Foundations - William Edmundson was a soldier in Cromwell’s army. When he was demobilised, he settled in Ireland, eventually moving to Lurgan. On a visit to England, he encountered Quakers, including George Fox. On his return to Lurgan, Edmundson gathered a group of interested people and in 1654 the first meeting of Friends in Ireland was established.
Edmundson used every opportunity to preach the gospel wherever people congregated. In 1655 he went to a fair at Lisnagarvey, planning to buy cattle. Edmundson made a powerful impression on John Shaw, who had sold him three cows. Shaw said later, “William Edmundson’s words and deportment convinced him”.
John Shaw opened his home to Friends and thus in 1655 the first Friends’ Meeting in the Lisburn area was commenced. In later years, Meetings commenced at Hillsborough, Maghaberry and Brookfield near Moira.
1707 Fire - The fire of 1707 devastated Lisburn. The Friends’ Meeting House was spared but outbuildings were destroyed.
The School - Under his Will, John Hancock left £1000 for the purchase of land in Lisburn to establish a school. After his death in 1766, his executors purchased a site on Prospect Hill north of the town, built a schoolhouse and appointed a headmaster. Thus was founded the school we know today as Friends’ School, Lisburn.
1798 rebellion -The final decade of the 18th century was a period of tension. In 1796 the national meeting in Dublin advised Friends not to possess guns which might be seized and used for illegal purposes.
The Great Famine – In the mid-1840s Quakers in Ireland took steps to bring relief to those in distress. The Quaker Central Relief Committee in Dublin recruited agents throughout Ireland and also local Friends to assist. In the area around Lisburn, clothing and foodstuffs such as Indian meal and rice were distributed. A grant was made to fishermen on Lough Neagh to enable them to repair their nets.
20th Century – After 300 years in which Lisburn Friends had worshipped in the centre of the town, the Meeting moved in the year 1995. A new Meeting House was built adjoining Friends Preparatory School. The Friends Meeting took occupation of the new Meeting House in October 1996.
For a more comprehensive history, please refer to “Quakers in Lisburn – Four Centuries of Work and Witness” by Arthur G. Chapman, published 2009 by Ulster Friends Home Mission. ISBN 970 0 9560809 1 2.