County of Limerick

The Wesleyan movement in Ireland and America were directly influenced by the County Limerick in Ireland.  The county is made up of four key settlements on the various land holdings of the Lord Thomas Southwell.  Court-Matrix, Killiheen, Ballingrane and Pallas are the principal villages of transplanted German citizens of the Palatine region.

From the 13th to 17 century, the ancient Palatine region of the Rhine of Germany was a beautiful state, well-timbered with beautiful vineyards and fertile plains growing corn.  The self-governed land known for its striking castles- evidence of its abundant prosperity, was a region largely successful due to its Protestant influences, which allowed the Bible to be read in the local language.  These were the Lutheran towns of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms and Speyer.  This all came to an abrupt end in 1709 when the King of France, King Louis XIV, became attracted to the region’s wealth and decided to take for himself.  The cities of the Palatine were leveled, forcing the citizens of this beautiful land to escape to the forest where they were hunted down like wild animals, captured, stripped naked and left to die in the harsh German winter.

Roughly 10,000 of the Palatines escaped to Rotterdam, Holland.  Upon hearing of their trials, Queen Anne of England sent for them to be brought by ship to Great Britain.  The entire group set up camp in the streets of Camberwell and Blackheath commons of south London.  Discovering that nearly 3,000 of the immigrants were Catholic, the Protestant Queen immediately sent them back to Germany to die.  The remaining 7,000 were allowed to live outdoors in not much more than a lean-to, surviving by their own industrious creativity as well as the kindness and compassion of the British citizens.

Nearly 3,000 of the Palatines left for America when offered free land by a Mohawk Indian Chief visiting London at the time. Of the remaining 4,000, some eventually felt welcomed enough to make a home in England.  Others moved on, finding acceptance in the County Kerry, Ireland.  The remaining 1000 landed on the estate of Lord Southwell, in County Limerick, Ireland.

Lord Thomas Southwell is a generous man, inviting the remaining German families to settle on his 4,800 acre estate at half value rent, with free timber to build houses in Rathkeale of the County Limerick.  He is the 2nd Baron Southwell, his family settling in the County Limerick in the early 17th Century.  His settlement became the four key hamlets mentioned above.

Lord Southwell’s plan is simple; the displaced Palatines would lease the land at 5 shillings per acre for three lives.(1)  Each family is given 8 acres and a credit account of 40 shillings per year for 7 years to procure needed items of stock and farming tools.

The diligent and frugal Germans quickly set up successful farms of hemp and flax.  (Not all of the German settlers were originally farmers, their initial farming efforts were an attempt at survival).  In time, those who were more inclined to other industries abandoned their farms and set up vineyards or became men of the trades, carpenters, masons, shoemakers, butchers, weavers, schoolmasters and herdsman.  Approaching the flourishing hills, one is quick to notice that somewhere along the way; traditional thorny hedges that marked the edges of farms have been upstaged by lime stone walls neatly crafted by talented masons, accented with vibrant hedge materials and stately hardwood trees.

Despite the vast improvements to the value of Lord Southwell’s holdings, the 50 years lease comes to an end, with it- a rise in the rents to normal levels.  The fear of the inescapable cost of living increase easily spreads among the German citizens, prompting the rumor that many will be leaving for America. Many do, especially one of which is a Wesleyan preacher, Philip Embury.

(1) 50 years (lease expiring in 1759)

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