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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall

Burial Places; Family Estates; Origins

Burial Places
The mausoleum of the Butlers of Grallagh and Boytonrath was in the chancel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the historic Rock of Cashel. It was pillaged by the soldiery of Murrough ‘of the Burnings’ [157] in 1647, when he massacred 700 of his countrymen in the shrine endowed by the piety of ancestors. When the Butlers were transplanted across the Shannon, they fixed on the Abbey of Kilmacduagh as their future burial place, and a vault was erected there on the traditional site of St. Colman’s grave. On it stood a tree known locally as the Holy Tree, a piece of which was believed to bring good luck to anyone wearing it on an important occasion. Ellen Butler née Lambert used to relate with relish how she discovered a relic from the Holy Tree attached to her wedding dress by some well-wisher, “an’ me a black Protestant”.

Kilmacduagh remained the sepulchre of the Butlers of Doon and Bunnahow for nearly two centuries. The first member of the family to be buried there was James Butler of Shranagalloon in October, 1686, and the last was Ellen Vyse née Butler in 1875 [158] when the vault was closed. It bore no inscription until after the death of William II of Bunnahow in 1871, when an epitaph was carved which unwittingly conveys the impression that only his branch are buried there. