While driving into Carlow Town in Ireland along the R726, one’s eyes may well have drifted over a signpost pointing north towards ‘Palatine‘ and east towards ‘Sion.’ Given that Carlow also has a place called Jerusalem, you can forgive those wondering whether they’ve somehow been teleported to the northern shores of the Red Sea. I’ll tackle Sion and Jerusalem another day but, for now, here’s my tuppence worth on the Palatines, a people from the modern-day Germany who piled into Ireland in the early 18th century.
I’m told their story began with the eruption of a volcano in the last days of 1707. In fact, I was also told there were actually three volcanoes that erupted. Either way, that sent so much ash spiralling into the skies that it blocked the sun’s rays and created the coldest winter in recent history. Birds are said to have frozen in mid-air. “Never in my life have I seen a winter such as this one”, lamented Liselotte, Duchess of Orleans, better known as Madame Palatine. Her homeland lay along the fertile banks of the River Rhine in south-west Germany where the Great Frost caused profound turmoil to the winegrowers, all but destroying their vineyards and fruit farms.
The sun-drenched fields of the Palatines were already recovering from the desecration inflicted by a massive French army that had unexpectedly crossed the Rhine the previous spring during the War of the Spanish Succession. The appalling winter of 1708-1709 pushed them over the edge and over the course of 1709 there was an exodus of 13,000 Palatines, most of whom sought to start anew in Britain and Ireland.
The vast majority of these migrants were Protestants who availed of a scheme initiated by a British government (then controlled by the Whigs) eager to lure such a sturdy workforce to its shores. The British scheme, which was partly motivated by fears of a resurgence in Catholic Jacobite support, was not open to the Catholic Palatines who made up about a third of the migrants. Opposition to the arrival of the Palatines in England was strong, particularly amongst the Tories who incorrectly labelled them as ‘disease-ridden, Catholic bandits’ whose sole purpose was ‘to eat the Bread out of the Mouths of our People’.Some 2,800 Palatines were shipped across the Atlantic to New York with dreams of free and abundant land, while a further 300 went to the Carolinas. Many died en route and many more would later make their way home to Germany. Others stayed and so contributed their unusual bloodline to the gigantic genetic cauldron of the Americas.
In Ireland, the invitation went out from Thomas Wharton, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who married Lucy Loftus of the powerful Loftus family of county Waterford. Just over 3,000 Palatines sailed for Ireland in the autumn of 1709. Most were unskilled peasant workers – husbandmen, vine-dressers and general labourers. Industrious and hard-working, for sure, but their education rarely extended beyond an expertise in wine-growing, which amounted to little in a land without grapes. With few resources of their own, they had little choice but to submit to the wishes of authority once they reached London. Nor was there much integration when the settlements were established. Intermarriage with other communities was initially encouraged but few complied and there was also a strong and immediate movement among the Palatines to retain their German language and culture.
Underfunded and poorly planned, the Palatine resettlement programme quickly petered out and many Palatines had reputedly left within a few months. Indeed, some Palatines are said to have threatened to throw a captain overboard in Dublin, if he did not give them return passage to Germany. In April 2021, Austin Bovenizer of the Irish Palatine Association advised me:
‘Settlements in America and in Ireland were, for the main part unsuccessful because the effort was underfunded and only half heartedly planned. The issue for the Palatines was that they did not receive what was promised. The main thing being land. Those that settled in Ireland did so because their landlords lived up to their promises.’
The vast majority of the Palatines who came to Ireland settled in County Limerick where Sir Thomas Southwell settled 130 families on his estate at Castle Matrix, near Rathkeale, County Limerick. The French “Palatine” family of Delmege or Dolmage were among those who settled at Rathkeale. By the end of the 18th century, the main Delmege residence was at Castle Park near the city of Limerick.
Limerick-born artist Donald Teskey, a member of Aosdana, and the Teskey Brothers from the award-winning Australian blues band all descend from Jacob Teskey, or Tesch, who settled on the Southwell estate. The family may have originated from Osthofen, a village near the west bank of the Rhine, five miles north of the city of Worms. Laureen Ann Teskey, the wife of Canada’s former prime minister, Stephen Harper, is another descendant. So too was Henrietta Teskey (1874-1943), daughter of Solomon Teskey, R..I.C. who was, for a time, stationed at Tuam, County Galway. She married Thomas Pauling, superintendent of the Ordnance Survey from 1900 to at least 1911. They lived for a time in Mountjoy House, the Superintendent’s house on the grounds of the barracks in Phoenix Park. (See 1911 census & Ken McDonald’s page, teskey.org)
Among others ‘Southwell’ settlers we Henrig Harbener (or Heavenor), a vinedresser, who arrived with his wife Apolonia and four children. His ‘descendent’ Noel Hayes appeared as a guest with me on the Genealogy Roadshow back in 2009 but alas we were unable to establish the direct connection.
