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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall

Castle Crine

Castle Crine
Castle Crine
Photo: Stan Stewart

The founder of this branch of the Butlers in Clare was William of Rossroe, High Sheriff in 1703 and 1712. In contemporary documents he is described as cousin-german to Sir Toby Butler(103), but whether their relationship was paternal or maternal is a question upon which different views have been expressed. The Castle Crine family tradition is thus stated by Henry in a letter written in 1841 to his sisters Mrs. Staveley:- “His (i.e. William of Rossroe’s) father was Thomas Roe Butler, descended, as I have heard, from Sir Richard Butler, youngest son of Pierce Butler, Earl of Ossory and Ormonde who married lady Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of the 8th Earl of Kildare.”[104]

Sir Richard Butler above mentioned was the 1st Viscount Mountgarret (cr. 1550). The late Miss Henrietta Butler of Castle Crine told the present writer that Thomas Butler of Castle Crine (William of Rossroe’s son) sold in 1743 certain lands which he had inherited under the will of his grandfather Thomas dated 1671. Miss Butler regarded this as supporting the family tradition, but even if Thomas, the devisee, were the same person as Thomas of Castle Crine, this would not carry the matter any further unless the testator gave some clue to his own antecendents. Unfortunately I did not take the opportunity of perusing the will at the time, and a recent inspection of the Castle Crine MSS did not reveal its whereabouts. I am unable therefore to say whether the will threw any light on the question of identity. There are however, certain circumstances which, it is submitted, render it improbable that Thomas of Castle Crine was grandson of the testator of 1671. In the first place Henry Butler, elder brother of Thomas of Castle Crine, did not take his degree at Oxford until cir. 1715;[105] and Thomas himself did not marry until 1722. These dates, taken in conjunction, make it unlikely that Thomas was born as early as 1671. Moreover, an examination of recorded Butler wills discloses that the only one of the year 1671 is that of Thomas Butler of Derryclooney, Co. Tipperary, dated 1 April 1671 and proved at Cashel 10 July 1671. The Butlers of Derryclooney had property in Co. Clare, some of which was mortgaged to William Butler of Rossroe and eventually passed into the ownership of the family. This would account for the inclusion of a Derry Clooney will among the Castle Crine muniments, and its discovery among them by some genealogically minded member of the family of a later generation might have led him to conclude that it was a will of one of his on ancestors. A further ground for rejecting the Castle Crine tradition is that if the relationship between William Butler of Rossroe and Sir Toby was maternal, William’s mother would have been a daughter of James Butler of Boytonrath (executed 1653). But so far as is known, he had only two daughters viz Elizabeth (or Ellice) who married Redmond Magrath of Thurlesbegg [106] at Cashel on 17 October 1654, and Mary who died unmarried on 10 January 1684.

Neither Mr. Blake Butler nor the writer has been able to discover any independent evidence in support of a Mountgarret ancestry for the Butlers of Castle Crine; but as family tradition should not be lightly disregarded, a careful study was made of the of the 1st Lord Mountgarret (who married four times and had seven sons) from which it appeared that the only possible descent from that house for a Thomas Butler dying cir. 1671, would be from the 1st Viscount’s fifth son, James Butler of Kenlis als. Kells, Co. Kilkenny, and on this premise a tentative pedigree was compiled. The writer lent a note book containing that pedigree to a friend who being unaware of its hypothetical basis, incorporated it in a pedigree of the Castle Crine family which he later sent to the Genealogical Office, Dublin. I mention this lest it might be thought at some future date that this pedigree affords independent corroboration of the Castle Crine tradition, which it does not.

Let us now consider the points in favour of the alternative view that the relationship of William Rossroe and Sir Toby was on the paternal side. In the first place, William and Sir Toby were indisputably cousins-german; and where two first cousins have the same surname the presumption, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, is that their fathers were brothers. In the present case the presumption is strengthened by the fact that William’s father was Thomas Butler, and that Sir Toby Butler had a paternal uncle of the same name. The recent discovery by Mr. Blake Butler of a Pedigree by Lodge [107] reinforces this still further. According to this pedigree Thomas Butler, uncle of Sir Toby, married a daughter of Sir Philip Perceval, ancestor of the Earls of Egmont. Perceval, who is described in Burke’s Peerage as a “very distinguished stateman” and by some Irish writers in less flattering terms, was appointed in 1642 to the lucrative post of Commissary General to the Army in Ireland, and acquired an estate of over 100,000 acres in Munster “by judicious use of his opportunities as Commissioner for land titles and of his interest at court.”[108] Among other offices held by this pluralist was that of King’s Feodary in Tipperary, the Palatine rights of which had been unjustly taken from the 11th Earl of Oromonde by James I. Now there is a family tradition that William Butler of Rossroe was a Judge Palatine of Co. Tipperary. This tradition is borne out by a letter to William Butler dated 31 January 1716 in which the writer asks for information “on behalf of a very worthy, honest gentleman Captain Lewis Jones, who has an estate in your County of Tipperary. The records of your Palatinate I am informed are in your custody and power.”[109] In those days public offices were usually procured through family interest, so William Butler’s judgeship fits in very well with his being a relative of the influential Percevals. While then in the absence of the will of 1671 it cannot be said that the ancestry of the Castle Crine family has been conclusively proved, all the available evidence, both positive and negative, goes to show that the relationship of William Rossroe and Sir Toby Butler was on their fathers’ side. It appears therefore to the present writer that the Butlers of Castle Crine are of the same stock paternally as the Doon, Bunnahow and Ballyline families and derive their descent from the Barons of Dunboyne, not from the Viscounts Mountgarret.

