Researching an Irish family called Switzer I came across the ‘poor Palatines.’ In 1708 the bitterly cold winter in the Rhineland, oppressive taxes and ruined vineyards drove the Lutheran people of the Palatinate to mass exodus. Many were wncouraged to go to Britain – Queen Anne believed that German protestants would be of great political value and offered them support. They were also seen as a valuable group to settle in the British colonies of Northern America.
Around three thousand of these refugees were dispatched to Ireland to reinforce the Protestant faith. However, their settlement was not wholly successful and in the following years many left Ireland for England, North America or to return to Germany.
Sir Thomas Southwell was one of the few Irish landlords who successfully managed to persuade their allotment of Palatine immigrants to remain in rural Ireland. He championed the Palatines to secure government support for the settlement venture and had helped them at considerable personal expense, being reimbursed only just before his death in 1720. In 1711, Southwell had retained only 10 families but by 1714 he had settled about 130 families on his lands, and the region around lands has still the largest concentration of Irish Palatine residents to this day in Killeheen, Ballington, and Courtmatrix.
There are a number of names in Ireland that originate in the Palatine settlers – they include Fizelle, Bethel, Binner and Switzer. Switzer is a name associated with one of the great 19th century Dublin department stores – Switzers in Grafton Street.