Although Ireland was always numerically dominated by Roman Catholics (about 4/5ths of the population ) there was a substantial and varied Protestant population. Those Protestant groups which refused to conform to the Church of Ireland suffered at various times, like the Catholics, from discriminatory laws and the requirement to pay tithes to the established Church of Ireland. This discrimination persisted in varying degrees until disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869. To escape persecution, about 3,000 German-speaking Protestants from the Palatinate of the Rhine fled to Ireland, arriving in Dublin in 1709. They settled in substantial numbers throughout Limerick, and scattered throughout several counties. Many of them became Methodists at a later date.
The German Palatines, emigrants from the Middle Rhine region of the Holy Roman Empire, including a minority from the Palatinate which gave its name to the entire group. Towards the end of the 17th century and into the 18th, the wealthy region was repeatedly invaded by French troops, which resulted in continuous military requisitions, widespread devastation and famine. The "Poor Palatines" were some 13,000 Germans who migrated to England between May and November 1709. Their arrival in England, and the inability of the British Government to integrate them, caused a highly politicized debate over the merits of immigration. The English tried to settle them in England, Ireland and the Colonies.
The Palatine settlements did not prove to be viable in the long term, except for those settled in County Limerick and County Wexford in Ireland and in the colony of New York in British North America. In Ireland, less than 200 families remained after the original settlement in 1709. Nevertheless, they maintained their distinctive culture until well into the nineteenth century and Palatine surnames are now diffused across the country. The largest concentration of descendants of Irish Palatine residents lives around Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
During the reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714), political polarization increased. Immigration and asylum had long been debated, from coffee-houses to the floor of Parliament, and the Poor Palatines were inevitably brought into the political crossfire. For the Whigs, who controlled Parliament, these immigrants provided an opportunity to increase Britain’s workforce. Only two months before the German influx, Parliament had enacted the Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act 1708, whereby foreign Protestants could pay a small fee to become naturalized. The rationale was the belief that an increased population created more wealth, and that Britain’s prosperity could increase with the accommodation of certain foreigners. Britain had already benefited from French Huguenot refugees, as well as the Dutch (or “Flemish”) exiles, who helped revolutionize the English textile industry. Similarly, in an effort to increase the sympathy and support for these expatriates, many Whig tracts and pamphlets described the Palatines as “refugees of conscience” and victims of Catholic oppression and intolerance. Louis XIV of France had become infamous for the persecution of Protestants within his realm. The invasion and destruction of the Rhineland region by his forces was considered by many in Britain as a sign that the Palatines were likewise objects of his religious tyranny. With royal support, the Whigs formulated a charity brief to raise money for the “Poor Distressed Palatines”, who had grown too numerous to be supported by the Crown alone.
Not long after the Palatines' arrival, the Board of Trade was charged with finding a means for their dispersal. Contrary to the immigrants, who wanted to be transported to the colonies, most schemes involved settling them within the British Isles, either on uninhabited lands in England or in Ireland where they could bolster the numbers of the Protestant minority. Most officials involved were reluctant to send the Germans to the colonies due to the cost, and to the belief that they would be more beneficial if kept in Britain. Since the majority of the Poor Palatines were husbandmen and labourers, it was widely felt that they would be better suited in agricultural areas. There were some attempts to disperse them in neighboring towns and cities. Ultimately, large-scale settlement plans came to nothing, and the government sent Palatines piecemeal to various regions in Ireland.
3,073 Palatines were brought to Ireland in 1709. 538 families were settled as agricultural tenants on the estates of Anglo-Irish landlords, 62 families by Lord Lurgan. However, many of the settlers failed to permanently establish themselves and 352 families were reported to have left their holdings, with many returning to England. In fact, by late 1711 only around 1,200 of the Palatines remained in Ireland. Some contemporary opinion blamed the Palatines themselves for the failure of the settlement. William King, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, claimed "I conceive their design 'tis but to eat and drink at Her Majesty's cost, live idle and complain against those that maintain them." However, the real reason for the failure appears to be that the settlement lacked political support from the High Church Tories, who generally opposed foreign involvement and saw the settlers as potential Dissenters rather than buttresses to their own established church.
Of the Landlords who successfully managed to induce their allotment of Palatine immigrants to remain in rural Ireland, the most successful was Sir Thomas Southwell of Castle Matrix near Rathkeale, Co. Limerick. He championed the Palatines to secure government support for the settlement venture and took care of many of their initial needs at considerable personal expense, being reimbursed only just before his death in 1720. In 1711, Southwell had retained only 10 families but by 1714 he had settled about 130 families on his lands, and the region around his demesne has retained the largest concentration of Irish Palatine residents to this day in Killeheen, Ballingrane, and Courtmatrix.
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 from the time of the Palatines. There are, however, no Palatine surnames now found in the area.
In a corner of Shankill cemetery there is an ivy covered monument surrounded by railings, it is the Cuppage family burial ground. The Cuppage family were Palatines, who first settled in Munster when they arrived from Germany. They settled in Waterford and came to Lurgan as tenants of William Brownlow and settled in Silverwood. The family no longer have connections in Lurgan having moved to Canada. Their home, Silverwood House was demolished in the late 1960’s to make way for the Silverwood industrial estate. The family made their mark on Lurgan through the Linen industry and also their work for the church.
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 descendants living in Ireland to-day are still farmers.
Compiled by Ken Austin, with thanks to Jim McIlmurray for his contribution.
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