These names are not common, but they are certainly interesting!
The people who brought them arrived in Ireland at a time when there was religious persecution of Protestants in Continental Europe, primarily at the hands of the Catholic monarchy of France.
Huge numbers of Protestants fled regions of France and Germany at this time, most to England where there was a sympathetic Protestant king, but a number to Ireland, where they were granted lands by the ruling English.
In Merrion Row in Dublin, close to the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephan’s Green, is a surviving Huguenot graveyard, where more than 200 different surnames are recorded on headstones, giving an indication of just how large the community was at one time. Almost none of those names are now found in Ireland.
Aside: It’s spelled ‘Hughenot’ in the cemetery name, which I don’t believe is correct – as far as I’m aware that is a family name, not the name for the group of people in question. Either some stone mason messed up or it’s a variant that was in use in the past.
In St Patrick’s Cathedral, where a small chapel was provided for the Huguenot community, a bell commemorates the arrival of the French Huguenot refugees in Dublin.
Huguenot Family Names in Ireland
In the 17th and 18th centuries French Calvinist Protestants were persecuted and alienated by a Catholic monarchy, causing as many as 500,000 of them to flee the country.
A small number of them, almost all from around the French city of La Rochelle, ended up in Ireland, settling in small communities in Portarlington, Youghal, Waterford, Cork, Lisburn, Dublin and perhaps most famously in Portarlington in Co Laois.
By 1700 there were more than 500 French people living in Portarlington on land which had been granted to the Marquis de Ruvigny by King William.
Several places in Ireland bear the trace of the Huguenot presence still in street names, such as D’Olier St in Dublin, and buildings, such as the French Church (left) in Portarlington. The cemetery adjoining the church has many headstone bearing French names and the Hugenot names Blanc, Champ and Cobbe are still quite common in the area.
Many of those who fled France returned when things became safer, but others stayed and they are the original bearers of other Hugenot names still found today in Ireland such as Guerin, Millet, Trench and Deverell. These names are mostly still found in the areas in which their ancestors settled hundreds of years ago.
The Influence of the Huguenots on Ireland
While the Huguenots were not great in number, they were very important in the history of Ireland, and in particular in the development of the textile industry here. It was they who brought knowledge of linen manufacture and established the production of linen, silk and poplin here for the first time. The world renowned Irish Linen owes its existance to these long ago immigrants from France.
Others were involved in wine and brandy imports, presumably using their contacts in France to set up trading links. Milling was also associated with the Hugenot communities. They were very successful business people, with their Calvinist work ethic and relatively high levels of education equipping them well to prosper at a time when Dublin was growing rapidly and becoming a wealthy city.
Perhaps the most famous Irish Hugenot was Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a writer of Gothic mysteries which were bestsellers in Victorian times.
His most remembered books are “Uncle Silas” and “Through a Glass Darkly”, which still attract some readers to-day though in general time has not been kind to his reputation.
Palatine Family Names in Ireland
Around the same time the French also invaded the Palatinate area of Germany, and drove its Lutheran population out.
In the early 1700’s about 3,000 of them ended up in Ireland, essentially as refugees under the protection of English landlords, and each of them was allocated eight acres of land at a nominal rent of five shillings per acre and leases of “three lives”. They were also given a not inconsiderable grant of 40 shillings a year for their first seven years in residence.
At the time Irish tenants were paying rents of thirty five shillings per acre and had little or no right of tenure, so the newcomers were not sympathetically received by all of the local population. In fact many of them left within a couple of years, hounded out by hostile neighbours, and returned to Germany.
A small village in Co Carlow is still to-day called Palatine, often a source of bemusement to those who come across it. It was previously known as Palatinetown and it is thought that the pretty cottages at the edge of the village date to the time of the Palatines. There are no Palatine surnames now found in the area.
It is estimated that to-day only around 500 or so people living in Ireland can claim a Palatine origin, but some names which survive from this time include Fizelle, Fyffe (of banana fame), Ruttle, Glazier, Shouldice and Switzer. Benner is one that many visitors to Ireland will have seen – Benner’s is a long established and popular Dingle hotel.
Unlike the Hugenots, the Palatine settlers were farming people, they mostly stayed on the land and for the most part their descendents living in Ireland to-day are still farmers.
The Irish Palatine Association are very active in researching and preserving the history of Ireland’s Palatine families.