Findmypast investigates the shared history of Ireland and the Huguenots

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During the late 17th and early 18th century, 10,000 Huguenots (French Calvinists) fled to Ireland from religious persecution in France. They brought with them skills and expertise which would leaving a lasting impression on Irish culture. One of the thousands who sought refuge in Ireland was Louis Crommelin, who settled in Lisburn in the North of Ireland. Crommelin reinvigorated the linen industry by introducing modern methods, skills and marketing, for this reason, many call Louis Crommelin, the father of the Irish linen industry.

In the 1680s Huguenots were persecuted under the authority of Louis XIV. Their rights were taken away and in some areas French soldiers were stationed within the homes of known Calvinists to ensure that they did not practice their faith. Life became even worse in 1698 when Louis XIV revoked the Edit of Nantes and removed religious freedom. Huguenots who did not give up their beliefs were punished; men were sent to the galley as slaves on French fleets and women were imprisoned leaving many children orphaned and institutionalised. They began to flee the country in the thousands. Most went to the Netherlands, but many settled in England, Ireland and America.

A Settlement in Lisburn

Huguenots were known to be skilled tradesmen and artisans. The Irish Parliament welcomed the new refugees and encouraged them to settle and start new enterprises. In 1698 Louis Crommelin settled in Lisburn after fleeing his native home of France. Crommelin came from a wealthy linen family in Picardy. When he arrived in Ireland he brought with him 70 other weavers and artisans and by 1711 their numbers had nearly doubled. He quickly established himself as a game changer in the linen industry. One year after settling in Lisburn, he was appointed as the Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufacturing in Ireland.

At first he invested much of his own money before receiving backing from the government to help advance the trade. He bought in 1,000 new weaving looms, more sophisticated than what was found in Ireland at the time. In 1701 Crommelin opened a bleaching mill in Hilden, a town outside Lisburn. He used his own mill as a model for new techniques. Before arriving in Ireland, Crommelin had been involved in the cultivation of flax in France. With this knowledge, he penned An Essay Towards Improving Cultivation of the Hempen and Flaxen Manufacturers in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1705. A copy of this publication can be found on display at the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum.

Some historians would argue that Crommelin’s influence on the linen industry has been overestimated. A market for linen was already created in Ireland when Crommelin arrived in 1698. Many rural homes were involved in both farming and domestic industry either as spinners or weavers. But the evidence does show that Crommelin attempted to improve and modernise the industry at every stage. Furthermore, he used his international contacts to create a continental demand for Irish linen and improved the marketing of the product. Louis Crommelin died 17 July 1727 and is buried at Lisburn Cathedral. Today you can visit the Cathedral and view memorials to prominent Huguenot families (currently they are going through vital renovations).

Huguenots in Ireland

This is just one example of the influence of the Huguenots on Irish culture and history. The largest settlement of French refugees was in Dublin where they became important silversmiths and bankers. Other settlements were in Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny, Portalington and Waterford to name some. The Huguenot people settled into their new country and became absorbed into Irish society. Famous descendants of Huguenots include the Irish Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu, poet William Larminie and famous 20th century politician Sean Francis Lemass.

Huguenot family research

Could your Irish family search lead you to an unknown French connection? Findmypast hosts two fantastic genealogical sources for Huguenot descendants: The registers of the French Non-Conformist Church Dublin, 1701-1831 and Registers of the French Church Of Portarlington. Both sources were edited by Thomas Philip Le Fanu and published by the Huguenot Society of Great Britain. If you are interested in exploring your Huguenot past in person Marsh’s Library in Dublin is a recommended destination. The Library is adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Built in 1701, it was the first public library in Dublin. The first librarian was Dr. Elias Bouhereau, a Huguenot refugee with a great passion for books. He smuggled his private library out of France during his escape and donated the collection to Marsh’s library. The collection holds great genealogical resources, including the papers of the French Huguenot Fund.

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