RELATIVELY little has been written about the Quakers’ industrial activities in Ireland, yet they were instrumental in creating some of the country’s largest manufacturing businesses, including many with their origins in the Midlands. Now Michael Goodbody, a member of one those well-known and long-established Quaker families, has written a book that examines their role.
His book, The Goodbodys – Millers, Merchants and Manufacturers – The Story of an Irish Quaker Family 1630-1950, is more than just a family history. It also looks at the role the Quakers played in the Irish economy. The book follows the fortunes of the family from the time of their arrival in Ireland and conversion to Quakerism, through the ‘quiet’ years, when they were farmers, merchants and tanners, until 1825, when Robert Goodbody moved to Clara to start milling flour. He and his five sons, who were connected by marriage to some of the leading merchants and manufacturers of the day, used their increasing wealth to alleviate distress during the Famine years and then developed their business interests in Tullamore and Clara.
The Goodbodys were among the first Quaker families to settle in Mountmellick, one of the principal Quaker communities in Ireland at the time, and they remained there for eight generations. Here they intermarried with other well-known families such as the Bewleys and the Pims, who started factories for the manufacture of woollen and cotton goods.
The Goodbodys’ industrial activities in Clara created considerable employment and resulted in it being one of the few towns to increase its population between the Famine and Irish independence. In 1860, the family provided lighting for the residents of Clara when they built the gas works, and, four years later, they started a major jute factory. By the early 1900s, this forward-looking family had organised a motor conference at Clara to encourage the improvement of roads and were among of the principal backers of Marconi when he was developing radio.
Members of the Goodbody family were also in business in Tullamore, where they started a general store in 1837, a tobacco factory in 1848 and an animal feed manufacturing business in 1892, as well as being involved in local infrastructure improvements.
Michael Goodbody writes: “The Quaker movement was founded by George Fox during the troubled Commonwealth period of the 1650s. The first converts, many of whom spent long periods in prison for refusing to pay tithes, eventually overcame initial persecution by the authorities and then devoted themselves to a simple life upholding Christian principles of honesty and the treatment of all of their fellow human beings as equals. This trait they put to good use in their business affairs, where they gained a reputation for integrity and reliability. At a later date they devoted their energies to the abolition of slavery, prison reform and famine relief.”
Michael Goodbody was born in Co. Wicklow and educated in Ireland. He moved to London in 1962 to take up a career in the City. Married with three children, he now lives in Essex. At an early age he developed an interest in Irish Quaker families and their social and business relationships. This book about his family and others connected with it is the result of these years of research.
He says of his book: “The Goodbody story is not just an account of a successful family; it also follows the fortunes of those who fell on hard times. In some instances these individuals found themselves sharing the fate of the millions of nineteenth-century Irish emigrants who endured enormous hardships in an attempt to find a better life in the textile factories of England or on the other side of the Atlantic.”
The Goodbodys – Millers, Merchants and Manufacturers – The Story of an Irish Quaker Family 1630-1950 by Michael Goodbody is published by Ashfield Press, price €40. It is available through the offices of the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society (firstname.lastname@example.org) and local bookshops, as well as from www.ashfieldpress.ie. The book includes photographs dating back to the late 1800s and paintings and illustrations from even earlier.