18th century woman's bonnet. There is no known image of Catherine Callaghan

Catherine Callaghan, friend of Catherine McAuley and wife of William Callaghan, died 200 years ago on October 3rd 1819.

We know that William was a prominent apothecary in Dublin, a member of the established church and Catherine his wife was a Quaker. They were a childless couple who had spent a number of years in India. 

The first Quaker meeting took place in Ireland in 1654 and there were meetings in every Irish town up to 20th century.    There are about 3000 members in Ireland today.

The Religious Society of Friends believe the light of God to be in everyone, anyone can speak directly to God and sacraments are unnecessary. Quakers practice honesty above all else and refuse to swear oaths.

Their refusal to swear oaths brought many into business as they could not attend university.

Though they were renowned for their good works during the famine, like the rest of the Irish, their fate was governed by political upheaval and natural disaster and many emigrated to eastern U.S.

The Quaker plain dress and disremembering are long gone.  Many of the great Quaker businesses are now part of multinational conglomerates – Bewleys, Cadburys, Schweppes, Rowntrees were all founded by Quaker families.

Ballitore Quaker School founded in 1697 Abraham Shackleton became an education centre of excellence with students coming from all over the world.  Edmund Burke and Cardinal Cullen who was born in the village was another).

Abraham’s granddaughter, Mary Ledbetter published Dialogue of the Irish Peasantry in 1811 (series 1 and 2), Biographical Notices of Irish Friends, The Pedlars as well as numerous poems and articles.

She was also the local postmistress of Ballitore – the only planned and permanent Quaker settlement in Ireland. The old school house and centre is known as Mary Ledbetter Centre.

Imbued in Quaker principles since her youth, I believe that these qualities of honesty, reading of Scripture and inner reflective prayer were hallmarks of Catherine Callaghan’s character.  These qualities surely impacted on her relationship with Catherine McAuley.  The Quaker sense of social awareness met with Catherine’s own sensitivity to those less well off, by their provision of a house on the estate in Coolock for Catherine to begin her ministry in.

We know that Catherine spent long hours with Catherine Callaghan reading to her with a muted light because of the sensitivity of Catherine Callaghan’s eyes. 

Catherine McAuley grew into mature womanhood as her relationship with Catherine Callaghan deepened.  I believe she was an important influencer on the woman Catherine McAuley became.

- Margaret Roche