Huguenot congregations in 18th-century Dublin


French Huguenot exiles flooded into Northern Europe following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Edict of Nantes, enacted nearly 100 years earlier in 1598, granted French Protestant Huguenots the freedom to practise their religion within the Catholic state. Those who fled their homeland after 1685 sought a refuge where they could practise their religion without persecution, they often left all material goods behind and travelled to make a new life in the Protestant territories: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland. The Huguenot refuge was diverse, with all levels of society represented. Military pensioners, veterans of the Williamite Wars were given lands and encouraged to settle at Portarlington in Queen’s County (Co. Laois). Another strand of exiles were well educated, but without career prospects in the countries where they settled. Those who settled in Ireland took up careers in the military, the church, in business, and as craftsmen. In Dublin Huguenot families excelled in banking, bookselling, watch making, linen and silk weaving and sugar baking. Another segment turned their talents to the teaching of their native language, which was beginning to be appreciated as a social accomplishment among well-to-do English speakers. Young men and women, often without qualifications other than the ability to speak, read and write French, set themselves up as teachers. Some who had the means opened private schools, others hired out as tutors or governesses, or acted as freelance instructors, visiting homes and schools to give lessons in French, sometimes in combination with drawing, music or fencing.

Huguenot immigrants:

The Huguenot refuge was defined by religion, religious intolerance was the reason exiles left France, and their religion ensured a welcome in Protestant states. The process of settling into their new countries was made easier by sponsorship and patronage. The first Huguenot immigrants came to Dublin under the patronage of the Duke of Ormonde in the 1660s, but after 1685 they began to arrive in larger numbers. Veteran soldiers from the Huguenot regiments in the Williamite army swelled those numbers at the end of the wars after 1691, and they settled in Portarlington under the patronage of the Henri de Ruvigny, Viscount Galway. Most immigrants came to Ireland via Great Britain or the Netherlands. Many left France at short notice leaving everything behind them. Not all stayed in Ireland, there was constant movement between Britain and Ireland, some returned to the continent and others made the journey across the Atlantic to America, which also offered a refuge. Their movements can be traced through the use of church registers, letters of denization and acts of naturalisation[2], which have been compiled under the auspices of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. As ‘Protestant strangers’ they were permitted to join the guilds in Ireland and many can be found as merchants and in more specialised trades such as bookselling. Raymond Hylton has estimated the Huguenot population in Dublin as rising from over 2,000 in 1700 to about 3,600 by 1720, amounting to 5% of the city’s population.[3]

In the beginning Huguenot exiles remained distinct within their own communities. The main areas of Huguenot settlement in Ireland were in Dublin, Portarlington, where military pensioners were settled, with smaller settlements in Cork, Lisburn and Carlow. Two religious strands can be identified within the refuge, the reformed congregation, or non-conformists, and the conformed congregation which assimilated with the Church of Ireland, adopting the Anglican liturgy. In Dublin there were separate places of worship for the two congregations. The reformed congregation had meeting houses at Peter Street in the south city and Lucy Lane north of the Liffey, while the Episcopalian or conformed Huguenots attended the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St Mary’s Church in Mary Street. Religious services were performed in French and Irish printers provided religious texts for the congregations. A variety of official service books and forms of prayer, as well as of sermons and other religious writings by Huguenot ministers, were printed in Dublin up to the middle of the 18th century.


Many of the early religious works printed in French were official publications produced by the Church of Ireland to facilitate conformity with Anglicanism, and to provide the Book of common prayer according to Anglican usage. Pressure was exerted on the reformed communities to conform to the Church of Ireland and some bitter disputes ensued. One of the most bitter occurred in Portarlington in 1702, when the Bishop of Kildare, through carrot and stick, tried to impose the Anglican liturgy on the community. Rev. Benjamin de Daillon, an internationally renowned scholar and pastor of the French church in Portarlington, was removed, and a minister more willing to move the congregation towards conformity replaced him. The effect on the Portarlington congregation was profound. Some families left for Dublin where they joined the reformed congregations at Lucy Lane and Peter Street. Rev. de Daillon remained as a rival minister at Portarlington until 1708 when he departed for Carlow.[4]


The process of integration into the local community was slower in Ireland than in London, and the Dublin Huguenots remained a distinct group until the middle of the 18th century. The reformed congregations in particular seemed to hold their distinctness, not only in religion but also in the wider social sphere. Members of the conformed congregations began to integrate with the Anglican social circle, but they continued to support books published by other exiles, as shown by book subscription lists. Books published by subscription were a feature of 18th-century publishing. Names of purchasers were gathered in advance of publication and a portion of the cost of the book paid. Lists of subscribers were printed and included in the book.


