The Huguenot Colony at Portarlington, in the Queen's County.
by Sir Erasmus D. Borrowes, Bart.
"Le sang des Martyrs avoit été la semence de nos Eglises; et nôtre Religion, malgré les fureurs des guerres, les cruantez des persecutions, et les violations fréquentes des Edits, sembloit renaitre tonjours, comme un Phénix de ses cendres."
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As the breeze from the North swept o'er our Southern plains with its invigorating and refreshing influence, there reached us in its dying cadences, a sound both solemn and significant, -- a voice proclaimed "the memory of the Refugees;" we paused and listened, then words somewhat like these fell on our anxious ear, and the strain was sweet and touching:--
"The Kings of old have shrine and tomb,
In many a minster's haughty gloom;
And green along the ocean's side,
The mounds arise where heroes died ;
But show me on thy flowery breast,
Earth, where thy hidden martyrs rest."
We knew a verdant spot thus hallowed; and, as the pleasures of memory are ever present, as the mind recounts the joys, even the sorrows, of youth, so the reminiscences of our early days crowded thickly upon us, and we called to remembrance how the first and dearest associations of our schoolboy days were interwoven with the French emigrants, ere yet their little city of refuge had altogether lost its Gallic aspect, its light become dimmed, its foreign society absorbed, or its Atheniana fame abated. Therefore it is, like the minstrel of old, -- the master-hand that swept the cords, who could not to a cherished theme "so foul so false a recreant prove," as to withold in its latest lay the sweet tribute of his feudal song, -- so have we essayed this brief sketch, imperfect though it be, a free but slender offering, a mite in the Treasury of honor due to the respected memory of the unbought dauntless refugee.
Some few years before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, an important decree was issued bearing date the 28th July, 1681. This proclamation was well calculated to smooth the thorny path of the French Refugees; the Royal voice was heard to herald their approach with honor, and to excite the hospitable and generous feeling which welcomed their arrival in England, and which indeed distinguished their advent in every refuge. We find this decree of Council in the Gazette de Londres of Sept. 1681; and how urgently the wound required the balm, the following extract from the same Gazette significantly shows. -- "Plymouth, 6 Sepr., 1681. An open boat arrived here yesterday, in which were 40 or 50 French Protestants, who resided outside La Rochelle. Four others left with this boat one of which is said to have put into Dartmouth, but it is not yet known what became of the other three." Many of the Portarlington settlers had experienced the kindness and hospitality of the inhabit ants of Exeter and Dartmouth. -- The decree sets forth that Letters Patent of denization under the Great Seal will be granted to the Refugees free of expense, with power to exercise freely their arts, sciences, and commerce, that his Majesty will recommend Parliament in its next Session to pass an Act of naturalization, by which they shall enjoy all the advantages of English subjects; that "all officers military and civil, shall receive with honor and kindness all the aggrieved Protestants who shall arrive in the ports of the kingdom; they shall grant them passports gratis, and all kinds of succour and assistance to facilitate their arrival at whatever places to which they may wish to retire; and the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury shall give orders to the Commissioners to allow the said Protestants to pass freely with their furniture and clothes, of whatever value they may be, their instruments, and other things belonging to their trade, arts, looms, &c, generally, and everything connected therewith, and that can be brought into the kingdom according to law, without exacting any duty on any of those articles. And to succour, aid, and encourage those Protestants that may be in want, his Majesty decrees that authority shall be published in the Principality of Wales and town of Berwick, to collect the contributions of all charitable and well-disposed persons for the relief of those Protestants who may be in need. And to the end that all Protestant strangers may know on their arrival whom they are to address in order to make known their wants and wishes to his Majesty, it has pleased his Majesty to name his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord Bishop of London, or one of them, to receive all the demands of the said Protestants, and to present them to his Majesty, that the necessary orders may be given." The Duke of Ormond favored with all his power the establishment of French Refugees in Ireland, of which he was viceroy under Charles II. In reply to the petition of twelve French clergymen that "his Majesty would please to grant them leave to exercise their ministry according the manner as they did in France " James II. granted its prayer by Letters Patent, dated 1689. Two of these names refer to ministers subsequently settled in Portarlington, viz., Daillon, the first on the list, and Gillet. The total change that afterwards occurred in the conduct of the King towards the Refugees is well known. Several Protestant noblemen followed the example of the Duke of Ormond, by encouraging the new colonists. As the advent of the Refugees to Ireland approached, besides being cheered and encouraged (as we have already noticed) by the countenance and aid of King William and his illustrious commander De Rouvigny, they received the hearty welcome of the gentry of the country; and a nobleman in the South of Ireland evinced his praiseworthy zeal and generous liberality, by having advertisements circulated in France offering to the persecuted the most encouraging terms if they would colonise his estates in this country.
