The Huguenots and Ballyronan

The exiled French had a great influence on the town

The Huguenots were French Protestants, who followed the teachings of John Calvin (1509-64).

The growth of Calvinism in France in the 16th century led to a long period of persecution and religious wars, which only ended when the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre changed his faith in order to become King.

As King Henry IV, he signed the Edict of Nantes guaranteeing the Huguenots freedom of conscience and worship and equality with Catholic citizens in all civil offices and professions.

His grandson, Louis XIV, signed its revocation in 1658. The majority of Huguenots, some 700,000, remained in France and became nominal Catholics.

More than 200,000 however risked imprisonment or the gallows by going abroad. Most fled to Holland, many to Switzerland and Germany and some to Denmark. About 40,000 to 50,000 escaped to England where they joined those that had settled there earlier. About 10,000 came to Ireland and joined a smaller number who settled in the 1660s during the years of growing persecution.

Jean Gaussen, a Languedoc merchant fled to Geneva in 1685 with his five sons. His son David wanted to settle in England and while travelling in a fishing boat with his wife, a maid and another lady, a storm forced them to shelter in Carlingford Lough.

They were shipwrecked and lost everything except their lives. They settled in Newry where David became a prosperous merchant. His only son, also named David, freighted the first large vessel from Newry when the ship canal was opened in 1770. He married Margaret Hogg the daughter of Dr Hogg from Moneymore.

Their son David, born 1753, settled in Ballyronan with his wife and three sons in 1788, having bought the business of Thompson and Maxwell. As well as extending the quay the Guassens established a distillery (1824) and a brewery (1828), also a school for girls. The steamer ‘Lady of the Lake’, built for David Guassen in the 1820s operated a freight passenger service from Ballyronan to Lurgan to connect with the train to Belfast.

The family had a great influence on the life of the village of Ballyronan until the last member of the family, Arthur went to England in the late 1920s.