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Magee Conference Explores Derry's Huguenot Legacy

The contribution of Huguenot exiles to Irish society is just one of the topics being considered this week at a four day conference at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. 

The international conference will cover a wide range of topics about the 17th century French Protestant exiles who fled religious persecution in their homeland. 

Among the issues being discussed are the Edict of Nantes which gave Huguenots their religious freedoms before it was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV and their life in exile including their contribution to the Walled City of Derry. 

The Huguenots were mostly artisans, craftsmen and professionals, including many members of the French nobility and social middle class, who fled persecution in one of the largest mass migrations of the 17th century.

Those who remained in France were forced to practise their faith in secret but those who left went to live all over the world, settling initially in the Netherlands, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia, moving on to the American colonies and to South Africa where the Dutch East India Company sent several hundred of them to develop the vineyards at the Cape.  

While their exile was a major loss to French society, the Huguenots made a major impact wherever they put down their roots. Many came to Ireland, settling mostly in Dublin, Cork and Lisburn, where they made a major contribution to the development of the local linen industry. 

A small number also moved to the north-west of Ireland where they settled in the newly developed Walled City. Others fought with King William at the Battle of the Boyne and settled later at Portarlington.   

Contributors from Ireland, England, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, South Africa, and the USA are taking part in the four day conference. They include Professor Jean-Paul Pittion of the University of Tours who taught for many years in Trinity College, Dublin; Professor Philip Benedict from the University of Geneva, Professor Yves Krumenacker of the University of Lyon, Andreas Flick of the Huguenot Society of Germany, and Randolph Vigne of the Huguenot Society in London a and former editor of the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Among the Irish contributors is Vivien Costello, who is originally from Londonderry, now lives in Dublin and has written widely on the Irish Huguenots.  

Conference organiser Dr Jane McKee said while it was an academic conference, the programme on Saturday should appeal to a broader audience.

She confirmed: “In the morning, there will be a series of lectures in French on the experience of the Huguenots in France and in exile, which will be an ideal opportunity for any French people living locally to hear their native tongue or for any students of French - A level or undergraduate level - who want to absorb a bit of French history at the start of the new academic year. 

“Surnames are one of the enduring legacies of the Huguenots and on Saturday afternoon, local genealogist Brian Mitchell and Vivien Costello will give a talk on Irish Huguenot research sources and tracing 17th century plantation ancestors in the Walled City. John Bryson will show who lived where in the early walled city and Vivien Costello will trace the career of Derry’s own Huguenot family, the Lavies.”  

The 5th International Huguenot Congress opens on Thursday 02 September 2010. For further information visit: http://arts.ulster.ac.uk/huguenot2010/ or contact Dr Jane McKee: 02871375245 email: rj.mckee@ulster.ac.uk.

 

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