The Huguenot Colony at Portarlington, in the Queen's County
by Sir Erasmus D. Borrowes, Bart.
The storms and struggles of the many ages through which the O'Dempseys upheld their ancient name and noble inheritance having at length ceased, this extensive territory passed from the hands of these Irish chieftains, the "Duces" of the Plantagenet Kings, to the possession of a gay courtier of Charles the 2nd, whose long-continued and zealous service caused him to bask in the sunshine of the merry monarch, and to enjoy a valuable and substantial reward. This was Sir Henry Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington, to whom Charles II., on the 27th July, 1666, granted by patent, (having in 1662 received a Privy Seal grant) 10,837 acres in the King's and Queen's Counties, surrounding the present town of Portarlington. At this period extensive forests overspread the country, and long after (1687) decrees regarding oak bark collected in the immediate neighbourhood are on record, among the "Original Orders" of the Exchequer. Sir Henry Bennet was a distinguished statesman in this day, a member of "The Cabal," Secretary of State for twelve years, and then Knight of the Garter and Lord Chamberlain until his death, in 1685. Sir Henry belonged to a Berkshire family of the order of decent gentry; in the spring of 1644 he was at Oxford College, in which city Charles the 1st established his court for a considerable time, to which he became introduced, and where his future destination was established. He enrolled himself in the royal military service as a volunteer, and attracted the notice of Lord George Digby, the Secretary of State, and was appointed his under-secretary. While a soldier he was seldom absent from the field, was engaged in the skirmishes near Oxford, and received several severe wounds at Andover. His portrait by Sir Peter Lely represents him handsome, and good-humoured, but a sad blemish abates his comeliness; the eye rests on a formidable black patch, which (pity to say it) bridges in its amplitude the fair outline of his Grecian nose: the scar beneath, however, was gallantly acquired, for he had fought for the martyred Charles in his youth. This indelible memorial of his prowess in the field, among the evil spirits of his day brought him sarcasm instead of honour: on the failure of his mission to Holland, his credit was so much sunk that several persons at court took the liberty to mimic and ridicule his person and deportment, as had formerly been done against Lord Chancellor Clarendon; and it became a common jest for some malicious courtier to place on his nose the ominous black patch, and, having his hand dignified with the white staff of office, to strut in the royal presence to make "the Monarch merry." In 1649 he was appointed Secretary to James, Duke of York, which office he filled with a sagacity and faithfulness that fixed him firmly in the confidence and esteem of the king. Charles writing to his brother 13th July, 1654, adds, -- "You must be very kind to Harry Bennet, and communicate freely with him, for as you are sure that he is full of duty and integrity to you, so I must tell you that I shall intrust him more than any other about you, and cause him to be intrusted at large in those businesses of mine, when I cannot more particularly write to you myself." In 1663 he was advanced to the peerage as Baron Arlington, taken (as Clarendon says) from a little village of that name in Middlesex, which had once belonged to his father, but was then in possession of another person; so totally destitute was he at that time of landed property, when ten thousand acres of the O'Dempseys were awarded him, probably through the interest of the Duke of Ormond, and his son Lord Ossory, brother-in-law of Arlington. In consequence of a petition from Lord Arlington to the Privy Council, in which he stated among other things, his intention to introduce English settlers on his new estates, King Charles granted him, in 1667, a charter constituting into a borough one hundred acres surrounding a spot then called "Beladrite," ("the mouth of the ford of the bridge,") where the bridge now stands in the centre of the present town, in place of Lord Arlington's ferry. His lordship also stated therein that he would build a town for his new English colonists, and as the Irish names would be inconvenient to them in their orthography and pronunciation, he prayed that new ones might be substituted, and his request was granted. --
"Old times were changed, old manners gone,"
and "Cooletoodera" ("the woody nook") and the O'Dempseys became as things "whose memory was not." The gallant courtier, however, found a local name shorter and less "inconvenient," and that he took as an ingredient in the new name. The castle of Lea, already referred to, with its ancient village annexed, was the parent of Portarlington, and was called by the old Irish "Port na hince," ("the fort of the island,") and being the chief stronghold of the district, the present barony acquired the name of Portnahinch. The first syllable of the name given to the old Irish castle of the O'Dempseys and Fitzgeralds was then taken, and with a slight modification annexed to that of the Middlesex village, and the produce was "Portarlington." An erroneous impression exists, in supposing the name arose from a small port or landing-place on the river Barrow, which is not here navigable for any description of boat. From the reason already assigned, the neighbouring town of Maryborough was anciently called "Port Laghois," ("the fort of Leix") where no river, and consequently no port could have existed. The charter incorporated one sovereign, two portreives and twelve burgesses, and allowed the admission of freemen to the Corporation. Francis Leigh, the first burgess, was attainted, and the estates in the county Kildare were purchased by a distinguished French refugee of Portarlington, Col. Charles De Vignoles.
