Throughout the ages, men and women have been recorded in the annals of history for great achievements or discoveries. Some for their deeds of bravery and valour in battle, others for their cruelty, and there are those remembered for their achievements through peaceful means. I recently came across some writings about Joseph Haughton, a Ferns businessman during the 1798 Rebellion. These accounts convinced me that Joseph Haughton was a man of peace. His impact may not have had a global effect, but it certainly had a huge impact on the lives of the people of Ferns at that time.
Joseph’s family came to Ireland from Haughton Hall, Lancashire, England, in the late 1600s. Joseph established an extensive business (family grocery and general drapery) in Ferns in 1792. He and his family were Quakers or members of the Society of Friends.
There were many Quakers in Ireland at this time, with meetinghouses in Ballintore, Enniscorthy, Wexford and New Ross. Joseph and his family ‘waited on the Lord and worshipped him in spirit and truth’ at the meeting house in Ballintore, Ferns. During the time of unrest in the 1790s, Joseph encouraged his fellow Quakers to give up their guns and weapons in case they might be stolen and used against their fellow man in these uncertain times. Before asking anyone to destroy their weapons, Joseph destroyed his own first outside his premises on the main street of Ferns in full view of the public.
Shortly after the destruction of the Quaker’s arms, the government ordered all guns be given to the magistrates to defend the royalists. The local magistrates were not pleased with the Quakers actions; the Earl of Mount Norris then asked Joseph if the militia in Ferns could use his premises as a guardhouse. Joseph refused, not because he could not accommodate them but because it would seem like he was condoning war. In reprisal, the Earl of Mount Norris instructed that no protection should be given to Joseph or his family during the war.
The militia stepped up their activity against those suspected of being United Irishmen, burning their homes, crops, and pitch capping them. One man in Ferns was about to have his home and crops burned by the militia when Joseph intervened and pleaded with the officer to spare the house for the man’s wife and children. The officer accused Joseph of meddling, but the home and crops were spared. Later, when the United Irishmen came to power, Joseph helped that same officer in the militia in reverse circumstances.
Further evidence of Joseph’s belief in pursuing peace is his refusal to sell rope and linen to the military for the purpose of hanging and pitch caping those who had earlier not handed weapons to the military. The army took the rope and linen by force, offering payment which Joseph refused to accept. Joseph believes this act of righteousness and trusting God was instrumental to preserving himself and his family when the United Irishmen rose to power.
Throughout this time, Joseph was constantly in danger; the King’s army might discover that he was giving food and shelter to the United Irishmen, or the United Irishmen might react badly to the fact that he was looking after Protestant women and children who needed shelter. Joseph said, ‘I found the more I attended to what was right in my own mind, the more I seemed to be respected by them’.
Joseph recorded his memories of the 1798 Rebellion in July 1811 and died in 1845. His family business continued to prosper up to the 1940s when it was taken over by Gilberts, then Eddie Murphy, Joseph Harney and later by John and Mary Gathings. It is presently owned by Pat Durack and continues to be a thriving business. A plaque on the wall unveiled in 1998 by Ferns Development Association commemorates Joseph Haughton and ensures his rightful place in the village’s history.