From subscription lists to a series of French language religious books published in Dublin in the first half of the 18th century we see a cross section of the Dublin Huguenot families and we can trace their origins to the south west coastal areas of France. One title, Trois sermons by Rev. Antoine Vinchon Desvoeux, printed in Dublin in 1745, gives a snapshot of Huguenot readers at mid century.[5] Desvoeux was chaplain to Lord George Sackville’s regiment and served the churches of Peter Street and Lucy Lane in Dublin from 1736 to 1760 when he left to join his regiment in Germany. On his return to Ireland in 1767 he became minister of the French congregation at Portarlington (1767–92). This work was aimed particularly at the French Huguenot community, and was supported by both Desvoeux’s congregation in the reformed churches of Lucy Lane and Peter Street, and the conformed congregations of St Mary’s and St Patrick’s. Of the 93 names on the list, 81 belong to Huguenot families. Each name is inextricably bound up with the others, displaying a wealth of family, business and religious connections. The list is composed primarily of Huguenot merchants, military, and clergy. Several of the most prominent Dublin Huguenot families on the list had their immediate origins in France or Switzerland and first generation immigrants were still widespread in 1745. This shows that a considerable number of the subscribers were native French speakers. Checking the names against the church registers it can be seen that the subscribers had a regional background predominantly in the south-west coastal area of France extending through the regions of Loire Atlantique, Maine et Loire, Charente Maritime, Gironde and Pyrénées Atlantiques. This shared background must have given them a greater sense of cohesion in a foreign country.

French language culture:

The main cultural influence of the Huguenot refuge on Irish society came through teaching and publishing. In the early years of the Huguenot refuge, francophone communities in Ireland, as elsewhere, had hopes of ending their exile and returning to France. Exiles were acutely aware of the need to educate their children in the French language for their eventual return to their homeland. Schools teaching French were established in areas of Huguenot settlement for the education of Huguenot children. The earliest known schools were established in Portarlington in the 1690s and Dublin from 1700. Soon, however, children from outside the communities were taught French, and the renown of Portarlington schools continued until the early 19th century, with many well-known figures in Irish politics and society receiving their education there.

Private schools teaching French expanded rapidly from the first decade of the 18th century. Academies run as private fee paying schools offered a new type of education to the children of middle income parents. Running in parallel with the grammar schools which taught the classics and prepared ‘young gentlemen’ for university, the private academies championed a more ‘useful education’ preparing students for non-university careers in trade and business. For this purpose foreign languages were an important part of the curriculum. French was the main language taught, with Italian as a secondary language towards the end of the century. The distribution of private academies teaching French can be seen around the country, with concentrations in Dublin and the larger towns. By the second half of the century grammar schools also adopted the teaching of French. The ready availability of native-speaking teachers made the teaching of French more widespread and of a higher quality. One of the early Huguenot teachers in Dublin that we know a lot about was Rev. Jacques Fontaine, whose Mémoires d’une famille huguenote gives a detailed account of his family’s journey from their origins in La Rochelle, to their picaresque adventures in West Cork, their boarding school in Dublin, and their emigration westwards to Virginia in America.[6] At his school in Stephen’s Green, Rev. Fontaine offered a good education to his own children and to the children of well-to-do Dubliners from 1709 to 1721 with French as an important part of the curriculum. His fees were £20 per annum for boarders, with an entrance fee of two guineas.[7]