Shortly before the memorable year 1688, Sir Patrick Trant, who had been created a Baronet by James II., in 1686, purchased from Lord Arlington his extensive estates round Portarlington, preserving the same boundary as granted by Charles II. The rule of Sir Patrick Trant was short, and must have been distasteful to Lord Arlington's English colonists, (if any had been so planted,) from the violent party spirit and sectarian bigotry of the lord of the soil. His family had been long settled at Dingle, in the county Kerry, and in the year 1585 [sic] Thomas and James Trant were summoned to the parliament held before Sir John Perrot, for the borough of "Dengene Choyse" -- Dingle I Cowsh -- ("the fortress of O'Cuis";) Sir Patrick's residence about this time, 1686, was at Brannockstown in the county Kildare. He was a Commissioner of the Revenue, and in a manuscript of that time he and his brother officers (we are told) "managed all matters about absentees' goods and estates, and all yt ye people are robbed of." He sat in the parliament assembled in Dublin in 1689, for the Queen's County, summoned by writs of the abdicated King James, along with Captain Edmond Morris, who was made sheriff of the Queen's County in 1687, (it was said) "for having murdered a poor piper." A writer of 1716 informs us "when the injured Protestants pressed Sir P. Trant to assign a reason for seizing their goods, he said 'he would not give any reason to such rogues,' and when they humbly repeated their request, he told them 'it was because they were Protestants.' This Sir Patrick Trant was one of King James's most busy officers; he affected to be extremely well versed in the affairs of the Revenue, and before that king ran away, it was talked of that he would be sent for to model the Custom House of England. He had scraped together some money, and purchased a considerable estate in the Queen's County, and other counties in Ireland. After the reduction of the kingdom Sir Patrick fled to France and died there." A letter from Chester dated May 1, 1689 contains as follows:-- " The nobility, gentry, and clergy are all robbed and plundered of their personal estates, and Sir Patrick Trant and the rest of the Commissioners for sequestering their real estates have been so effectually zealous therein, as not to leave them power over one penny rent, or arrears of rent, but appropriated to the use of their army."
These violent proceedings produced the usual result; on the 26th of April, 3rd of William the Third, Sir Patrick Trant was outlawed and attainted of treason, and dispossessed of his extensive estates surrounding Portarlington. On the 26th June, 1696, William the Third granted these lands by letters patent to his favourite and distinguished General, Henry De Massue, Marquis De Rouvigny. He had previously received a Custodiam grant for three years, and immediately commenced to carry into effect the will of his royal master, in founding in Portarlington a colony of French Refugees, composed almost exclusively of retired officers and soldiers, who, in the prestige of their recent successes, were ready to act again in defence of the crown, should their services be required. The noble founder of this distinguished settlement is thus described in his dignified offices, in Crosley's Irish Peerage of 1725 -- "The most noble and puissant Henry De Massue, Marquess De Rouvigny in France, Earl and Viscount Galway, Baron of Portarlington, Lieut.-General of his Majesty King William's armies, Envoy Extraordinary to the Duke of Savoy (from his Majesty King William) to Piemont, one of the Lords of his Majesty's most honourable Privy Council, and three times one of the Lord Justices of his Majesty's kingdom of Ireland, General and Commander-in-Chief of her Majesty's forces in Portugal, and Colonel of a regiment of Horse in the reduction of the Kingdom of Ireland by King William, 12 July, 1704, 2nd of Queen Anne. -- Creation. -- Baron of Portarlington and Viscount Galway, 2 March, 1691: Earl of Galway, 12 May, 1697. One of the Lord Justices, with the Marquis of Winchester, 13 May, 1697. Sole Lord Justice in 1698. Lord Justice 2nd time, 18 May, 1699, with Archbishop Narcissus March, Primate, and Metropolitan of all Ireland; 3rd time 22nd August, 1699, with Charles Earl of Berkeley. -- N.B. His Lordship would not allow any of his French titles to be mentioned, and told me he was only Marquis of Rovigné in France." His father had been Ambassador from Louis the Fourteenth to Charles the Second, and occupied a villa at Twickenham, where Evelyn visited him. He had filled the delicate post of deputy-general of the Reformed Church of France, which office had been previously held by his father. After the venerable and gallant Schomberg, he perhaps was the refugee who rendered William the most brilliant and various services. Alternately a military