The Huguenots in Ulster

The French immigrant influence on religion language and economy

Huguenot immigrants from France had a substantial influence on Ulster in terms of the religion language and the economy.

The French Huguenot Saurin family provided a dean of Armagh who died in 1749. His son James then became the vicar of Belfast dying in 1772. In turn one of James’s sons took up the post of vicar of Belfast later becoming the last bishop of Dromore. A second son William became attorney general of Ireland. William’s third son Lewis was rector of Moira from 1821 until 1829. Indeed at least four bishops or archbishops of the Church of Ireland came from Huguenot stock and the famous Huguenot churchman Peter Drelincourt was dean of Armagh from 1691 to 1722.

The Huguenot influence was not confined to Armagh however but spread throughout Northern Ireland. One of five sons the Rev Henry Reynette born in 1736 was successively curate of Annahilt rector of Magheragall then of Glenavy and finally of Billy near Bushmills in north Antrim.

Huguenot names in Ulster
The number of Huguenots in Ulster has never been large but there is a romance about certain unusual names particularly since this might seem to be the only real continuing Huguenot legacy nowadays. Although some French families anglicised their names—notable eighteenth century examples being the publisher Luke White and the surname ‘de Brequet’ now Breakey—many prized their French roots and kept their names unchanged.

Some common Huguenot names in Northern Ireland aside from those already mentioned are: Boucher, Camelin (or Camlin), Chartres (or Charters), Cloquet (or Clokey), Cornabe, De Vagnes (Devanny or Devenny), Deyermond, Goyer, Hamon (or Hammond), Mussen, René (Rainey), Refausse, Sufferin, and Vint.  But care is needed.

Although names like Molyneux and L’Estrange give a clear indication of French origin sometimes the religion of the family has altered or the family may originally not have been a Huguenot one at all: a French name may indicate a different time of immigration sometimes even going back to the arrival of the Normans.

Overall the Huguenots have made an original and distinctive contribution to the culture of Northern Ireland though this is an area in which much research remains to be done.

By Graham Gargett, professor of French culture and ideas at the University of Ulster, Coleraine campus.