Rathkeale, Co Limerick

An Augustinian priory was founded in the town of Rathkeale in 1289. The Priory and the town's position on the River Deel meant that the town was an important centre during the middle ages.

Rathkeale Church of Ireland

Lewis Topographical Directory of Ireland 1837 records "The town is situated on the mail road from Limerick to Tralee, on both sides of the river Deel; in population it is second only to Limerick in the county; it consists principally of a single street, a mile in length, with smaller streets and lanes branching from it. The river passes through the middle of the main street, and is crossed by a bridge now in a dilapidated and dangerous state. There are several large and handsome houses, most of which are uninhabited, and a few good shops; but the town in general presents a poor and mean appearance: a number of Palatines settled in the town and neighbourhood, whose neat cottages and farm-steads form a striking contrast to most of the adjacent dwellings.....The flour-mill at Castle Matras has been fitted up by the proprietor, J. Southwell Brown, Esq., in the most complete manner and with the most improved machinery, which is propelled by the current of the river Deel: the mill can grind 20,000 barrels of wheat annually, and gives employment to 100 persons.....Castle Matras, or Matrix, also of J. Southwell Brown, Esq. This castle, which stands about a mile from the town, was erected in the reign of Elizabeth, and is a square castellated building, 90 feet high; it was besieged by Cromwell, but the only traces of injury it retains are the marks of a few cannon shot. It stands on a prominent situation on the banks of the Deel, forming a picturesque object in the landscape, and commanding extensive views of the surrounding country, including the Shannon, and the Clare and Tipperary mountains; it has lately been put into a state of complete repair, in doing which due attention was paid to preserve its original character by its proprietor, who proposes to make it his permanent residence..... "

Castle Matrix 2008

In October 1688 France invaded the Palitinate in Germany and controlled it for a period. The wars resuted in the destruction forests and vineyards, and the rich corn plains on the banks of the Rhine. Many cities, market towns and villages were burnt to the ground, including Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms and Speyer, and thousands of Lutherans driven by destruction and persecution fled the country. A large number fled into the British camp of the Allied Army.

In 1709 England's reigning monarch, Queen Anne, a staunch Protestant, sent a fleet to Rotterdam and brought about 11, 000 of the refugees to London. 2,000 of them turned out to be Roman Catholics and these were immediately sent back to the Palitinate. The refugees were not welcome in England where there was much stress at the time, and pamphlets were published stating that there was no point in paying some £300,000 "for a crowd of blackguards who could have lived happily in their own land had not the laziness of their disposition and the report of our own generosity drawn them out of it. As to the pretence to come hither purely for the exercise of their religion, there was nothing in it, though some were induced to relieve them on account of their pretended persecution." The question of disposal of the Palatines became a major political issue and the Government finally decided to ship several thousand of them to the British settlements in North America and the remainder to Ireland.

The case of the Palatines was raised in the Irish Parliament and in August 1709 the Irish House of Commons unanimously adopted a resolution "That it is the opinion of this House that Her Majesty, by sending over a proportion of Protestant Palatines into this Kingdom, has very much consulted the strengthening and securing Protestant interest in Ireland. That it will very much contribute to the security of this Kingdom that the said Protestant Palatines be encouraged and settled therein". At this time the material condition of the masses of people in Ireland was squalid, and poverty was widespread. A series of laws in this decade aggravated their misery and demoralisation and yet the Government did not feel secure. An extra justification of the expense of bringing the Palatines to Ireland was that it was desirable "as a help against a French invasion or a native rising".

The Irish Government provided a subsidy of 25,000 pounds for the scheme which today would mean about half a million pounds, and in response to the Government's invitation a number of Irish landlords agreed to settle the newcomers on their estates. During the Autumn of 1709, 871 families or 3073 people altogether landed in Dublin where the Lord Mayor issued a proclamation regarding them. They were sent to the estates arranged for them in Kerry and in other places around the country, but it was on the estate of Sir Thomas Southwell in the district of Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, that the most of the colony settled. However, more than half of these 3000 odd people, dissatisfied with conditions in Ireland, left for America after a few years. In 1711 the Irish House of Lords complained of "The load of debt which the bringing over of useless and indigent Palatines had brought".

