Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

What is Yet to Come: The Quaker Archives in Progress

by Catherine Ahearne, Senior Library Assistant, MU Library

As the newest member of the Special Collections & Archives team, Explore Your Archive week gives me the opportunity to get to know our collections better. Our archive collections include the papers of academics, writers, and other professionals, as well as documents of local interest. Only collections that are fully catalogued are available for research. So as member of team I wanted to show what the archivists are working on and will be available to researchers once fully processed.

One collection that is currently being worked on is the Quaker Letters, a series of letters between members of the Grubb family of Clonmel, County Tipperary, and their relations, the Shackleton and Leadbeater families of Ballitore, County Kildare. The letters were acquired by Maynooth University Library in 2019.

Mary Leadbeater, Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

I looked at one bound volume of letters from Margaret Grubb (née  Shackleton), Clogheen and Clonmel, to her sister Mary Leadbeater (née Shackleton), Ballitore. This volume contains ninety-six letters which concern a number of subjects including the births, deaths, and marriages of their extended family, domestic issues including the running of their households, visitors and guests, and the health and wellbeing of their children and wider family.

The letter that I examined is dated 4 June 1795 and is from Margaret Grubb to Mary Leadbeater. It is a letter written in the aftermath of the loss of a child. The letter begins very practically accepting offers of sympathy and referring to the loss as the ‘affliction that has befallen me.’

MU/PP35, Vol 1, 4 June 1795

From these letters we gain an insight into how detailing the loss of a child, causes and the actual moment of death, was part of everyday life for the women of this time.

‘I hoped that as the other children got over the disease so lightly that it ought be her case, & I thought the place where the infection was laid appeared so little inflamed that it might have been so too, but she was not a fit subject, being too irritable in her habit, & disposed to convulsions…she expired very quietly they told me, her poor Nurse has manifested deep affliction…she said she wanted to give up her eldest little girl to my care, as she was near death herself, having neither eaten nor slept for many days & nights’

(MU/PP35 Vol. 1, 4 June 1795)

Community in times of loss is evident, ‘visited by so many…I was kept up by them.’ The women of the community rallied around the grieving mother, to distract her from ‘falling into despair’ but also to offer practical support

Betty stayed both day and night and attended to the house and other children, for my Anne was overwhelmed with sorrow & like myself not of fit mind to mind them.’

While the tone of the document was pragmatic and sensible at the beginning as we read further into the letter, we begin to see the grief manifest itself.

I am tolerable in the day but at night I waken out of my just sleep with an unexpected pang.’

MU/PP35, Vol 1, 4 June 1795

These letters will be a wonderful asset to the research community reflecting how society functioned at this time in Ireland and as a primary source. But it also gives a voice to the history of women, of the roles they played in society and in the family.

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