Sprawled upon a rocky outcrop east of Kilfinane, County Limerick, Ballyriggin Wood was traditionally known as Palatine Hill. In 1911, half the households in Ballyriggin bore Palatine names – Fizelle, Schummacher and three Steepe households.
Another important Palatine settlement was founded between Old Ross and Gorey by Abel Ram, who ran a considerable bank and goldsmith business at Castle Street in Dublin. One of the wives of the incredible Mathias Buchinger came from here.
There were other pockets of Palatine settlement in Tipperary and Carlow where, in 1837, Samuel Lewis noted 88 inhabitants in an area called ‘Palatine’ in the parish of Urglin. The Rev. Joseph Bunbury, a ‘sort-of-ancestor’ of mine, was Rector of Urglin at the time of their arrival in the 1710s. The Carlow settlement was connected to the banker Benjamin Burton, Lord Mayor (1706) and Member of Parliament (1703-1723) who purchased lands in 1712 at Burton Hall (formerly Ballynakelly) and elsewhere in Carlow from the Trustees for the Sale of Forfeited Estates. Burton had been appointed a Palatine Commissioner in 1709 and invited twenty Protestant families from Lower Palatinate on the middle Rhine to Carlow, where a settlement called Palatine-town was established. According to a traveller writing in 1780, ‘the industrious settlers [in Palatine] had transformed bogland into fertile ground’. However, by 1725, these families had scattered or emigrated. Why they vanished remains a mystery but the only reminder is the name of the present-day village of Palatine and the family surname Keppel, which was well known in County Carlow. (With thanks to Michael Purcell).
Arguably the most successful Palatine family to remain in Ireland trace their origin to two young brothers, Michael and Christopher Schweitzer, whose descendants became skilled tailors and changed their name to Switzer. Style was clearly a family trait: Beau Brummell, the most fashionable gent in Regency Britain, was tailored by a Mr Schweitzer of London. In 1823, a Thomas Switzer (originally Schweitzer) established his business as a saddle and harness maker in Dublin City. Based at 78 Dame Street, he subsequently won the contract to supply saddles and harnesses to the Chief Secretary of Ireland and the garrison at Dublin Castle.
In 1838, John Wright Switzer of County Tipperary founded Switzer and Company, Woollen Drapers, Tailor and General Clothiers.[i] Initially based at Cork Hill, beside Dublin Castle, he relocated the business to 91 Grafton Street in 1845, from where it evolved into the celebrated Switzer’s department store and, eventually, Brown Thomas.[ii] A branch of the Switzer family lived at Edmondsbury, near Durrow, County Laois during the late nineteenth century. They farmed the upland meadows of nearby Lakefield, on lands rented from the Palmers, who ran a drapery business in Newry, County Down.
Another Palatine descendant was Tipperary-born Richard Sutcliffe (1849-1930), the mining engineer, who invented the world’s first underground conveyor belt. Richard Sutcliffe Ltd., his Yorkshire-based company, pioneered the manufacture of conveyor belts used in the mining and assembly line industries.
Other descendants of these Rhineland Palatinate emigrants include the families of Keppel, Wyse (formerly Weiss), Cooke (Koch), Young (Jung), Embury (Imberger) [v], Miller (Mueller), Becker (Baker), Poff (settled at Ballymacelligotton the Blennerhassett estate in Kerry) and Gleasure (also settled in North Kerry). [iii]
A descendant of the Youngs of Bawnlea, Tipperary, was Lester Bowles Pearson (1897-1972), who served as Prime Minister of Canada (1963-68) and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Barbara Young of Bawnlea married George Bowles, one of the few Protestant settlers in the Palatine colony of Bawnlea. The two emigrated to Canada with their young family in 1811 in the wake of the recriminations after the Bowles, as well as many of the Palatine settlers, signed the Anti-Catholic Petition in 1810. Their great-grand-daughter Annie Bowles married the Rev. Edwin Pearson in 1892 and they were the parents of Lester Bowles Pearson. George and Barbara Bowles were also the ancestors Rowell Bowles (1916-2012), the longest serving member in the history of UNICEF, with whom he worked as Director of Worldwide Programmes (1965-78) and Senior Policy Advisor. He received the Order of Canada in 2001. Also in the mix was the Hon. Richard S. Bowles, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba (1965-70).
