Highlights include our AGM in June which was followed by an interesting talk by Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth University, an Outing to Portarlington in August and our Annual Huguenot Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin in November.
13th August 2016 – A Visit to Portarlington.
On this warm, sunny day in August, the Huguenot Society hosted a visit to Portarlington.
Our tour began at St. Paul’s Church in Portarlington, courtesy of Ven. Leslie Stevenson. St. Paul’s, also known as ‘The French Church’, became the centre of worship for the many huguenots who settled in Portarlington after the Williamite wars.
We were treated to an interesting talk by local historian, Ronnie Mathews, during which we learned that there were upward of 13 separate schools in Portarlington in the 17th and 18th Centuries that taught the French language to children who travelled to the town for that purpose from all around Ireland and even further afield. This was at a time when proficiency in french was essential for the well educated adult who hoped to work in international business or to move in diplomatic circles or polite society.
Following the talk, we were privileged to have the opportunity to examine the local Parish registers, which are handwritten in French and which carefully recorded the deaths and births of French Huguenot families in the area during the 1700s and 1800s. See photo of the group taken at the French Church here.
After a lovely lunch at the Candied Walnut in the centre of Portarlington, the group were led out to Lea Castle at the outskirts of the town by Mr. John Stocks Powell, a local expert on the Huguenots of Portarlington.
Long before the town of Portarlington as we know it today was built, Lea was the centre of activity in the area and the associated church at Lea was where the local marriages and burials then took place. The church itself disappeared long ago, but the graveyard around it still holds the graves of many locals, including Huguenots. The surrounding area is so overgrown that without John’s knowledge and guidance, it would have been impossible to find the location of this hidden gem. (See photo here.)
The Blanc family were very pleased to find a headstone marking the grave of one of their ancestors at Lea. (See photo here.)
Following our visit to Lea, John Stocks Powell very kindly invited the whole group back to his home for tea and we were offered the opportunity to view his extensive range of books on the subject, as well as his own published works about the local area and about the Huguenots.
A great day was enjoyed by all and we are particularly grateful to our Chair, Jane McKee and to our Hon. Sec., Elizabeth Bicker, for organising this wonderful tour that members will recall with pleasure for many years to come.
(Images courtesy of photographer, Dallas Camier).
More About Portarlington.
Our thanks to Laois Co. Council and to their Heritage officer, Catherine Casey, for permission to reproduce the information about the history of Huguenots in Portarlington, which was written by Mary Ann Williams on behalf of Laois Heritage Forum. You can read it here. For those who were unable to attend the tour and wish to visit the area independently, you will find plenty of useful tourist information at www.laois.ie
25th June 2016 – AGM of the Irish Section of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Our Annual General Meeting took place on Saturday 25th June in the beautiful and historic Marsh’s Library. We are grateful to the management of Marsh’s Library for their kind support and interest in the Society and would like to thank them for the use of the Seminar room and for the very welcome and delicious refreshments which were provided for our members at the AGM.
James Saurin – A Huguenot Preaching in Belfast.
Following our AGM, members were treated to a very interesting talk by Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth University. Prof Gillespie spoke about the Saurin family of Huguenot descent and in particular about the sermons of James Saurin which were delivered between 1747 and 1772. A selection of the sermons are now available in book form. Preaching in Belfast: a selection of the sermons of James Saurin published by Four Courts Press, Dublin in 2015. It is a very enjoyable collection and contains much from which we can all learn.
You may also read a shortened version of Prof Gillespie’s excellent lecture on Saurin’s sermons here and we thank Prof Gillespie very much for taking the time to meet with the Huguenot Society, to deliver his excellent talk, and also for kindly providing us with this summary so that we may share this fascinating story about a Huguenot in Belfast in the 18th Century.
A Symbol of Solidarity.
A painting by Irish artist, Tommy Barr, has been presented to the French Embassy in Dublin by the Irish Section of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It was accepted by H.E. Jean-pierre Thébault, French Ambassador to Ireland during a recent visit to the Embassy.
The painting which is titled “En plein Coeur” has been created on a collage of newspaper articles from the French press which described the terrorist attacks in Paris on the 13th of November. Painted largely in monochrome, it depicts a young girl seated on the ground. She is wearing a bracelet with a single charm, a dove of peace descending, which is the symbol of the Huguenot Society worldwide. Ambassador Thébault was immediately struck by the symbolism included in the painting and by the dark colours, describing it as very powerful.
Our artistic links with France run very deep and so it has been a great pleasure for the Society to present this particular gift. It is presented as an expression of our solidarity. As was the response across the world, Tommy was saddened by the attacks in Paris. He confided that he always struggles to find the right words to adequately describe such awful events, explaining that “painting is my best form of expression and where I often turn to work through situations”. He is hopeful, as are we all, that the painting will portray solidarity and hope to those who view it.
An image of the painting can be seen here: ‘En Plein Coeur’
An invitation to the Exhibition Launch can be seen here.
French Festival – Portarlington.
A number of Tommy Barr’s other paintings are on exhibit in the French church as part of the Portarlington French Festival this summer.The launch of the exhibit took place on the evening of the 8th of July during Portarlington’s French Festival.
Marsh’s Library – Elie Bouhereau Project: ‘Insight into the Life of a 17th Century Refugee.’
Marsh’s Library is currently running a project to transcribe, translate and publish the diary of its first librarian, Elie Bouhereau. Much of the work has already been carried out and further funding has recently just been made available to enable its completion. For more information on the project, please click here: (Please note this will take you to an external website.)