As we have seen publishing in French in Dublin in the first half of the 18th century was made up largely of religious works aimed at the Huguenot communities. As more of the population became literate in French and interested in French culture the book trade became involved in the importation of French language books from France and the Netherlands as well as from London. Literary and scholarly books in French were imported in small quantities from the late 17th century, but from the late 1720s several Dublin booksellers began to import a wider range of titles aimed at a broader readership. One of the most important promoters of French literary culture was Rev. Jean-Pierre Droz, Huguenot pastor, bookseller, publisher and importer of foreign language books at his bookshop on College Green.[8] A native of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, Droz served as minister of the French church at St Patrick’s in Dublin from 1737 to 1751.[9] He created a demand for a wide range of publications with his periodical A literary journal published between 1744 and 1749, in which he published abstracts of the latest publications in the French, Latin, German and Dutch languages. He published several French language titles from 1745 to 1750, while importing foreign language works for his bookshop. Through his reviews and articles in A literary journal Droz encouraged the book buying public to interest themselves in literary news from the intellectual centres of Europe.


French language and culture was accepted as a badge of refinement throughout Europe in the 18th century. Irish society formed part of this trend, and French Enlightenment ideas came to Irish shores through the printed word. The presence of a significant segment of French native speakers in Dublin from the late 17th century ensured that the language had a firm foundation in the city. This foundation, based on knowledge of the French language learned in school, and perfected through reading of books and magazines, allowed for direct French Enlightenment influence later in the 18th century.


Huguenot exiles benefited from aristocratic patronage, state sponsorship and religious support, which contributed to their wellbeing in their country of refuge. Ireland and America were both colonies of Great Britain at this period and the welcome extended by Great Britain also applied to its colonies. Likewise, in times of persecution for Catholic populations sympathetic states offered a refuge, Irish Catholics found a welcome in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries, where they contributed to the life and culture of their host countries.

What lasting legacy did these immigrants give to Ireland? The communities were absorbed in language and religion by the early 19th century, but their influence remained in certain significant areas. The Huguenot communities strengthened the Protestant population, but caused dissent also, as the Church of Ireland sought to integrate the reformed Huguenots into the Anglican fold.

The Huguenot immigrants established some of the building blocks of our society. They were involved in a range of activities that changed or developed society. In the areas of business and finance their contribution was considerable, the banking system was built on the shoulders of Huguenot founders. David Digges Latouche, was financial agent to the Huguenot officers and propertied exiles in the early years of the refuge. The Latouche family became eminent bankers and they were among the main shareholders of the Bank of Ireland, established by Act of Parliament in 1782, and opened in 1783. It acted as government banker and performed many of the functions of a central bank.

In areas of language and culture French-speaking immigrants were influential in the 18th century when French culture was a prized accomplishment. This cultural influence opened the gates for the reception of French Enlightenment ideas at first hand.

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive ( )

[1] This talk was given at the Dublin History Research Networks conference ‘New Dubliners and the city: 1200-2000’ at the National Library of Ireland on 13 November 2015.

[2] Letters of denization and acts of naturalization in England and Ireland, 1603-1700, London, Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

[3] Raymond Hylton, Ireland’s Huguenots and their refuge 1662-1745, Brighton, 2005, pp 35, 112, 116. Hylton, Raymond, “Dublin’s Huguenot Refuge: 1662-1817”, Dublin Historical Record 40 (1986): 15–25.

[4] Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2001, pp 67-8.

[5] Registers of Lucy Lane and Peter Street, p. x. Desvoeux’s religious works included Dissertation sur les miracles (Leyden, 1732), Lettres sur les miracles (Rotterdam, 1735), Défense de la religion reformée (Amsterdam, 1736), and Nouvelles lettres sur les miracles (Amsterdam, 1740). His Essay on Ecclesiastes was published in London in 1760.

[6] Jacques Fontaine, Mémoires d’une famille huguenote: victime de la revocation de l’Edit de Nantes, présenté par Bernard Cottret, Montpellier, Max Chaliel, Presses du Languedoc, 1992.

[7] Dublin Intelligence 11 November 1710.

[8] From April 1749 his bookshop was in Dame Street ‘next door to the Olive Tree exactly facing George’s Lane.’ John T. Gilbert, History of the city of Dublin, 3 vol. (Dublin, reprinted 1978), ii.273. Lee, Huguenot Settlements in Ireland. Lawlor, Fasti of St Patrick’s, p. 294. Dublin Courant 4–8 April 1749.

[9] Droz was ordained deacon in 1734 at St James’, London, and priest in 1735 at St Paul’s cathedral.


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