Each Palatine man, woman and child received eight acres of land at a nominal rent of five shillings per acre and at leases of three lives. Each family was also allowed forty shillings a year for seven years to buy stock and utensils. At the same time the Irish tenants were paying rents of thirty five shillings per acre. Later the Government agreed to pay the Palatines' rent for twenty years and to present each household with a Queen Anne musket for it's protection. The men joined a local Yeomanry under the title "True Blues" or "German Fusiliers", but these protective measures were quite unnecessary as they were not interfered with by the native Irish.

The Pipers were amongst the many refugees from the German Pfalz who settled in Ireland in 1709. The original family surname was Pfeifer and they were German-speaking Palatines who came to Lord Southwell's Estate at Rathkaele in County Limerick and then onto Rathkeale and some to Adare. The name became Anglicised to Piper and spread as the Irish migrated in the mid 1800s.

Hans Peter Piper b. 1652 d. 1715/1720 - Peter Pfeifer (althought listed as George in the Board of Trade Lists), age 57, sons 19, 5, Lutheran, in the 3rd party of Palatines at St. Catherines, June 2, 1709. Peter Fifer listed on 07/13/1715 as a Palatine head in Ireland.

The colonisation was not in the beginning successful, nor in fact did it suceed in spreading the Protestant faith, and many times the existence of the Palatines seemed doomed. the commissioners appointed to look after their interests recommended that they should have a Minister to read the liturgy of the Church to them in their own language, and also an Agent who understood their language to ensure that they were not misused by their landlords or their Irish neighbours. Apart from the Government grants, they received assistance from Lord Southwell, as will be seen from the following petition by him to the Lord Lieutenant in 1716 requesting the reimbursement of what it cost him to start the colony:

The Humble Petition of Sir Thomas Southwell humbly showeth: That the said Sir Thomas Southwell, having set down 130 German Protestant families on his estate in County Limerick in or about Michaelmas 1712, and for their encouragement to settle and be a security to the Protestant interest in the country, he (the said Sir Thomas Southwell) set them his lands at almost one half of what it was worth, and gave them timber also to build their houses to a very great value; and for their further encouragement did from time to time supply them with cash and other necessities. That all these families are since well settled and follow the raising of Hemp and Flax and have a good stock which the said Sir Thomas Southwell (though very unwillingly) must seize upon to reimburse him for his great expense, unless His Majesty will be graciously please to repay Sir Thomas.Only about 10 of the original 1709 Palatine settlers on his esate remained when he introduced the new 130 families. They settled in Court Matrix, Kiliheen. Ballingarne/Ballygrane, and Pallas(kenry).

The Palatines, under the benevolence shown to them, settled down comfortably in their new environment. The majority were settled in the Rathkeale, Kilfinane and later Adare districts of Co. Limerick while smaller groups went to the Blennerhassett property in Castle Island, Co. Kerry, and Six Mile Bridge in Co. Clare. A few families settled in the counties of Carlow, Wexford and Tipperary but have almost disappeared. The vast majority of them were farmers and vineyards - men by trade and their numbers included also carpenters, smiths, wheelwrights, bakers, masons, shoemakers, weavers, coopers, schoolmasters, tailors, herdsmen, butchers.

John Wesley visited them several times between 1756 and 1789, as the following entries in his journal show: In 1758 he noted 110 Palatine families. Court Matrix had 20 families, Kiliheen had 20 families. Ballingarne/Ballygrane had 50 families, and Pallas(kenry) had 20 families. -

16 June, 1756. In the afternoon I rode to Ballingarrane, a town (townland) of Palatines who came over in Queen Anne's time. They retain much of the temper and manners of their own country, having no resemblance to those among whom they live. I found much life among this plain, artless, serious people.

25 June, 1758. I rode over to Court Matrix, a colony of Germans, whose parents came out of the Palatinate about fifty years ago. 20 families of them settled here, 20 more at Killiheen, a mile off, 50 at Ballingarrane, about two miles eastward, and 20 at Pallas, four miles further. Each family had a few acres of ground, on which they built as many little houses. They are since considerably increased in number of souls, though decreased in number of families. Having no minister, they were become eminent for drunkenness, cursing swearing, and an utter neglect for religion... An oath is now rarely among them or a drunkard seen in their borders. 2Castle Matrix is built in the form of a square, in the middle of which they have placed a pretty large preaching house; but it would not contain one half of the congregation, so I stood in a large yard.