In the first year of the reign of Queen Anne the Royal favor was again extended to them, and an Act of parliament was passed in England to confirm the Protestant settlement at Portarlington: we regret we cannot give the substance of this act, as the title alone is to be found on the statute-book. The colony was now in its infancy , and though intervening proprietors had had a brief hold of the district since the rule of the great O'Dempseys, the foreign settlers found it much in its ancient condition, and somewhat similar to those districts described in the Hamilton and Montgomery papers on the settlement of those families in Ulster. The wolfb and the wild cat, the martin and the red deer, were beating an orderly retreat; while the O'Dempseys had bequeathed to their successors, in the Irish names in the immediate district, (though "inconvenient" to Lord Arlington to pronounce,) memorials significant of the wild animals, and indicative of the household of an Irish prince. Thus we have Kilbracken, the wood of wolves; Ballybrittes, the judge, or Brehon's land; Ballisabole, the poet's land; Ballyadden, the dower land; Graighnesky, the fishers' town; Loghmansland, the priest's land; Ullard, the physician's portion, &c.c In a letter dated 1697, addressed to "the Right Honble Robert Molesworth, P.C. and M.P. in England and Ireland, on "the true way to make Ireland happy and secure," the writer urges the advantages of encouraging French Protestants; he refers to the vast improvement imparted to the woollen trade by the encouragement given by Queen Elizabeth to the Walloons to take shelter in England from the persecutions of the Duke of Alva; and he then proceeds to give the following proofs of the vast improvements in Ireland derivable from Protestant colonization:-- "There is in the North of Ireland an estate which was the Lord Conway's, which the Lord Marquis Normanby enjoyed the other day in right of his Lady, but now belongs to Mr. Popham Seymour. This estate was formerly purchased by Sr. Foulke Conway, uncle to the late Lord, for about Five Hundred Pounds. The rent roll of this estate is now about five thousand per annum; though there are many great and profitable leases in it, some worth about Four Hundred Pounds per annum clear. The land does not lye upon the sea; the ground but very indifferent, 'twas altogether a wood, as the name of Kilulta (the wood of Ulster) denotes, and yet in the memory of men now living has been thus improved by a colony of Yorkshire people, and others brought over and settled here by the Lord Conway, and managed by Sir George Rawdon. The same remarke may be made on the neighbouring Country of Clan Hugh Boy or O'Neele's Country, about Belfast and Carrickfergus, the former of which towns is the third in Ireland for number of people and trade, and yet grew up to what it is from nothing, in the memory of people who lived but t'other day, since Sir Arthur Chichester got the estate." And in another place -- "Ulster, which before could only afford food to the Kernes of the country and some military men, from the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's Reign and the Reign of James the 1st. began to thrive, and alter its condition for the better." And elsewhere -- "English colonies improving the lands of Chichester and Conway, and neighbouring places, and the concourse of the Scotch from Scotland; these were only the first dawnings of happiness." -- "The French Protestants have many men of letters among them, and they are generally remarkable for their good breeding and civility. 'Tis not to be doubted, then, that they living in towns and villages among the ruder Irish will in time help greatly to improve them both in manners and religion; teach them a more human way of living, and thus drive them from that native barbarity which has been one great cause of their former rebellion." In regard to the Linen manufacture the anticipations of the writer have been fully realised by the French colony at Lisburn. -- "This is a manufacture in which the French do excel, and therefore Ireland may very reasonably promise themselves great advantages by the commencing of the French and their improvement of it." He then proceeds to eulogise their gardening. Among the colonists of Portarlington were French gardeners, skilled in the cultivation of the luxuriant fruits of the southern provinces of France. With the many improvements introduced in the extensive and charming pleasure-grounds and gardens, which afforded (as we have already remarked) such recreation to their owners, the "Espalier" was an especial favourite, an interesting memento of their abandoned homes, and employed in various forms in their adopted refuge. D'Audilly, writing in the 17th century, tells us his countrymen had discovered its benefits in its early part: -- "The advantage of the new plan of espaliers was soon established by its success. By it one sees a wonderful abundance of fruits quite suddenly in districts where they were previously rare, and to which it was necessary to bring them from remote provinces. By this process they now have in France fruits which required a warmer climate than ours to ripen, and they can collect on one wall the different