leader and diplomatic negotiator he evinced a rare capacity for business, and a valour that nothing could daunt. Whilst his younger brother, Colonel Caillemotte-Rouvigny fell on the banks of the Boyne encircled with glory, and exclaiming to his refugee countrymen as they crossed the river "a la gloire mes enfans, a la gloire," he fought and triumphed at the battle of Aughrim, where his regiment of horse bore down all before them; their daring exploits causing a loss of two captains, nine lieutenants, nine cornets, forty troopers, and 26 horses killed; and two captains, one lieutenant, one cornet, nine troopers, and 45 horses wounded. Monr. Weiss informs us -- "At the battle of Nerwinell, where Marshal Luxembourg, the victor of Fleurus and Steinkirk, the Tapissier de Notre Dame, put the key-stone to his military reputation by his victory over William's veterans, Rouvigny kept at bay, almost unsupported, the entire force of the French cavalry. He was made prisoner for a moment, but the French officers let him go, their chief affecting not to perceive it, and he continued to cover the retreat of the English, fighting like a hero." He was then accredited as Ambassador to Duke Victor Amadeus at Savoy. At the siege of Badajoz, in 1705, his right arm was carried away by a cannon shot as he raised it to show General Fagel the spot he intended to attack. He had previously commanded the allied troops sent to Spain against Philip the Fifth, and on the 26th June, 1706, entered Madrid and proclaimed Charles the Third. In 1708, he made a public entry into Lisbon as Ambassador Extraordinary, which highly pleased the Count and the people. At the battle of Almanza, in 1707, Lord Galway received two sabre wounds in the face, which, though not dangerous, prevented him from seeing, or giving orders. In 1693, on the death of the young Duke of Schomberg, who was killed at the battle of Marsagla, Lord Galway succeeded him in command of the British troops in Piedmont. Some time after the death of Sir Patrick Trant, his son, Sir John, visited England for the purpose of soliciting the crown for the restoration of the estates about Portarlington which had been granted to this distinguished refugee; his request having been refused, he sent to Lord Galway and represented to him his destitute condition. The Earl, who was of a frank and generous disposition, and whose humanity gained him universal affection, said in reply "that he owed the estate he held to his Majesty's bounty, in consideration of his services in Ireland, that he himself had a much better estate in France, which was taken from him, and as he doubted not Sir John's interest with the French King, he (Lord G.) would very readily give him an equivalent out of it, for his estate in Ireland." Such is a faint sketch of the gallant Ruvigny, who came forward nobly to aid in their hour of need his expatriated countrymen, who having forfeited for conscience sake "their house, their home, their heritage, their lands," and having retired from the horrors of war, sought in a peaceful and enlightened seclusion a rest from labour in their advancing years, which from his unbounded philanthropy they experienced at the hands of this distinguished man. On the termination of the wars in Ireland by William the Third, the disbanded French refugee officers of the regiments of La Melloniere, La Caillemotte, and Du Cambon, and especially those of Lord Galway's own regiment of horse, together with the French officers who held commissions in English regiments, commenced the foundation of a settlement in Portarlington about 1694, which, of all the rural colonies, became the most important in Ireland, in the ancient status of its foreign inhabitants, and their high military rank and service. The town may be said at this date to have had no existence, there being no trace of buildings, English settlers, or trade, as set forth by Lord Arlington in his charter: nor was there accommodation there for the early settlers; for we find them located on their first arrival in the surrounding neighbourhood of Doolough, Monasterevan, Cloneygown, and especially in the ancient adjoining village of Lea, which fell to decay on the growth of Portarlington. Lord Galway immediately commenced to settle his companions in arms on his newly-acquired territory, the infantine town of Portarlington forming the nucleus: placed in "Cooltoodera," or the Woody Nook, formed by a bold curve of the Barrow, the site in every respect was found to answer the purpose intended. With the great bog of Allen sweeping past it like the ocean, it escaped the imprecation of the disappointed tourist, invoked upon the other peaty towns of the extinct chieftains the O'Dempseys,
"Great bog of Allen, swallow down
That odious heap called Phillipstown;dAnd, if thy maw can swallow more,
Pray take (and welcome) Tullamore."
