The Huguenots were Calvinist Protestants in 16th and 17th
century France who were intermittently persecuted by the
majority Catholic population. At the end of the 17th century
many of them sought better lives abroad, some coming to
Ireland. Traces of their lives enter the world of the novel:
names, business ventures, a graveyard, an opera.
At one time Huguenots, who were concentrated in the southern
and western parts of France, made up as much as a tenth of the
country's population. A massacre of Huguenots in Wassy in
1562, and the infamously treacherous and brutal St.
Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris in 1572, sparked ongoing
religious wars in which many thousands of Protestants
perished. King Henry IV instituted a policy of religious
toleration in the 1598 Edict of Nantes, but at the urging of
the Catholic church Louis XIV increased persecution and
finally revoked all Protestant rights in the 1685 Edict of
Fontainebleau. The rights of Protestants were restored in the
revolutionary era of the late 18th century, but by then large
numbers of them had either emigrated or been forcibly
converted. Although most émigrés fled to Protestant countries,
after Louis' 1685 edict about 10,000 came to Ireland, which
had a majority Catholic population but a government dominated
by the new Protestant Ascendancy. In 1692 the Irish Parliament
passed a law allowing Huguenots and other "Protestant
strangers" to practice their religion freely.
Most of the newcomers settled in Ulster, Cork, Dublin, and
Waterford, bringing with them an entrepreneurial business
spirit and expertise in the weaving of linens, silks, and
wools. They quickly contributed to the Irish economy, as the
Viceroy of Ireland, Lieutenant-General James Butler, 1st Duke
of Ormonde, had hoped when he encouraged them to come. Some of
these industrious merchants introduced the manufacture of
poplin, a natively French woven blend of wool and silk often
used to make dresses for cool weather wear. In Lestrygonians
Bloom thinks of this cloth: "A tilted urn poured from its
mouth a flood of bloodhued poplin: lustrous blood. The
huguenots brought that here." In Cyclops the
Citizen too praises "our Huguenot poplin that we have since
Jacquard de Lyon," but he confuses two different French
contributions. Joseph Marie Jacquard was not a refugee and had
nothing to do with the arrival of poplin in the 1690s. He
facilitated its production by inventing a loom, patented in
1804, that automated the process of weaving complex patterns.
The loom used a series of punched cards, like those fed into
early IBM computers.
In Lotus Eaters Bloom thinks of Sweny's pharmacy in nearby
Lincoln Place, which makes him think of Hamilton Long's, a
pharmacy less than half a mile to the west on Grafton Street.
That somehow makes him think of the "Huguenot churchyard
near there. Visit some day." This small cemetery on the
northeast corner of St. Stephen's Green is actually a bit
closer to Sweny's than to Hamilton Long's. It was founded in
1693 by Huguenots living in the vicinity of the blighted open
space that is now the green. The cemetery continued to inter
bodies until 1901.
As time went on Huguenot immigrants spread to other Irish
towns, intermarried with Irish people, and folded their
churches into the Anglican communion of the Irish church. Today little
distinct ethnic community remains, though a few churches do
continue to practice old French rites, and a festival
celebrating the Huguenot heritage is held annually in
Portarlington. The history is evident, however, in certain
family names. One of these is Du Bédat, a name which Bloom
enjoys playing with in Lestrygonians as he imagines
well-heeled Protestants dining out: "May I tempt you to a
little more filleted lemon sole, miss Dubedat? Yes, do
bedad. And she did bedad. Huguenot name I expect that.
A miss Dubedat lived in Killiney, I remember. Du,
de, la, French." Du Bédat is among the 239 surnames
inscribed on a plaque in the Huguenot cemetery. So is
Becquett, the family that produced Joyce's acolyte and great
artistic descendant Samuel Beckett. Also of Huguenot descent
was Sheridan Le Fanu, whose historical novel, The House by
the Churchyard, provided a major source for Finnegans
Wake. Other Huguenot names live on in Dublin place names
like Fumbally Lane,
mentioned in Proteus and Aeolus, and D'Olier
Street, mentioned in Circe and Ithaca.
Bloom is fond of German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer's popular 1836 opera Les Huguenots, which concerns the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. In Lestrygonians he hums an aria by the Comte de St. Bris, a Catholic zealot, and in Penelope Molly recalls a time during their courtship when he gave her music for an aria in which the Queen of Navarre, Marguerite of Valois, longs for peaceful coexistence. As a pious Catholic Molly was completely uninterested in the issues of religious toleration that her lover found so compelling in the opera: "explaining and rigmaroling about religion and persecution he wont let you enjoy anything naturally."