From the Banks of the Rhine to the Banks of the Shannon

Were any of your ancestors Irish Palatines? In this letter, a special group of migrants will be discussed, those who left the land of the River Rhine to settle the land of the River Shannon.

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From the Banks of the Rhine to the Banks of the Shannon

We have a lot of readers whose ancestors ARRIVED in Ireland before they emigrated again a few generations later. I’m often asked questions about when an ancestor may have arrived in Ireland – and the reasons that caused their family to leave again.

Just last week, I received the following from Corey Shier:

“My Name is Corey Shier and I live in San Bernardino County, California, USA.  The following is from a “Family History Letter” I received from my parents.

My Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Jacob Shier Jr was born at Court-Matress, Limerick County, Ireland in 1775 and later moved to the town of Adare. He then moved to Brock Township, Ontario, Canada with his wife, Anne Sparling, and all his family in 1833. His Great Grandfather was born in Germany and I assume that he, at some point in time, moved from Germany to Ireland.  When and from where to where I do not know as we don’t have any information on any of them.

I would like to know any information that you may have on my family or the town of Adare.  How would I be able to locate any remaining Shier Family that would still be there? Best Regards, Corey W Shier”

First of all, let’s have a look at where to find the Shiers in Ireland. For this, we’ll have a look at a page that shows us all the Shier births mapped in Ireland from 1865 and 1913:

Click here to see where you can find this name in Ireland in the 19th century. How about your own surnames? If you want to see where any of the Irish surnames in your family came from – you can start by clicking here.

(Note: We have just used the website of John Grenham to discover the location of your Irish surnames. You can use John’s site for free for a limited number of times each day – but continuous access is free to our Green Room members.)

Now, back to Corey’s questions. He assumes that his Shier ancestors moved from Germany to Ireland at some point – but when? Well, this is one of those occasions that we can be quite accurate. The Shier family arrived in Ireland in the Autumn of 1709.

The Irish Palatines: From the Banks of the Rhine to the Banks of the Shannon.

The Rhineland Palatinate was found in the southwest of Germany on the borders with France. Over the course of the 17th century, a population of German Protestant farmers and winegrowers established themselves in the area. However, it was a volatile area in which to live by the early 18th century. The Roman Catholic armies of France frequently used the area as a battlefield, and felt justified in burning the crops of these Protestant natives and generally making their lives miserable. This, combined with a series of bad harvests, led a group of about 13,000 “Palatines” to head up the River Rhine to Amsterdam, and seek refuge in countries where they could freely practice their Protestant faith and simple way of life.

The Banks of the Shannon

About 3,000 of these refugees further travelled to the colonies of New York and the Carolinas – but the group also caught the attention of a number of landlords in Ireland who were looking to increase the population of Protestant settlers on their land. And so, another 3,000 of the refugees made their way to a number of Irish estates across Counties Carlow, Tipperary, Wexford, Kerry and Limerick in the early 1700s.

Among this group were the Shier family, who settled in Castlematrix – near the village of Rathkeale – in County Limerick. The local landlord was Sir Thomas Southwell, and he settled about 300 of these families on his estate. However, many of these Irish-settled Palatine families did not settle at all – many decided that the country was not for them – and within months, the majority had returned to England and Germany.

Irish Palatine Centre, Rathkeale

The most successful colony was that in County Limerick. By 1720, the Palatines across Ireland consisted of about 180 families, and over 100 of these were in Limerick. Throughout the rest of the 18th century, the families intermarried among themselves and with other Protestant settlers – establishing further settlements in the area. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, visited the area many times – and many families converted to Methodism under his influence by the 1700s.

However, by those same late 1700s, many of their lease agreements had expired – and the local families were subject to untenable rent increases (known at the time as “rent racking”). This same “rent racking” caused many of the Ulster Scots families of the north of Ireland to head to the Colonies of North America to try their luck at the time. This factor, combined with weather-related crop failures and cholera outbreaks – encouraged a number of Palatine families to try their luck in the newly-established lands and townships of north America. And so, Corey’s Shier family arrived in the new township of Brock in Ontario in the mid 1830s.

However, many Palatine families stayed in the area – and remain to this day. You can still find plenty of the following surnames:

Shier, Delmege, Modler, Switzer, Kiel, Teskey, Lodwick, Baker and Young 

in the area – including many more Palatine names.

If you look at the census of Ireland by 1901, you can still see the Shier name well-established in the area:

Click here to see the Shier families in Limerick in 1901.

So, Corey, I hope you have a chance to visit the lovely part of Ireland around the villages of Adare and Rathkeale – and enjoy the places and sights of your ancestors. And, maybe even meet a few of your cousins along the way!

How about you – do you have any Irish Palatine names in your family tree?

That’s it for this week. Do feel free to leave a comment below to share your Irish surnames and any stories you might have from your Irish family tree – or just to say hello!

Slán for this week, Mike and Carina.

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