Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Quaker tapestry display highlights farming link

Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Having a ready, consistent and local market for crops and produce is the dream situation for every farmer. With that in mind, farmers living within shouting distance of Mountmellick through the 18th and 19th centuries must have thought they were living the dream.

Thanks to the local Quaker community, their local town was home to agri-based industries that employed up to 8,000 people and swallowed tons of farm produce for milling, brewing, tanning, sugar-making, woollen mills and weaving.

In this year of The Gathering, Mountmellick has decided to celebrate its 300-year Quaker heritage.

Last Saturday the celebrations began with the opening of the Quaker Tapestry exhibition. Crafted in a series of textile panels, the tapestry depicts the history and achievements of the Quakers, or the Society of Friends as they are more correctly named, since their foundation in the 17th century.

Work on the tapestry began in England in 1981 and when it was completed in 1996, it comprised 77 panels of narrative embroidery on specially woven wool cloth.

Over 4,000 men, women and children from 15 different countries contributed to the creation of the work, which is on permanent display at Kendal in Cumbria, England.

Two of the 20 panels coming to Mountmellick are of special interest to Irish people.

One depicts the Quaker relief efforts during the Great Famine that ravaged the country in the late 1840s.

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The effort involved distributing 36,000lbs of seeds to sow 10,000ac, along with giving out tools for farming and fishing.


The other panel of interest to Ireland is a one that records the Quaker community's work on the Northern Irish peace process.

The tapestry will get an especially warm welcome at the Mountmellick Museum which is dedicated to the preservation of the craft of Mountmellick Work, a unique form of white-on-white embroidery developed by Quaker women in the town to assist local women earn an income during the Famine.

In a development that has delighted the committee at the Mountmellick Museum, the curators of the tapestry visiting Mountmellick for the exhibition have decided to add a Mountmellick Panel to the existing Tapestry. This will be designed and embroidered by local people.

"This is a great honour for the museum," says Mountmellick Development Association manager, Dolores Dempsey. "It is a real recognition of the place Mountmellick has in Quaker history and heritage."

Another significant event associated with the celebrations takes place on August 7, when Jim Edmundson, a direct descendant of William Ed-mundson, the founder of the Mountmellick Quakers, arrives from the US state of Virginia to formally hand over to the local museum the family copy of his ancestor's journal recording his life and times from the 1650s to 1712. From July 25, the local branch of the county library hosts an exhibition of the photographs of Quaker photographer Jane Shackleton, a relative of the great Antarctic explorer and a direct descendant of William Edmundson.

The photographs cover a period from the mid 1880s to the early 1900s and are part of the largest collection of work by a woman photographer from that period. The Quaker Tapestry exhibition runs from Saturday, July 27 to Saturday, August 10 and is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is €5 and includes participation in embroidery workshops.

Contact Mountmellick Museum on 057 8624525.

Irish Independent