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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall

Bunnahow; Walterstown; Kilcommon and Ballyline; Doonbeg

We now revert to Peter Butler, younger son of James of Doon and nephew of Sir Toby.[68] Peter, to whom his father made over Bunnahow and other lands, was guardian of Cornet Butler during his minority and carefully husbanded his nephew’s estate. He was equally skilful in the management of his own patrimony, which he largely increased. Under the Penal laws Catholics could not legally hold a greater interest in land than a 31 years lease at two-thirds of the full annual value, and the first “Protestant Discoverer” who could show that freehold land was held in trust for a Papist or let to one at an under-value, was entitled to a decree in the lands in his own favour. As Peter Butler remained a Catholic throughout his life, he was much plagued by that vile tribe who made several attempts to deprive him of his property, though happily without success.[69]

As his eldest son Peter, a Cornet in the 1st Regiment of Horse, pre–deceased him, the Bunnahow estate was inherited by the second son William, known as “Billy the Farmer”.[70] That the nickname was apt is indicated by the Census Returns for Clare, 1821, where the enumerator remarks. “Mr Butler holds many farms in different parts of this County and Co. Galway, the greater part of which he stocks. I should suppose at least about 5,000 acres, but it is impossible for me to give an accurate account of them.[71] This estimate was exclusive of the tenanted land. William Butler lived in the style of an opulent country gentleman, keeping his own pack of hounds [72] and when the Penal Code was relaxed he was one of the first of his faith to be a grand juror for Co. Clare. He was a personal friend of the Liberator, and was for many years Chairman of the Clare Catholics in the movement for Emancipation, a movement, be it said, that had the support of many of the Protestant gentry of the county.[73] William I’s two elder sons predeceased him, and in the ordinary course the third son Walter (infra) would have inherited the estate. But under the terms of William’s will Bunnahow House and the larger part of the property was left to his youngest son William.

William Butler II of Bunnahow (known as “Liam Oge”) who thus succeeded in 1823, also took part in the Emancipation movement and as later as 1827 we find him moving a resolution calling for “complete, unequivocal and unqualified Emancipation”.[74] But at the eventful Clare election of the following year all Butlers including William, supported Vesey Fitzgerald against O’Connell. This does not, however, imply a recantation of principle, for Vesey Fitzgerald was himself a supporter of the Catholic claims, and there were other reasons which caused the Butlers to regard his candidature with more favour than his opponent’s. In those days, and indeed for long after, it was generally accepted that a County Member should not only be a large landowner, but that his property should lie within the county he represented in Parliament.[75] Fitzgerald possessed both of these qualifications, but the Liberator did not. Further, the Fitzgeralds were neighbours of the Butlers, and the families were intermarried.

William II, like his cousin James Blake Butler, was the target of attack by the Terry Alts, who committed several outrages on his property. In March 1831 a large party of them attacked Bunnahow House. William Butler and his eldest son were absent at the Assizes at the time, but his second son Robert, a lad of eighteen, returned the fire with effect, his mother reloading the guns for him [76] and drove off the attackers. Robert’s spirited conduct had a gratifying sequel, for the Lord Lieutenant (the Marquis of Anglesey) who was staying with the FitzGeralds of Carrigoran at the time, forthwith presented Robert Butler with a commission in the 41st Regiment of Foot “for the gallant defence of his father’s house when recently attacked.”[77] It was on this visit of Lord Anglesey to Carrigoran that the Terry Alts, by way of welcoming His Majesty’s representative, dug a grave in front of the house.[78]

Robert’s elder brother, William Butler III of Bunnahow, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin but left without taking a degree, owing to an exploit which cut short his academic career. A fellow-student laid him a wager that he would not kiss the Archbishop of Dublin’s daughter (Miss Whately) on her way out of the College Chapel after morning Service on the following Sunday. William took on the bet and won it, but the College authorities were not amused and the delinquent was rusticated.[79] Some years later he married Ellen Lambert of Castle Ellen, Co. Galway.[80] Her younger sister Isabella, was mother of Lord (better known as Sir Edward) Carson, leader of the Ulster Party in its opposition to Home Rule. William Butler III had two sons and two daughters. Lambert, the younger son, married the daughter of a wealthy mineowner in Australia.[81] Their daughter Mary was an ardent Gaelic Leaguer, and in her political outlook departed from the traditional loyalty of the Butlers to the Crown. Pious Orangemen will be shocked to learn that a cousin of “King” Carson should have christened Sinn Fein, but such was the case, for it was Mary Butler who suggested to Arthur Griffith that he should call his new movement by that name.[82]

William Butler IV of Bunnahow, the eldest son, served as High Sheriff at the age of twenty five but died two years later. He married Margaret MacNamara, who had an interesting strain of Butler blood through her mother, Margaret Galwey [83] a descendant of Richard Butler of Kilcash, the Confederate leader (supra).

When William Butler II died in 1871 at the patriarchal age of 87,[84] he was succeeded by his great-gransdson William Butler V of Bunnahow, who died unmarried in 1891 aet 27. Of his brothers and sisters only one (Isabella) married.[85] She was mother of the present writer, who represents the Bunnahow branch in the female line.

