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Cork Huguenot Day

July 15, 2012

Yesterday (July 14th) was the first annual Cork Huguenot Day and coincidentally was also Bastille Day. The day involved two talks in the Masonic Hall by Dr David Butler and Dr Alicia St Ledger, a break for lunch, then a brief visit to Christchurch and then the Huguenot Burial Ground on Carey’s Lane.

But who were the Huguenots and why should they be commemorated with a special day?

The Huguenots were French Protestants, predominantly members of the Reformed Church of France. Unfortunately for them the rest of France was mainly Catholic. Under Henry IV of France some attempts at religious toleration had been made with the passing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598. This didn’t last however. The grandson of Henry IV, Louis XIV was not a big believer in tolerance. Instead he felt that the faith of his subjects should reflect the faith of their king with no exceptions. Louis saw the persistence of Protestantism as a disgraceful reminder of royal powerlessness and he wasn’t the type of person to take kindly to such reminders. October 1685, Louis issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which removed any privileges granted to non-Catholics. Faced with increasing persecution, many French Protestants fled France. At this time religious belief was still an extremely contensious issue in Europe and most of Southern Europe was still Catholic. This meant that Huguenots sought refuge in countries such as the Dutch Republic, Denmark, Switzerland, some of the German states, Britain and of course Ireland.

This was at a time when Ireland was firmly under British rule and Protestants were being encouraged to settle here. Along with providing a loyal population, it also had economic benefits as many Huguenots had skills and trades which brought prosperity to the areas they settled. Many also served in the army of William of Orange during his war with James II for the English throne. This article provides some good information on how they benefitted Ireland. Approximately 5000 came to Ireland, and of those, 300 settled in Cork, making a significant contribution to the commercial and civic life of the city, with no less than 11 members of the Huguenot community serving as Mayors of Cork City between 1694 and 1840.

When the Huguenots arrived in Ireland, they were still French speaking. Although they fit comfortably into the Established Anglican Church in Ireland, many also founded their own churches along with their own burial grounds. In Cork this church was located on Carey’s Lane. Within a few generations most of these Huguenots families were no longer French speaking and felt no need to keep seperate churches. They also quickly became part of the political establishment.

The impact of these familes can still be seen. In street names (Lavitt Quay for instance) and in some of the crafts they left behind. Many were silversmiths, jewellers, weavers and distillers. In the Masonic Hall on Tuckey Street they still have a sceptre and a few other items which were given by an Anthony Perrier. Christchurch on South Main Street has three stained glass windows in the apse which were dedicated by the Perrier family. There is also silverware in St Finbarre’s Cathedral and in the Cork Public Museum which was crafted by Huguenot families.

Despite these contributions it was a long time before the Huguenot Burial Ground was restored. Prior to that there had been several attempts by developers to build on the area, despite it’s cultural and historic significance. Even then many of the original headstones had been lost. Although the burial ground has been restored it is rarely opened to the public. Being in a busy section of the city I imagine there are fears it could be vandalised.

Here are some images taken yesterday

Some of the family crests inside the Grand Hall of the Masonic Lodge








Image from 1750 map of Cork showing the Huguenot Church and burial ground

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