S2.E3 Unboxed: Irish Quaker Dreamscapes

Hey, everyone! Thanks for tuning in! To the UCSB Undergraduate Journal of History podcast, and this season, we are sharing with you our archive stories of unboxing cool history stuff that we found in the vaults of the UCSB Library Special Research Collections. 

I’m your host, Ava Thompson, a History of public policy and law major in my fourth year at UCSB. In today’s episode of Unboxed, we look at an archive of dreams… 

For some images of today’s archival collection, follow us on Instagram at @ucsbhistjournal. Ok. Let’s see what our gray Hollinger box has in store for us today. 

– Act 1 – 

Housed at UCSB’s Research Archives is the Ballitore Collection. According to “The Ballitore Project,” an academic group studying the collection for UCSB and Howard University, “The Ballitore Collection features more than 2,500 documents related to the Irish Quaker community of Ballitore, Ireland, including letters, journals, notebooks, and dream accounts. Originally assembled by the author Mary Leadbeater who lived from 1758 to 1826, this unique, understudied archive offers important insights into the intersections of gender, race, and religion in this period.” The collection primarily consists of communication from the Irish Quaker Shackleton, Leadbeater, and Barrington families of Ballitore, Ireland. It also includes material relating to Edmund Burke, who went to the local boarding school and eventually became an accomplished member of Parliament between 1766 and 1794 in the House of Commons of Great Britain representing the Whig Party. 

The archive includes fascinating accounts of dreams that members of the Ballitore Quaker community had. 

– Act 2 – 

Tucked away in its boxes are the handwritten accounts and records of a small Quaker community that thrived in the Irish countryside in the 16, 17, and 1800s. Ballitore was the only planned and thriving Quaker community in Ireland’s history, housing Quaker families and a flourishing boarding school that educated prominent Irish thinkers and an eventual parliament members. 

Ballitore sits just beyond the majestic Wicklow Mountains. In spring, purple flowers speckle the rocky, sloping hills, and lush and thick grasses coat the meadows and drape into fast-running streams. Pooling in deep, vast lakes, dark, clear waters eventually run down the mountains into Ballitore through the Griese River. The town is dotted with small stone buildings with thatched solid roofs. Their small windows and doors were made to preserve as much heat as possible in the deep chill of Irish winters. A fireplace would have been the beating heart of the home, never allowed to go out. At this time, one of Ireland’s most famous sayings was born, loosely translated as ‘there’s no place like home,’ the actual literal translation is ‘there’s no fireplace like your own fireplace’: ‘níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.’ The narrow streets would have held horse-drawn carts and families rushing to farm work or Sunday worship. Beyond the buildings, Ballitore’s townspeople would have seen a vibrant scenery of vast rolling hills. Today, in the mornings, light falls onto green thickets covered in cold morning due. Ivy wraps itself around old stone walls, marking ancient pastures and property lines. In a run-down cemetery, nature covers and clings to moss-speckled gravestones of the Quakers whose dreams of an ideal Quaker life built the small town. Unlike surrounding areas, Ballitore’s population has stayed relatively small, and the town’s attractions consist of its river, the Quaker museum, and two pubs.

Throughout the 1700s, the Ballitore Quakers chronicled their dreams and visions. Their close and personal relationship with God was the center of their worldview, making it also the center of their dreams. The Quakers believed that the Savior sent them direct messages in their dreams. Many dreams are chronicled in the collection, but our podcast will focus on three in particular. Those of Mary Burkett, James Dickenson, and Mary Brooks. Let’s enter their dreamland. 

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Elena: I hope you’re enjoying this episode of Unboxed. My name’s Elena– 

Troy: And I’m Troy. Both Elena and I are members of the UCSB History Club and avid listeners of UNBOXED. That’s right. Troy. 

Elena: The UCSB History Club is a big supporter of the Undergraduate Journal of History and hope that listeners of Unboxed will also consider joining us at History Club events. 

Troy: We sure do Elena! The History Club at UC Santa Barbara is a student run campus club that meets weekly during the academic year. We host faculty and graduate student speakers as part of our fireside chat series. We also get together to play games and study, host potlucks, and holiday themed events. 

Elena: And Troy, don’t forget that sometimes we even travel to local heritage sites around Santa Barbara. So if you want to get in on the fun, follow us on Instagram @UCSBhistoryclub. We hope to see you at the history club meetings soon. Okay, now let’s get back to this episode of Unboxed. Oh, I can’t wait to hear how this one ends.

– Act 3 –

In the late 1600s and 1700s, the Ballitore Quakers would have laid their heads down in a bed (or Leaba in Irish) made of a woven mat or a mattress of stuffed straw, bog cotton, old meat stacks, and discarded fabric. A rare mattress stuffed with goose feathers would have been a luxury passed down through families and even included as dowry gifts when a young woman married. Once comfy on their stuffed and layered sack, dreaming began. While each of these dreams varied in their topics and messages, what was apparent across all of them was that the Quakers believed each of their individual members to be beacons of the Lord’s word and worthy of his communication. 