So much for William of Rossroe’s ancestry. As for himself, he was bred to the law as an Attorney of the Common Pleas, and appears to have been possessed of considerable means, which he invested in mortgages and landed property in Co. Clare and Limerick City, of which he was Mayor in 1712. In some instances transactions which originated in a mortgage culminated in his purchasing the right of redemption and buying out the former owner. Among his purchases were parts of the forfeited estates of the 3rd Viscount Clare which he acquired from the Burton, Westby, McDonnell syndicate.[110] Although, or perhaps because he was a lawyer, William Butler was averse to litigation, but on occasion was unable to avoid it, as witness his dealings with William and Patrick Lysaght, of which mention is made in Dr. E. MacLysaght’s Study of Transplanted Family in the 17th Century. A detailed account of these transactions is given in a rental of the Castle Crine estate compiled in 1720, from which it appears that William Butler made several payments to the Lysaghts in respect of the same land, thus bearing out Dr. MacLysaght’s surmise that his ancestors must have been remarkably plausible. These transactions took place between 1698-1709, but that was not the end: for as late as 24 February 1729 we find a Notice in Pue’s Occurance in which Patrick Lysaght (William’s son) claimed the very same lands from the Butlers. The Lysaghts were good stayers.

The rental of 1720 is an interesting and informative record. It sets out the title to every one of the 73 denominations of land comprising the Castle Crine estate, and dutys paid by the tenants throw light on the prices of agricultural produce at the time. Thus a lease of 24 Aug. 1701 imposes a duty of 17/6 payable at Michaelmas, and provides that “the lessor is at his election to have said 17/6 paid in cash or in lieu thereof one fat hogg, one fat mutton, and one fat couple of capons.” The actual rental of the estate in 1720 was over £1,000; but the true setting value was computed to be £1,400-1,500, which, having regard to money values then ruling, was a very handsome rent roll.

William Butler Rossroe married [111] a sister of Admiral Sir Robert Holmes, a colourful personage in the days of Charles II, who merits a passing reference. He entered the Royal Navy under Prince Rupert, but after the execution of Charles I followed the fortunes of James, Duke of York, and became a soldier under the Great Turenne. Returning to England at the Restoration, Holmes rejoined the Navy in which he subsequently held high commands. Knighted in 1666, he sat in the House of Commons as M.P. for Winchester, and at the time of his death was Governor of the Isle of Wight. Sir Robert Holmes is buried in Yarmouth Parish Church in that island beneath a singular monument. The figure surmounting it was originally sculptured as a statue of Louis XIV; but the vessel in which it was carried was captured within Admiral Holmes’ jurisdiction, and he decided to have it adapted for his own sepulchre. He therefore removed from the classically costumed figure the head of “le Grand Monarque” and had it replaced by a bust of himself.[112]

William Butler, who died in 1720, was succeeded in Rossroe by his eldest son Henry. He married in 1729 Margaret Monck,[113] sister of Henry Stanley Monck “of St. Stephen’s Green, near the city of Dublin”, Surveyor-General of the Customs. The only issue of this marriage, Henry Butler, was a minor at his father’s death, so he was made a ward in Chancery, John Lysaght (afterwards the 1st Lord Lisle)[114] and James Sexton, Attorney-at-law, being appointed guardians. Henry Butler, who was a fellow-officer and intimate friend of Cornet Butler of Millbrooke [115] greatly impaired his paternal estate by extravagance. But apart from this prodigal Light Dragoon, the descendants of William Rossroe seem to have inherited his business instincts. These attributes are reflected in the Castle Crine archives, which are almost wholly concerned with estate management, in which they took an active interest to the mutual benefit of their tenants and themselves. Being all of them members of the dominant Church they did not suffer under the disabilities of the Penal laws. Neither did they support lost causes, or waster their substance on Parliamentary contests. As a result, the story of the Castle Crine branch during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is one of uninterrupted stability, but - perhaps for that reason - it does not afford much material for the family chronicler, and may be briefly narrated.

Henry the Dragoon died unmarried in 1791, when his depleted estate devolved upon his nephew William Butler of Castle Crine, whose father Thomas [116] was second son of William of Rossroe, from whom he inherited considerable property including Castle Crine. William Butler of Castle Crine [117] had two sons, the younger of whom - Eyre Edward - was a cotton planter in “Rio Demaray” where according to family tradition he married a Dutch lady from those parts. His elder brother James of Castle Crine died in 1820 [118] and was succeeded by his son Henry [119] who was a Deputy Lieutenant for Co. Clare, as was also the latter’s son and heir James.[120] On the death of the last mentioned in 1857 the estates devolved upon his three daughters as co-heiresses, of whom only one married viz Sophia Mary, wife of the 5th Lord Clarina. Lady Clarina had no male issue, and on the marriage of her eldest daughter the Hon. Sophia (Zoë) Butler Massey to the Hon. Eric Henderson [121] the Castle Crine estates were settled upon her, subject to the life interests of her mother and aunts. On the death in 1938 of Miss Anna Butler the last survivor, Mrs. Butler-Henderson (who with her husband assumed the name of Butler in addition to that of Henderson) succeeded to Castle Crine. Her daughter, Mrs. Wordsworth resided there until 1951, when the place was sold. The latter’s husband, Col. J.G. Wordsworth, is a descendant of the poet.


Bunnahow; Walterstown;
Kilcommon and Ballyline; Doonbeg


Dunboyne; Cregg;
Derryclooney; Other Butler Grantees