In 16th century France the population was predominately Catholic, but with the coming of the Reformation and French reformers such as John Calvin (Jean Cauvin, 1509-1564) protestantism started to spread. The protestants of France became known as Huguenots. Though only about 10% of the French population became Protestant this caused great unrest and bitter religious wars between 1559 and 1598. In 1572 thousands of Huguenots were killed in the St. Batholomew's Day Massacre in Paris. In 1598 King Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed Protestant freedoms and for a time the Huguenots of France enjoyed the religious and civil freedoms promised them.
Unfortunately the Roman Catholic church did all it could to undermine the Edict of 1598 and in 1685, King Henry IV's Catholic grandson, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and declared all citizens of France to be Catholic. This forced the Huguenots to either practice their faith in secret or to flee to other Protestant countries. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people fled France in the 1680s. The word refugee first came into the English language from this time.
Small numbers of refugees came to Ireland, mainly via England, from 1620 to 1641, and again with Cromwell in 1649, but it was in 1685, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed them toleration, that the main body of Huguenots began to arrive, mostly from the countryside around the city of La Rochelle in the modern region of Poitou-Charente.
After the end of the Williamite wars, large Huguenot settlements were established in Portarlington, Youghal, Cork, Dublin, Waterford and Lisburn, where they became celebrated for their expertise in textiles, specialising in weaving, lace-making, and glove-making. In the course of time, they became thoroughly absorbed into Irish society through intermarriage, and names such as Boucicault, Maturin, Le Fanu and Trench are still familiar in Ireland today.