Availing of the unusually decent weather lately, I walk into the city most days. The route I take brings me over the Blackquiere Bridge in Phibsboro. The brilliant monument to an Irish Volunteer on the bridge demands the attention of those who pass over it, but the very name of the bridge is so unusual and unique it also grabs my attention. A little bit of research revealed that the name of this bridge comes from the Huguenot history of the city, making it just one location in Dublin today where the Huguenot past of the city is reflected in the names of locations.
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, who fled the country following religious persecution against them in their native country. As noted on the Irish Ancestors section of The Irish Times site:
Small numbers of refugees from this persecution had come to Ireland, mainly via England, from 1620 to 1641, and again with Cromwell in 1649, but it was in 1685, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed them toleration, that the main body of Huguenots began to arrive, mostly from the countryside around the city of La Rochelle in the modern region of Poitou-Charente.
Huguenots would even play a role in one of the defining moments of Irish history, with some fighting alongside King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Many Huguenots settled in the Liberties area of Dublin, renowned for their weaving abilities, skills they took with them from their native France. Huguenots became a huge part of the fabric of life in the area in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in 1745 it was a Huguenot, David Digges La Touche, who financed the building of a new weavers’ hall in the Lower Coombe area.
While many Dubliners are familiar with the Huguenot Cemetery on Merrion Row, at least to pass, they may be surprised to hear how many street names and bridges in Dublin point back to this period in history.
Back to the start then, and what of Blaquiere Bridge? The bridge is named in honour of John Blaquiere ( 1732 – 1812), a distinguished British soldier, diplomat and politician of French Huguenot descent. He served as Chief Secretary for Ireland between 1772 and 1777. Blaquiere had been born in London of Huguenot stock, “being fifth son of Jean de Blaquiere who reached to England in 1685, and his wife Marie Elizabeth.” (Source)
My favourite of the Dublin street names that reflects this migrant presence in Dublin is Fumbally Lane, which is quite near to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I only recently wandered down this lane for the first time, and there is a real sense of history to it. The area was home to a significant brewing and distilling presence historically, and the initials ‘JB’ and ‘1836’ can be seen within a modern development complex today, as a remnant of John Busby’s distillery opened in this lane in the 1830s. It is thought that the origins of the name of the laneway can be found in a French Huguenot family of skinners by the name of Fombella, who leased lane in the vicinity in the 1720s.
Maybe the most familiar street with Huguenot connotations is D’Olier Street, in the heart of the city. This street takes its name from Jeremiah D’Olier (1745-1817). A biography of D’Olier from the Royal Dublin Society notes that he was a founder director of the Bank of Ireland and governor of that institution from 1799 to 1801, and a Dublin city sheriff in 1788 and 1790. Dlier served as a commissioner of wide streets, contributing to the laying-out of the city as we know it today. D’Olier Street was named in his honour in 1800, all the more impressive given the fact he lived for 17 years afterwards.
Digges Lane is yet another place-name in Dublin which emerges from this tradition. Home of Marconi House, which houses Newstalk and Today FM among other radio stations, the name Digges Lane shows a connection to the hugely influential La Touche family, influential in the early days of Irish banking history, establishing the La Touche Bank and later central to the very foundation of the Bank of Ireland. A brief history of this family is available to read here, and notes that:
Our story opens with David Digues La Touche des Rompieres, who was born in 1671 near Blois in the Loire Valley, and whose family had embraced the Protestant faith. Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 some La Touche family members fled to Holland in search of religious freedom. David soon joined them, and his uncle obtained for him a commission in General Caillemotte’s Regiment, in the army of William of Orange. In 1690 David fought in the Battle of the Boyne, but, as General Caillemotte was killed at this battle, the Regiment was disbanded and David served in the Princess Ann of Denmark’s army and in the Liverpool Regiment. He left the army in Galway, where he was billeted on a weaver who sent him to Dublin to buy worsteds.
Of course, the bridge in Phibsboro is not the only one which can claim a connection to this migrant group. Beckett Bridge is another. Among the names a visitor to the cemetery on Merrion Row will spot is that of the Becquett family, and it should be remembered that one of Dublin’s most famous sons is said to have been of mercantile Huguenot descent. The names of those buried within the cemetery can be seen in this Storymap video on the site, recorded with historian Jean-Paul Pitton.
Beckett is not alone among the great Irish writers with regards Huguenot heritage, and Sheridan Le Fanu, the famed writer of mystery and Gothic tales, was much the same. Le Fanu was born in Dublin in 1814, and his father served as a clergyman in the Church of Ireland, becoming chaplain of the Royal Hibernian Military School in Phoenix Park which Le Fanu was a youth. The Phoenix Park and Chapelizod would both appear in his work, and Le Fanu is remembered with Le Fanu Road and Le Fanu Park in Ballyfermot today.
Few people have left as incredible a lasting impact on Dublin physically as the architect James Gandon (1743-1843). Gandon was responsible for the Four Courts, Custom House, Kings Inns and several other impressive architectural projects in the city. The grandson of a French Huguenot refugee, Gandon was born at New Bond Street in London. Buried in Drumcondra today, he lived at Lucan at Cannonbrook House, which overlooks the village of Lucan. The great Gandon has lent his name to a number of estates in Lucan, his adopted home for many years.
This list is by no means complete, and I welcome comments and additions to it. It is fascinating to think that hundreds of years on from the arrival of Huguenot refugees on Irish shores, they and their descendants are still remembered in the place names of our city and country.