productions of various climates. We are no longer obliged to go to Touraine for the Bon-Chrétien, to Burgundy for the Amadotte, to Poitou for the Portail, to Anjou for the Sainte Lezin: all grow with us at present; and the environs of Paris furnish them all in abundance, which all the other cantons possess only separately and in detail. "C'est ce que nous appellons aujourd'hui, palisser à la longue." We have still in Portarlington the venerable remains of the French pear-trees; and some thirty years ago we recollect being told by a lady of the colony, the descendant of a Chevalier from Poitou, that having supplied her own wants from two French pear-trees, she sold the residue of the fruit from these two trees to a Dublin fruiterer for £3. The writer of the letter to Molesworth combats the alleged poverty of the Refugee's purse by estimating the intrinsic value of the man:-- "People are wealth, and have rates set upon them; the value of people in England, one with another, some have computed to be seven pounds a head; in Ireland I account the value of such Protestants as the French are (for I do make a difference) to be much greater; because in Ireland you are not only to value them as people who improve the country, but as souldiers also who are to secure you and your interest. You may therefore (and 'twill be but an ordinary civility to do so) set as great a rate on them as we usually do on slaves and negroes viz., £15 one with another; men being sold for £25, and children at £5 each, the mean rate is £15." He then proposes that registers should be kept in each province, in which are to be inserted the different kinds and degrees of encouragement the landed proprietors may be willing to tender to the Refugees; the registry book for Ulster, he adds, "need not be large, because foreigners will have little or no encouragement in this Province, which is indifferent full of people already."
Such a country as Ireland, from the extraordinary abundance of its produce, and cheapness of all kinds of work, was well suited to the diminished resources of its new colonists. While the French settlement in Portarlington was yet in its infancy, the English parliament passed an Act empowering it to resume the forfeited estates granted by Wm. III. This event at first gave a stunning blow to the gallant emigrants; it came over the Refuge like a dark cloud, blighting the prospect of ease and retirement for the remainder of their days, which they fondly hoped had succeeded the direful scenes and painful vicissitudes of their past lives. The author of a pamphlet entitled "Jus Regium, or the King's right to grant Forfeitures, 1700." thus notices the calamity so much apprehended by the colonists:-- "Having entered on this melancholy subject, I can't but take notice of the deplorable condition of the poor French Protestants at Portarlington, which is part of the Lord Galway's grant. Those poor people, by the encouragement they had from the compassion and goodness of that Lord, built about one hundred and thirty neat tenements in that place, which must now become the habitations of Irish papists, since they are the people who (whatever they pay) will promise the greatest rent to the new purchaser. If neither the services of that noble person in Piedmont and Ireland, nor his piety towards his distressed countrymen, nor the greatness of his title, and the smallness of the fortune he has to support it, will seem motives sufficient to restore him to his estate, which he is deprived of by the Resumption; it must seem a very extraordinary hardship, to people who have any bowels of compassion, to see such a number of miserable people, who were a long time afflicted with severe persecution, find such treatment in a country to which they fled for refuge." About this time, the Trustees for the sale of the forfeited estates in Ireland, in their second report, laid before parliament the condition of the colonists, and the following petition was presented:-- "To the honourable the Knights &c., in Parliament assembled. The case of the distressed Refugees settled in and near Portarlington, in the Queen's County, Ireland. That, in the Report made to the Honourable the Commons of England, last summer, by the Trustees appointed to all the Forfeited Estates in Ireland, it is set forth in the words following; paragraph 29:--
We presume humbly to lay before your Honours one further object of compassion. There are about 150 families, English and French Protestants, planted in the lands of Portarlington, the forfeiture of the late Sir Patrick Trant, who have laid out their whole substance in purchasing small leases now in being; which lands were part of the grant of the Right Honble the Earl of Galway, who hath thereon erected an English and French church and two schools, and endowed them with pensions amounting to near £100 per ann., which hath been constantly paid till the said lands were vested in us. That afterwards, viz. 7th May last, the said Trustees in answer to a question put to them by the said House, further reported, as followeth, viz:--
Mr. Speaker. -- You lay before the House the miserable condition of the French Protestants; and whether you have anything further to say to that.