The founder of this branch was Walter Butler eldest surviving son of William I of Bunnahow, who left him about three thousand acres. He married his cousin Theresa Blake of Frenchfort (her mother was a daughter of Cornet Butler). His eldest son Michael succeeded, but as he died unmarried the property passed to the latter’s brother Nicholas.[86] On his death the Walterstown estate went to his eldest son Col. Walter Blake Butler [87] who assumed the name and arms of Creagh on his marriage with Clara, daughter and co-heiress of Cornelius Creagh of Dangan, Co. Clare.

Nicholas Butler’s youngest brother Anthony had a remarkable career. After eighteen years in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, in the course of which he saw service in the Indian Mutiny and the China War of 1860, Capt. Butler astonished his relatives by resigning from the Army in 1866 in order to become a Jesuit. Twelve years later he was consecrated a Bishop and appointed Vicar-Apostolic of British Guiana, where he died in 1901 after a successful episcopate of twenty-five years. The Soldier-Bishop was buried with full military honours in Brickdam Cathedral, Georgetown.[88]

Kilcommon and Ballyline
The most notable figure among the Butlers of Co. Clare was Sir Theobald Butler, patriot, lawyer and wit. Sir Toby (as he is usually called) was second son of James Butler of Boytonrath and Shranagollen. He was entered as a student of the Inner Temple on 9 September 1671 and admitted to the Kings Inn, Dublin, in Michaelmas Term 1678.[89] He quickly made his mark at the Bar and was appointed Solicitor-General by James II on his arrival in Ireland in 1689.[90] In the Parliament of that year Sir Toby sat for the borough of Ennis,[91] and later was made a Commissioner of the Revenue.[92] He was the draftsman on the Irish side of the ill-fated Treaty of Limerick, to which he was one of the signatories. When the first Popery Bill was introduced in 1703 in violation of that Treaty, Sir Theobald Butler on behalf of his co-religionists exposed its iniquity in a closely reasoned and moving speech at the Bar of the Irish House of Commons.[93] But his audience were in the first flush of Protestant Ascendancy and his arguments fell on deaf ears. Shortly before the passing of the Act, Sir Toby conveyed his estates to a Protestant friend, who honourably held them in trust for him. This and the opportune conversion of his eldest son James in 1714, enabled him to retain his patrimony and the greater part of the large estates he acquired from his professional gains, notwithstanding that he remained a Catholic until his death. Sir Toby was a jovial soul and noted wit, and numbered Dean Swift [94] among his friends. He married Margaret Roche, daughter of Dominick Roche,[95] created Lord Tarbert and Viscount Cahiravahilla by James II. Sir Toby died in Dublin in 1721.[96] His portrait in his robes of office formerly hung in the hall at Ballyline House, and his bust still surmounts his monument in St. James’ Churchyard, Dublin.

James Butler of Castlekeale, Co. Clare, his son and heir, married a daughter of the 7th Lord Cahir, while Sir Toby’s daughter, Frances, was wife of the 8th Baron.[97] After Sir Toby’s death his widow resided with her daughter Lady Cahir, and died at Rehill Castle near Clogheen in 1735. Her grandson James Butler migrated from Clare to Tipperary on succeeding his brother Theobald (who died unmarried) and took up his residence at Kilcommon adjoing Cahir Castle, and he continued to live there until his death. By his will (proved 12 May 1780) he appointed his intimate friends Lord Chief Justice Patterson as executor, and directed that he be buried in the Parish Church of Cahir with his second wife and that a monument be erected to his memory.[98]

James Butler’s eldest son Theobald who succeeded to both the Clare and Tipperary estates, resided in the latter county until his death in 1810.[99] But when his son Augustine (Austin) came of age, he decided to make his home in Clare. As the lease of Millbrooke, of which he was head landlord, had previously been determined, he made this the family seat. Augustine Butler was Colonel of the Clare Militia and a Deputy Lieutenant for the county. He was a keep sportsman and was the last winner of the Clare Gold Cup, which mysteriously disappeared from Ballyline House after his death.[100] A full length portrait of Col. Butler hung in the County Club at Ennis until its dissolution a few years ago. Augustine Butler married Kate Stacpoole [101] by whom he had an only son Theobald, who succeeded him. On the latter’s death in 1886 without male issue, estates were inherited by his two daughters as co-heiresses.

This branch of the family, which was settled in West Clare, descended from John Butler who accompanied his brother James Butler II of Boytonrath into Co. Clare. He held the lands of Clooneen als. Ballynoe and Momoylane, for which he is charged in the Subsidy Rolls of 1659 and 1666. John Butler was a legatee under the will of Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy of Gort (29 Jan, 1671). He had two sons, William and Pierce. The former had a fee-farm grant from the Earl of Thomond in 1712 of the lands of Annagh and Fintramore at £22. Pierce, who spent his early life in France, was subsequently man of business to William Butler of Rossroe, who describes him as “my kinsman Pierce Butler.” There are frequent references to Pierce in the Castle Crine papers. He later lived at Quilty where he inherited some property through his wife Mary O’Dwyer, known as “Maire Glé Geal” (clever, bright Mary) whom he married in 1714.[102] Their grandson James Butler of Doonbeg married Catherine Hogan, sister of Edmond Hogan of Doonbeg, High Sheriff in 1759. Of their issue, James d.s.p. and Susan married John Blackall of Killard, Co. Clare. She died in 1829.


Grallagh, Boytonrath and Doon


Castle Crine