish businesses founded by Quakers include Jacob’s Biscuits and Bewley’s Tea and Coffee.

An application for formal membership of the Society is not made until you have attended a number of meetings and become thoroughly immersed in the Quaker worship and familiar with the principles.

“People usually attend meetings for a number of years before applying to become ’Friends’,” says Miriam, who joined after five years. “It’s a very easy and friendly process.”

“I’m not at all a natural Quaker,” says Miriam. “I don’t have that sense of calm and reflection that is a typical Quaker. I get very passionate about things. But I need this, perhaps more than most. I find that being a ‘Friend’ speaks to my condition and I feel compelled to try and overcome my failings. I don’t always succeed; I probably fail more often than not. But I find it enormously helpful.”

The West Cork Quaker Group Meeting for Worship is on the last Sunday of each month at 11pm in the Family Resource Centre, Field’s Car Park, Skibbereen. All welcome to attend.

There is also a meeting scheduled to take place on the second Tuesday of each month at 6pm at the Bantry Christian Fellowship Church, The Square, Bantry but check the website in case of cancellation or postponement.

For more information go to www.westcorkquakers.com.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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