By Mona Germaine-Dillon
To discover in the heart of our capital city, Merrion Row, Dublin, a graveyard with the inscription over the gateway 'Huguenot Cemetery - 1693' is certain to prompt the question 'Who were the Huguenots, and how did they come to be here?'
The Huguenots were French Protestants, followers of Calvin, who had to flee from their country because of horrendous religious persecution. The word 'refugee' originated with them.
Why would I be so interested in Huguenots? My ancestors, Germain, were Huguenots and had, as had twenty thousand or more Calvinists, to flee from their country, particularly during the reign of Louis XIV, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
It was the Duke of Ormond, James Butler, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the specific intention of improving skills and industries here, who invited the Huguenots to Ireland.
They came from every walk of life - for instance Henri Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny, later created Lord Galway, came from the Court of Versailles where he was Director General. Other came from important posts in the French army and navy, an d from every possible profession, trade and craft. In Dublin they settled in the Liberties bringing with them their skills and traditions. Their word was their bond and the saying 'As honest as a Huguenot' testified to their integrity which fitted like a glove into this area. Their success here in weaving woolen goods and flooding the market with high class products resulted in the English Parliament banning the export of woolen goods entirely - thus incurring the 'savage indignation' of Dean Swift at this cruel blow to Ireland's prosperity.
The history of the weaving of linen, luckily, was quite different. Louis Crommellin, originally from Armandcourt in Picardy, had been obliged to flee to Holland. There he became well-established and well-known in the linen industry, so much so that William of Orange himself invited him to come to Ireland. Crommelin writes 'His sacred Majesty, King William III encouraged me to come (to Ireland) and further (all I could) the linen manufacture in this country. He was graciously please to give me audience himself more than once on that subject.' So Crommelin did come, bringing with him 1000 looms, 100 workers and invested ten thousand pounds of his own money and so set up in Lisnagarvey (now Lisburn) a linen manufacturing industry which became famous all over the world, and is so even to this day - 'it flourished with miraculous speed'.
The Irish Parliament was so impressed with Crommelin's work that they passed unanimously a resolution of public thanks to him in recognition of the debt owed to him by the Irish people.
Poplin was another very successful manufacture. Silk was manufactured in Dublin and a determined effort was made in Innishannon to propagate mulberry trees and obtain silk from the silk worms fed heir leaves - the climate, however, proved to be unsuitable.
Huguenots were also engaged in exporting and importing, especially wines and brandy. They were also property developers, farmers, horticulturists, also growers of vegetables.
They were also engaged as gold- and silversmiths, and in sugar baking (about 30 sugar bakers in Dublin alone), glass blowing, boat building, fishing, sail making - in Cork we had the largest centre in these islands where the Besnard family had one thousand workers employed in sail making - needed at that time for battleships, sailing ships, clippers, fishing boats etc
It will be seen from the map where they settled in Ireland and most spectacular, of course, was Portarlington.
A table appended sets out some of the families sets out some of the families engaged in the various professions, trades, crafts and industries here. It is a formidable list.
The Huguenot instinct for industry and hard toil was proverbial - doubtless a result of the teaching and example of Calvin himself. Wherever they went their devotion to work was always seen in marked contrast to the others about them due, firstly, to the fact that they were necessarily of stronger character, since they had to fight so repeatedly for their faith, a faith rooted in deep conviction which developed in them a sturdiness and seriousness about life. Secondly, they worked longer hours - so it is not surprising that they far outstripped others in founding and urging on all kinds of industries.
By the end of the seventeenth century Dublin was becoming the major social and intellectual centre in the English-speaking world. Shipping and population statistics underline the unprecedented acceleration of Dublin's growth in the years between the Battle of the Boyne and the death of George l. Similarly the increase of the provision export tirade was transforming Cork.
There appears to be no evidence of overt hostility to the French arrivals, despite their alien language and customs, possible because of the relatively small size of their communities and the fact that they were obliged to seek refuge from horrendous persecution and had to flee their country with nothing but what they stood up in - they had, of course their education and their skills.
The Huguenots in Ireland, CEJ Caldicott, H. Goough, J.P. Pittion, 1987
Silver Sails & Silk Dr. Alicia St. Leger, 1991
Ireland's Debt to the Huguenots, S.J. Knox, 1959