German Palatinate Names

Robert E. Matheson
Chapter IV | Start of chapter

In the Eighteenth Century there was a German migration into Ireland from the Palatinate of the Rhine. In 1709 a fleet was sent to Rotterdam by Queen Anne, which brought over about 7,000 of these refugees to England. About 3,000 were sent to North America, where they settled in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The remainder, except a few families which remained in England, came over to Ireland, and settled principally in the County of Limerick. They were allowed eight acres of land for each man, woman, and child, at 5s. an acre, and the Government engaged to pay their rent for twenty years. They were an industrious and frugal race, but their numbers were subsequently largely reduced by emigration to America, and at the present day but few, comparatively, remain.

Ferrar, the historian of Limerick, describes thus this German Colony as it existed in 1780:—

“The Palatines preserve their language, but it is declining; they sleep between two beds; they appoint a burgomaster to whom they appeal in all disputes. They are industrious men, and have leases from the proprietor of the land at reasonable rents; they are, consequently, better fed and clothed than the generality of Irish peasants. Besides, their mode of husbandry and crops are better than those of their neighbours. They have by degrees left off their sour krout, and feed on potatoes, milk, butter, oaten and wheaten bread, some meat and fowls, of which they rear many. … The women are very industrious … Besides their domestic employments and the care of their children, they reap the corn, plough the ground, and assist the men in everything. In short the Palatines have benefited the county by increasing tillage, and are a laborious, independent people, who are mostly employed on their own small farms.”

Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall describe the “Palatines” in 1840 as “different in character, and distinct in habits from the people of the country.” They state:—“The elders of the family preserve in a great degree the language, customs, and religion of their old country; but the younger mingle and marry with their Irish neighbours.”

Dr. Mitchell has kindly furnished me with the following remarks regarding the present condition of this colony:—

“I find by personal inquiries made on the spot (May, 1893), that Palatines bearing the following surnames at the present time occupy farms in and round Court Matrix, Ballingran, and Killiheen:—Baker, Bovanizer, Bowen (Adam Bowen was one of my informants, interviewed on his own 8 (Irish) acre farm near Court Matrix), Doube (pronounced ‘Dobe’), Delmege (or ‘Delmage’—as they themselves pronounce it), Gilliard, Latchford, Ligier (pronounced ‘Leg-iar,’ with the ‘g’ hard), Millar, Lodwig, Modlar, Pyper, Reynard (pronounced ‘Reinart’); Ruttle, Shire, Stark, Switzer (Jacob Switzer was another of my informants, whom I interviewed on his own 24-acre farm at Court Matrix), Teskey.

“The above 18 names undoubtedly represent more than double that number of families in the localities specified above; several of them also occur at Adare. There are several families of the name ‘Switzer,’ several of the name ‘Delmege,’ and ‘Ruttle,’ and so on.

“When I got to Askeaton District, I found a Palatine name, ‘Ruttle,’ on a signboard (a very unusual circumstance). Generally, Palatine sons succeed their fathers on the same farms originally allotted to their ancestors in 1709. And however those may have fared who have since left Co. Limerick for America, the Palatines here at present are tenant farmers, as a rule, like the original settlers, many of the 8-acre lots having been consolidated into larger farms.

“At Court Matrix, I saw the house of the Rev. Mr. Doube—a Palatine Clergyman at present stationed in Co. Wicklow. When I got to Pallaskenry, I found along with some of the surnames already given, others, viz.:—Neazor, Heavenor, Smyth (spelled with a ‘y’ and originally ‘Schmidt’).

“The Christian names for males, Nehemiah, Christopher, Adam, Jacob, Jethro, Julius, Ebenezer, and for females—Dorothy, &c., are still of common occurrence.

“Differing originally in language (though even the oldest of the present generation know nothing of the German tongue, spoken or written), as well as in race and religion from the natives among whom they were planted, these Palatines still cling together like the members of a clan, and worship together. Most of them have a distinctly foreign type of features, and are strongly built, swarthy in complexion, dark-haired and brown-eyed. The comfortable houses built in 1709 are in ruins now. I traced, with Jacob Switzer’s aid, the original ‘Square’ of Court Matrix in the ruined walls still standing; I also traced in the very centre of this square the foundations of the little Meeting House in which John Wesley occasionally preached to them in the interval, 1750-1765. Modern houses stand there now, but not closely grouped together. They are all comfortable in appearance, some thatched, some slated, some of one storey, others of two. Nearly all have a neat little flower garden in front, and very many have an orchard beside, or immediately behind the house. There is all the appearance of thrift and industry among them.”