Protestant Immigrants

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Protestant Immigrants

Among the groups of continental Protestants who migrated to Ireland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Huguenots from France were the single largest group. This article focuses on their settlement and also discusses another major immigrant group, the Palatines from Germany.

In 1685 Louis XIV of France issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, thereby finally ending a nearly hundred-year period of religious coexistence between Protestants and Catholics in his realm. The edict had been preceded by harsh government measures to force the Huguenots into conformity with the Catholic Church, among them the so-called dragonnades. As a consequence, there was a mass exodus of Huguenots, who settled in Europe from east to west—in Protestant territories of the Holy Roman Empire, such as Brandenburg, as well as in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, and Ireland. Although the number of immigrants to each of these countries can only be estimated, about 7,000 to 10,000 Huguenots settled in Ireland, compared with between 14,000 and 20,000 in Brandenburg-Prussia and about 50,000 to 80,000 in England.

The Huguenot immigration to Ireland occurred in three distinct phases. During the first phase, between 1662 and 1680, the viceroy of Ireland, James Butler, first duke of Ormonde, was the driving force behind the establishment of a Huguenot community. Ormonde hoped for economic stimuli and a bolstering of Protestantism by encouraging Huguenots to settle in Ireland. An "Act for encouraging Protestant strangers and others to inhabit and plant in the kingdom of Ireland" was passed by the Irish parliament in 1662, thus providing a legal basis for immigration. During this first phase only about 180 Huguenots came to Ireland. This community was overwhelmingly mercantile and settled exclusively in Dublin. It dwindled to sixty persons just before the second phase of settlement began in 1680.

The second phase of Huguenot settlement in Ireland, between 1681 and 1691, coincided with the dragonnades and the Edict of Fontainebleau. By 1687 about 400 to 650 Huguenots lived in Dublin. Only the third phase of immigration, after 1692, resulted in the settlement of a substantial Huguenot population in Ireland. In 1692, the Irish parliament passed an "Act for encouragement of Protestant strangers to settle in this kingdom of Ireland." The refugees settled mainly in the harbor towns of Ireland—in Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Dundalk, Belfast, and of course Dublin.

Two settlement projects, one successful and one unsuccessful, stand out in this otherwise scattered migration. Both projects were initiated by the leading Huguenot refugee in Ireland, Henry Massue, marquis de Ruvigny, baron of Portarlington (from 1691), and earl of Galway (from 1697). The successful one was the settlement of Huguenot veterans from William III's armies in the town of Portarlington from 1692 onwards. The unsuccessful one intended to transport thousands of Huguenots stranded in Switzerland to Ireland. Entitled "le projet d'Irlande," it was initiated by Ruvigny in 1693, but English and Swiss funds for the project were withdrawn and it came to nothing.

Compared to steps taken in other European countries, notably German territories such as Brandenburg-Prussia where the Huguenots were given extensive special rights, the Irish acts of parliament did not make provision for separating the "Protestant strangers" from the rest of Irish society. The Huguenot refugees in Ireland were not granted their own jurisdiction, but had to avail themselves of the Irish courts of law. Although they were granted some economic privileges, these were far less extensive than those in states such as Brandenburg. All in all, the Irish immigration laws guided Huguenot refugees toward integration into Irish society, not separation from it. Apart from Portarlington, where French traditions survived into the nineteenth century, Huguenots quickly integrated into Irish Protestant society.

In terms of religion the position of the Huguenots in Irish society was deeply influenced by the complex religious makeup of their host country, where the Anglican established church, the Church of Ireland, was in a minority position and was confronted with a Catholic majority on the one hand and a substantial Nonconformist presence, mostly Presbyterians in Ulster, on the other. The first act of 1662 required Huguenots to swear the oath of supremacy, thereby accepting the king as head of the Church of Ireland. Viceroy Ormonde was determined to integrate the refugees into the state church. After the example of the conformist "French Church of the Savoy," which had been founded in London some years earlier, he established a conformist Huguenot church in Dublin in 1666. This was called "French Patrick" because it held its services in the Lady-chapel of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Its pastors were paid by the state church. In return for using a French translation of the Book of Common Prayer and accepting the authority of the bishops of the Church of Ireland, "French Patrick" was allowed to hold its services in French and to establish a Presbyterian church order. However, this compromise was not acceptable to many Huguenots, who started to drift away from "French Patrick" to form Nonconformist conventicles elsewhere.