On the night of March 5th, 1786 “A Dream Dreamt by Mary Burkett” took place. Mary dreamed she “was born in the old time” and “saw our Savior.” He was in her yard with her father and other community members. Mary dreamed that she saw a crowd crucify the Savior by putting holes in his hands and hoisting him onto the cross. She, her father, and a man named George Crane tried to save him from crucifixion, but it was to no avail. She remembers, “They put him thereon (the cross), and he anointed me to be a prophet, such as Elisha.” She cried when they killed him but, in this dream world, as a prophet, decided to preach repentance to a crowd in her home but was soon hunted down by those same men who orchestrated the crucifixion moments before. She fled and “at last got to a country cottage and preached repentance…I anointed another in my place, and I died,” she remembered. At the bottom of the document, she notes that she had dreamed this dream many times, leading her to record it. Fascinatingly, Mary’s dreams place the events of the bible not in heaven or a far-off land but right in her home of Ballitore. Her meeting place with Jesus is just in her backyard, and her escape to preach is not in heaven but in a cottage in the Irish countryside. Clearly, the residents of Ballitore saw their small Quaker town as one of no minor significance. 

"The Copy of a Dream" Mary Brooks

“A Copy of a Dream: Mary Brooks had in the beginning of the year 1778” begins “she thought she saw the sky of a blue color as in a serene summer’s evening on which small white clouds formed words in the verse of a considerable length and were (she thinks) a relation of all the remarkable occurrences that have since happened in America.” This vivid opening to her dream highlights a connection to the outside world, just like Mary Burkett who also saw Jesus in her “yard”. Mary Brooks immediately after becomes “seized with fear” that the King of England is in danger. A young girl in rural Ireland believed she had received a special message from God concerning the health of the King of England: “this brought a weight and exercise over her mind for about 8 days at the end of which, one evening her heart was melted under a forward sense of the flowing of divine love which brought great sweetness, calming and peace over her, perfect stillness ensuing, she heard the Lord’s voice (as distinctly as ever she heard any {..} language) pronounce the following words on the secret of her mind. “I will show thee things to come great and mighty in the King of kings. Thy Lord of the whole earth by him King’s reign and prince’s decree justice. My power shall subdue the King’s enemies, and he shall know that I rule over kingdoms of men; thou hast seen his name written on high and the nation whom I will defend. No enchantment against it shall prosper, nor divinations prevail: I will restore princes into her gardens, I will exalt my own name in the destruction of hypocrites for the day of their visitation is ended, who have lifted themselves up against my providence, and the kind that I have seen over then and though they swear the Lord liveth they swear falsely.” In this moment, Mary becomes a mouthpiece of God through her dream. The storing of these dreams shows that her community valued her vision. Interestingly, Mary clearly feels a deep allegiance to the King of England, which at the time included the Kingdom of Ireland, where she resided. In precisely twenty years, a rebellion would rise in Ireland against this rule that her dream decries the will of God. In the 1798 rebellion, the Ballitore town was not left unscathed, and multiple Quaker buildings were burnt to the ground. 

Now, we have arrived at the dream of James Dickenson in 1684. In his sleep, he dreams of an angel standing before him but cannot move under her gaze. In this moment of sleep paralysis, which multiple Quakers’ dreams describe as a weight on their chest, he becomes very fearful and asks the Lord for help. He feels relief from the Lord and knows that he won’t die. He stands before the angel and asks if this is a warning while professing his love for God. James describes: “Then I awoke out of my sleep. I still remained under a great weight…I died alive in my mind unto the Lord in true stillness…I was taken in spirit and set upon the top of the mountains. Then I beholden a pleasing valley and a few people in the valley with with whom I had a great desire to be with but was not able because of the steepness of the mountain, then I earnestly desired of the Lord to be down and the great mountain bowed of its own accord and set me down in the valley where we are all in peace together. Then {the mountain} reared itself to the same height again and I looked and beheld a multitude of people that were set upon the top of the mountain whom desired to be down and were not able for whom I was greatly concerned. They stood still looking at us. The mountain bowed of its own accord and set them down with us in the valley.” James’s dream seems influenced by the mountains that framed his town. It’s so interesting to imagine that this was what his mind formed in the depths of sleep. He and Mary felt calm and stillness in their dreams, an intense emotional response to feeling close to their Lord. The peacefulness James feels in the valley is not just from being around divinity but around other religious people, maybe they represented his fellow Ballitore Quakers. All three of these dreams show how the Ballitore Quakers felt they were a special group residing in a special place. One that warranted the visitation of God not only to their minds but to a dreamscape of their town too. 

– Summary – 

The episode’s archival box is closing, and our story is ending. Indulge your curiosity and discover something new at a UCSB or another institution’s research collection. People with rich histories, stories, thoughts, and dreams might await you in the hidden pages. Although largely unknown today, Ballitore’s Quakers formed an essential and unique community in Ireland’s history. While primarily religious, the Ballitore dreams reveal a deep and reverent relationship with Ireland’s landscape. Their community understood God as something available to each individual. No special training or position was needed to directly connect with God or be worthy of his communication. The Catholic Church, which would have had strongholds in Irish religion at the time, was just the opposite, leaving important messages and instructions from God to members of the

priesthood which excluded women, meaning that both Mary Brooks and Mary Burkett may not have had an audience for their dream-time communication with divinity. 

– Sneak Peek – 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Unboxed. Be sure to join us next week when Zoe shares their archive story of unboxing French Revolution documents from the UCSB Library Special Research Collections. To see some images of today’s archival collection, check out our Instagram page @ucsbhistjournal, and be sure to follow us on Spotify at the Undergraduate Journal of History: The Podcast.