9 July, 1761. I rode over to Killiheen, a German settlement near 20 miles south (?) (west) of Limerick. It rained all the way; but the earnestness of the people made us quite forget it. In the evening I preached at another colony of Germans at Ballingarrane. The third is at Courtmatrix, a mile from Killiheen. I suppose three such towns (townlands) are scarce to be found again in England or Ireland. There is no cursing or swearing, no Sabbath - breaking, no drunkenness, no alehouse in any of them.

16 July, 1760. I rode to Newmarket, which was another German settlement. But the poor settlers, with all their diligence and frugality, could not procure even the coarsest food to eat and the meanest raiment to put on, under their merciless landlords, so that most of these as well as those at Ballingarrane, have been forced to seek bread in other places, some of them in distant parts of Ireland, but the greater part in America.

4 June, 1762. I preached at noon in Ballingarrane to a large congregation, chiefly Palatines. These have quite a different look from the natives of the country, as well as a different temper. They are a serious thinking people, and their diligence turns all their land into a garden.

Today, there is still a small Palatine presence around Rathkeale, County Limerick. There is an Irish Palatine Association in Rathkeale, founded in 1989. Some years after the establishment of the Association, a new Heritage Centre was opened which now houses a great amount of memorabilia and artefacts associated with Palatine way of life. A computerised database is also available which will enable descendants of the first settlers trace their roots quickly and easily.

Castle Matrix was the home of Sir Thomas Southwell who was a key figure in bringing Palatine refugees to Ireland, settling 100 families on his estate. In the early 1800s the castle was being used to manufacture linen and a flour mill was added. In the 1930s, the castle was abandoned and became a ruin with wild plants and trees growing within the old stone walls. However Castle Matrix has now been restored as a family home, and it is opened to visitors. Colonel Sean O'Driscoll aquired the castle in 1961, and spent the last thirty years of his life restoring the castle as much as possible to its mediaeval configuration.

Killeheen is a townland in the parish, which is where most of the Pipers lived. In the early 18th century, 27 Palatine families lived and farmed along Killeheen Lane, and their cattle grazed on common land. The smallholdings have gradually combined into more economic units, but some of the early buildings survive. John Teskey still farms here, continuing an unbroken family tradition that goes back almost 300 years.

The Pipers appear to have gone to Adare. Sometime about 1777-78, Lord Dunraven's estate at Adare was in need of tenants, and many of the Palatines went there, forming a new Protestant settlement, which if inferior to the settlements from a historical standpoint, was superior to them in numbers and in material progress.When land was taken in a new section, it might be inferred that an old homestead was abandoned by the family. On the contrary, it nearly always remained in possession of the father, passing at his death to one of his younger sons. In this way it continued in possession of the family for generations. Records show new colonies founded around 1760 by Southwell tenants in 1760 at Adare and Castle Oliver. This move came about when old leases expired and rents were increased from 5 shillings to 30 shillings per acre.

The Adare colony was formed by Col. Bassett ariound 1750 with 11 or 12 familes from the Southwell estate. By 1808 there were 46 families on the Quinn estate in Adare. The other colony that evolved at this time was Castle Oliver with 66 Protestant familes (777 individuals) brought from Rathkeale in 1760s. Pipers are absent from records on Castle Oliver, so my assumption was that they did not go there. I am trying to find the parents of my wife's ancestor, John Piper/Pyper who died on 08 Aug 1866 and was burried in Greely, Ontario, Canada. His headstone indicates he was born in Co. Limerick. on 31 Oct 1975. His wife is Dorothea Delmage, of Croom, Co. Limerick, Ireland. 2014 on Ancestry

An examination of the parish registers shows that birth and marriage entries for Pipers came to an abrupt halt in Rathkeale in 1822/23. An web entry by Terry Piper says that his line from a Richard Piper is picked up in Kilscannell in 1826 and for the next 50 years their major vital records were logged there and in Adare (including Richard's own marriage and the births of his first 2 children). Rathkeale just faded from view. He knows (chiefly from family bible information) that Piper children were born in Adare from as early as 1799 and emigrant reports from the former 'colonies' confirm that this is so.

My very tentative working hypothesis, is that my ancestor Charles Piper was born around 1790, and was the son of Charles Piper above, born 1769 at Rathkeale.

Piper Rathkeale web site

Another Piper Rathkeale website