Trustees. -- The whole value of these is but little; I believe few of the leases themselves are above £20 a year, and the whole value of all is not above £500 that would come to the Publick.
To which the said Distressed Refugees do in most Humble manner crave leave to add, that if they be not relieved by the Clemency and Compassion of this Honourable House, their case will be unspeakably miserable, and therefore they would Humbly Beseech your Honours, that they may be allowed a clause in some Bill for confirming such Leases as they have, of any part of the lands or tenements in or near Portarlington, which were forfeited by the attainder of Sir Patrick Trant; or that they may be relieved in such other manner as to your Honours may seem meet."
The storm past harmless over the heads of the gallant colonists, and as, of old, the significant symbol on the door-ways turned aside the sword of the destroying angel, so the sufferings and sorrows of the Refugees were to the senate the signal of forbearance; they were confirmed in the safety and security of their new possessions, their houses increased, their undertakings prospered, and the town became singularly eminent. In 1703 the Hollow Sword Blade Companyd of London purchased from the Government, at the sale held in Dublin, at Chichester House, 8,312 acres surrounding Portarlington, for which, with other lands in the barony of Portnahinch, they paid £28,422, and £536 to Sir Patrick Trant.
The establishment and exercise of their religion became, if possible, more endeared to the hearts of the Refugees from the losses, vicissitudes, and trials, they had endured for its maintenance; hence we find the Consistory in operation in 1694, and their church erected in 1696. Immediately after their settlement, the establishment of an Ecclesiastical Registry became an object of especial attention; many of the high-sounding names enrolled in this volume, which is still extant, recall to mind the Anglo-Norman period, the Roll of Battle Abbey, (a higher Record enrols the martyrs' names,) and the best and brightest days of the feudal chivalry of France. The cruel havoc of the dragonade, and the exterminating torrent of the persecution had told how
"The noble blood of Gothic name,
Heroes emblazoned high to fame,
In long array;
How in the onward course of time,
The landmarks of that race sublime
Were swept away."
The records of their names, families, and the localities in France whence emigrated these interesting strangers, have been carefully preserved in the Portarlington books; and happily it is so, for in their native land
"The still sad glory of their name
Hallows no mountain into flame;
No, not a tree the record bears
Of their deep thoughts and lonely prayers.
So let it be! like him whose clay
Deep buried by his Maker lay;
They sleep in secret, but their sod,
Unknown to man, is marked by God."
To be continued...
[a] The Portarlington schools, though far from being so numerous as formerly, still maintain their high character for classical education and polite literature.
[b] We have seen an order of Cromwell's time "to send to Greenhills, near Kilcullen, for the toyles of the wolves." J. Howel, Alderman of Cork, in a letter dated 1698, writes thus:-- "Wolves indeed we have, and foxes, but these are now rather game and diversion, than noxious or hateful." The wolf-hunting implied by Howel terminated in 1714, by the death of the last of the race.
[c] These translations are taken from Mason's "Parochial Survey of Ireland."
[d] This corporation is described in their leases as "the Governor and Company for making Hollow Sword blades in England," and were commonly called "the Hollow Blades." The name arose from their manufacture of swords having hollow backs, in which quicksilver was placed, which, by its descent, gave impetus to the blow. Their lease, now before us, is signed "By order of the Court of Assistants, Alex. Mee, Secy." They had several agents in Ireland, who at the above sale made large purchases in several counties. [One of their purchases was in the county of Antrim -- EDIT.]
The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 3, 1855.