Monday, April 12, 2010

The Limerick Germans

The Limerick Germans
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

One beautiful fair’s day as I went through Baile Uí Shíoda
Who should I meet on the way only a Palatine’s daughter
She asked me my name and where I was from. Said she:
‘If you abandon The Mass you will get my hand in marriage
And have a pretty girl by your side if you want a Palatine’.

The above words are an English translation from a charming folksong song Iníon an Phalaitinigh and recall an all but forgotten time when Germans lived in Ireland.
Eighteenth century Europe was a turbulent place and Western Germany particularly the area along the French border now known Rhineland-Pfalz was ravaged by war. The Lutheran Palatines inhabiting the area suffered greatly from French attacks and Queen Anne, a champion of Protestantism offered them refuge in Britain. In 1709 Eight thousand moved to Rotterdam, where English ships were to convey them to a safe haven. It turned out that there were two thousand Catholics in the group and they were turned away. Three thousand of the group sailed to The New World while the remaining three thousand Palatines were brought first of all to England, which was ill equipped to deal with them and then on to Dublin, where in the autumn of 1709, 871 families, numbering 3073 arrived. It was hoped they would augment the Protestant population of rural Ireland.
Their time in Dublin was not happy one. They were overcharged for food, were sold watered down milk and given counterfeit money in change. This was so rife that the Lord Mayor of Dublin issued a proclamation promising to deal severely with the culprits.
From Dublin the Palatines were dispatched to sympathetic landlords in Gorey on the Abel Ram estate and also Carlow. By far the biggest colony however would turn out to be in Rathkeale County Limerick on the Southwell estate. Sir John Southwell, a Catholic landlord warmly embraced the concept of the colony and by 1714 over 130 families were living on Southwells lands.
Each Palatine received eight acres of land at a nominal rent of five shillings per acre and at leases of three lives. Each family was also allowed forty shillings a year for seven years to buy stock and utensils. This was quite generous, considering that the Irish tenants at the time were paying rents of thirty five shillings per acre. Such generosity did not prevail and in the 1740s many landlords increased the rent considerably, so much so that many Palatines left the country in favour of America. It was around this time that the colony in Gorey and Carlow all but vanished.
In addition to the land, every Palatine household received a musket to protect themselves from the Irish. The Palatine men joined a local Yeomanry calling themselves "True Blues" or "German Fusiliers". It turned out to be unnecessary as the native Irish left them in peace.
To earn a living they farmed the land and were known to grown hemp and flax as well as raise cattle. Their agricultural practices differed to that of the locals. While the Irish were wont to plant potatoes using the spade, the Palatines used horses and ploughs. They ploughed the land in spring, planted the potatoes in the furrows and covered it over again with the plough. Again at harvest they used the plough to dig out the potatoes. They were also renowned for their cider production.
They had a distinctive Germanic lifestyle until the 19th century. While their Christian names such as Adam, Ebenezer, Ernest, Frederick, Jacob, Jasper, Julius, Ethel, Rebecca Julius, were distinctly German they tended to adopt more Irish names in the 19th century.
One of their customs was to be buried with their bibles, which accounts for the fact that while they spoke German, they had no bibles in the German language. They maintained their dialect until 1880 when the last speaker Long Anne Teskey from Rathkeale, who was also a fluent Irish speaker, passed away at the age of 115. The name Teskey is still common in the Rathkeale area.
While it was expected that the Palatines join the Anglican Church many turned to Methodism. They built a Methodist church at Ballingrane near Rathkeale in 1766 which was dedicated to the memory of Philip Embury and his cousin Barbara Heck. Both were from the area and when they left for America they became leading figures in the Methodist church. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, made several missionary trips to Ireland and always made a point of visiting the Palatine communities of Co. Limerick. The small cemetery in the churchyard still bears the graves of the Palatine community. The church had no bell so a cow horn, which still survives, was used to summon the faithful to service.
Largely due to their varied diet they were not greatly afflicted by the Great Famine of 1845. The dire state of the country however, encouraged many to emigrate to America, which furthered reduced the colony.
While in the eighteenth century they tended to marry only within the Palatine community their reduced numbers forced them to marry outside the colony and as time went by they became more integrated with the Irish and their settlements diminished. Little remains of their settlement today although in Killaheen there is still an old Palatine well.It consists of a trench cut into the ground deeper than the water table. The sides and the top are lined with stone and 18 stone steps lead down the clear cold water.
The colony failed to spread the Protestant faith to any large extent in the area and they failed to make linguistic impact. Consequently no Palatine words survive in the locality today. Their ancestors however, are eager to keep their memory alive. Many Irish surnames such as Cole, Crowe, Young, Cooke, St. John, Bowen, Laurence, Lowe, Miller, Everett, Ross, and Switzer have Palatine origins. The latter family became famous in the retail business.
The Irish Palatine association was formed in 1989. At an old disused railway building just off the N21 Limerick to Tralee road in Rathkeale they have a heritage centre where more information can be acquired.

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