In Dublin, Clarke Square at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, was formerly known as Palatine Square, Royal Barracks.
Unfortunately, many of the records relating to the Palatines were amongst those burned when the Public Record Office was set on fire in 1922 so it is difficult for 21st century Palatine descendants to prove the links. However, if you think you are of Palatine origin, then an excellent place to start is the Irish Palatine Museum and Heritage Centre in the Old Railway Buildings, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick V94 NR12. Or try them via www.irishpalatines.org
- ‘The Search for Abel Ram’s Settlement of Gorey Palatines‘ by Dolores Kearney (Trowel Volume XV 2014)
- ‘The German Palatine Settlement in Wexford and beyond’ by Bernard Browne.
- ‘To Their Heirs Forever, United Empire Loyalists,‘ by Eula C. Lappis tells the tale of a group of Irish Palatines who lived on Southwell’s estate and then emigrated to NYC 1760.
[i] Switzer’s department store was established by John Wright Switzer (1806-1891) of Newpark, Kilcooley, County Tipperary, a son of Christopher Switzer and Hester Wright. I think he was originally Switzer and Downes of the London Tailoring Establishment on Cork Hill, Dublin, established in 1836. If so, he previously worked with Andrew’s Irish Woollen Warehouse. A member of the Newpark family still possesses the deed of the first shop on Grafton Street, as well as an illustration of the front face of the building. J.W. Switzer was first chairman of Switzer & Co Ltd when it was incorporated on 6th June 1890, and he died 18 months later.
[ii] Switzer and Co. Woollen Drapers, Tailor and General Clothiers, were at 91 Grafton Street by 1845 (Kings County Chronicle, 8 October 1845). In October 1851, they were joined by a Mr Beatty and, with expanded premises, they relaunched as Switzer, Beatty and Co., Woollen Drapers, Tailors and General Clothiers. (General Advertiser for Dublin, and all Ireland, 27 January 1855.)
In 1848 John Wright Switzer purchased the Moyvalley Hotel from the Royal Canal Company. Opened in 1807, this was located about a third of the way along the canal from Dublin on the main road to the west. Widely acclaimed in its early years, it had already ceased operating by the 1820s and was briefly occupied by a local police force. Mr Switzer converted it into a successful hydropathy establishment, and continued to live in the building until his death in 1891.
[iii] A branch of the Wyse family was originally spelled Weiss and pronounced Vice; this possibly included the family of Wyse, the Irish estate agent. That said, there were Wyses in Ireland long before the Palatines arrived including William Wyse, Mayor of Cork, received the Cap of Maintenance from Henry VIII for keeping Waterford loyal during Silken Thomas’s rebellion. One of his descendants family intermarried with Napoleon’s family.
[iv] Imhof, Andreas Lazarus von. Neu-eröffneter historischer Bildersaal, Vol. 9: Geschichten, welche sich unter Carolo VI, von dem Jahr 1723 auf das Jahr 1733 zugetragen. Nuremberg: Buggel, 1735. Courtesy of PD Dr. Helmut Schmahl, Mainz University.
[v] John Redmond writes: Andreas Imberger exited Manhiem area 1709; floated down Rhine; camped in London; made home on the Southwell estate in County Limerick. A generation later the folks, students of Wesley emigrated to NYC; Began the first Methodist church on John St. NYC. Then came the Revolution. They were Loyalists fighting on the side of Empire and King…And so we become Canucks.
Along the St. Lawrence River in Ontario is a little Blue church; resting place of our cousins Heck. Barbara Ann Heck is considered ‘the mother’ of Methodism in North America. This is her resting place. She and Philip Embury began the first Methodist gatherings in NYC. Twist of fate; Ma’s Ma’s Irish Lloyd side have the same Southwell’s as ancestors! And, again, on ma’s side, Brig. Gen Sir Thomas Prendergast, 1st Bart, fought and died 1709 in that war of Spanish succession.’ John Redmond also has a forebear John ‘Valentine’ Detlor, born in 1726/27 in Ballingrane, Limerick, whose father Johan Jacob Dedler (1687-1755) moved from the Palatine to Ireland. Valentine Detlor was a Loyalist during the American Revolution and as such was able to apply for land grants in the newly formed Upper Canada.