The act of 1692 completely changed the religious conditions for refugees by granting them "the free exercise of their religion in their own several rites used in their own countries, any law or statute to the contrary notwithstanding" ("An act for encouragement of Protestant strangers to settle in this kingdom of Ireland" [1692]). This led to the establishment of conformist as well as Nonconformist Huguenot churches in Ireland. Despite the granting of religious freedom, the Nonconformist groups came repeatedly under pressure from the established church, notably in Portarlington.

It is generally difficult to gauge the contribution that refugees make to the cultural and economic development of their adopted country. However, with regard to the Huguenots, there are some areas where their role was palpable, although recent historiography is less certain about it. The large Huguenot contribution of soldiers and officers in William III's armies, including at the Battle of the Boyne, is part of the story. Economically, Huguenot influence was also significant: Besides Huguenot merchants operating successfully in Irish cities, Huguenots rapidly assumed importance in the Irish linen and banking industries. Louis Crommelin successfully established the linen industry in the north of Ireland, and David Digues La Touche began a highly successful banking business in Dublin. The La Touche family also established the silk- and poplin-weaving industries in Dublin. Moreover, Huguenots were active as silversmiths and goldsmiths as well as in the learned professions. They also contributed to the cultural development of Ireland. One of the more enduring traditions of Portarlington was the creation of boarding schools, which had a very high reputation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In addition, the promotion of gardening is attributed to Huguenot influence.

In contrast to the Huguenots, whose settlement in Ireland can be called a success and who were quickly integrated into Irish Protestant society, the intended settlement of another major group of foreign Protestant immigrants, the Palatines, caused many problems. In 1708 and 1709 about 11,000 to 13,500 people left the Palatinate and other regions in southwestern Germany as a consequence of the invasions of Louis XIV's armies. They made their way to England via the Netherlands with the intention of moving on to the North American colonies of the British Crown. While a substantial number of these so-called Palatines made it to North America, others remained in England and about 3,000 persons were sent to Ireland. Although there had also been Catholics among the original refugees (southwestern Germany was a confessionally mixed area), they had been sent back to Germany by the British government, and only Protestants were allowed to acquire lands under the British Crown.

When the suggestion was first made to settle Palatines in Ireland, the Irish parliament was enthusiastic about the idea, arguing that "they will prove an occasion of strength to the Protestant interest of this nation, especially considering the disproportion between the Protestants and the Papists in this kingdom" (Hick 1989, p. 120). With substantial financial support from the government and private donors in Ireland, 821 families were sent to Dublin in September and October 1709.

It quickly turned out that most of them could not be settled in Ireland successfully. The exact reasons for this are difficult to ascertain, but it seems that the Palatines might have been led to expect very favorable conditions in Ireland (e.g., rent-free lands). In any case, they were so discontented that about 60 percent of them returned to England, and from there, many made their way back to Germany. By November 1711 only 312 Palatine families (1,218 persons) remained in Ireland; the number further decreased to 185 families by 1720. While some stayed in Dublin and others were scattered about the country, most—115 families—were settled on the lands of Sir Thomas Southwell in County Limerick. In spite of continuing financial difficulties and conflicts, they became permanently settled there, growing hemp and flax and conforming to the established church. However, the language barrier between the Palatines and their English and Irish neighbors in Ireland was not overcome for a long time. The Palatines continued to intermarry and formed a distinct community, retaining their language and cultural traditions at least until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

SEE ALSO Economy and Society from 1500 to 1690; Urban Life, Crafts, and Industry from 1500 to 1690


Caldicott, C. E. J., Hugh Gough, and Jean-Paul Pittion, eds. The Huguenots and Ireland: Anatomy of an Emigration. 1987.

Gwynn, Robin D. Huguenot Heritage: The History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain. 1985.

Hick, Vivien. "The Palatine Settlement in Ireland: The Early Years." Eighteenth-Century Ireland 4 (1989): 113–131.

Knox, S. J. Ireland's Debt to the Huguenots. 1959.

Lee, Grace Lawless. The Huguenot Settlements in Ireland. 1936.

Saint Leger, Alice. Silver, Sail, and Silk: Huguenots in Cork, 1685–1850. 1991.

Vigne, Randolph, and Charles Littleton, eds. From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland, and Colonial America, 1550–1750. 2001.

Ute Lotz-Heumann

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Protestant Immigrants

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