The refinement of the French colony was spared the sweeping malediction, and the "great bog," instead of indulging its voracity, proved to the colonists, in fulfilment of the expressed concession of its illustrious lord, a boon of the most comforting and consoling kind, warming their new hearths with the never-ending blaze of its incomparable fuel, a worthy substitute even for "le fagots de bon bois" of Languedoc and Poitou, and brightening with its cheering influence the social circles in which were discussed the horrors of the "dragonade," the perils of the "sortie de la France," and the glories of "Aughrim and the Boyne."
The leases were such as to afford much encouragement to these interesting strangers; the land occupied by their houses, gardens, and farms, was let on lease of lives renewable for ever, at rents averaging about half-a-crown an Irish acre, and a small renewable fine, with an unlimited supply of convenient turbary for their own consumption. The earliest lease from Lord Galway is dated 1692, when he must have held the fee under the Custodiam grant; the other leases almost exclusively bear the date of 1699, and the tenor of all is the same. The colonists having exchanged the sword for the plumb-rule, the pruning hook, and the ploughshare, found the spot convenient for their new operations, and well suited to the small remnant saved from the cruel wreck of their inheritance; for the district afforded every facility for the construction of their newly-found dwellings, and the "woody nook" at the hall door, and the extensive forests stretching along the Barrow supplied the oak, still remaining in the foreign-looking roofs of the earlier houses. The timber then growing was oak, ash, elm, and yew; and the fossil timbers abundant. The taste displayed in the arrangement of the rooms, and the planning of the pleasure-ground and garden, are all significant of the country whence came the owners and the artists. The high-pitched roof, with its oaken beams and purlines, the dormant windows, whose light was long since extinguished by the desolating window-tax, and the tall and massive chimney-stacks elevated from the ridge, and reflected in broken outline in the smooth waters of the Barrow, clearly intimate that the Huguenot tradesmen had brought with them reminiscences of the chateaux of Garonne and Charente; and that La Borde the mason, Capel the smith, and Gautier the carpenter, had lent the foreign handicraft that characterised their construction. The aspect of the reception-rooms, instead of facing the street, looked to the gardens, and these latter were arranged in plots of pleasure-ground in rere of the houses, then in ample departments for vegetables and fruit, in which the black Italian walnut-tree stretched its massive arms, and memorials of La Belle France were abundant in the "jargonelle pear." Some of these latter remain to the present day, fresh and vigorous in a green old age, whose planter was at the Boyne, a youthful ensign in the regiment of La Melloniere. In some instances the walls contained bricked recesses for bee-hives.
The cultivation of the garden afforded the refugees a constant source of interest and recreation. Forest and fruit trees were cultivated in "the harchard," whence they were also transplanted to the gardens of the small tenants; hops, peas, and vetches, &c., were produced on the farm. A bill of seeds, plants, &c., brought from the Hague by a Portarlington refugee, in 1722, contains as follow: "Esparagus, raadishes, ramolas, sencitive plants, several sorts of latices, and about 60 sorts of flower seeds, leamon or citron trees, yppaticas, orange trees, mhirtle balls in pots, and turnep seed," Some sunny spot, as the back wall of a kitchen fire-place, with an aspect to the south, raised the hopes of the colonist from the wine district, that by care and patience, and tender cultivation, his cherished vine might take root in the soil, and that a scion from some choice stock from Languedoc or Saintonge, saved from the wreck of his plundered vineyard, might become acclimatised in its change, and taught to fructify in the breeze from Slievebloom and the moor of Allen. About this period a Florist's Club was established in Dublin by the refugees.
In a future paper we purpose giving further details of these interesting colonists, including extracts from their ecclesiastical registries, which consist of two compendious volumes complete, dating from 1694; these contain genealogical and topographical records illustrative of family history, and decriptive of the professions and trades of the parties to which they refer.
|Signature of Lord Galway|
[d] The ancient Dangan, or "Governor of Offaly."
The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 3, 1855.