In Brief

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.

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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."

JH 2022
The Massacre of Vassy, late 16th century painting by Frans Hogenberg.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The St. Bartholomew Day's Massacre, late 16th century painting by François Dubois, held in the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The gate of the Huguenot Cemetery in Dublin, in a 2018 photograph by Gary Kearney. Source:
Inside the Huguenot Cemetery, in a 2018 photograph by Sonse. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons.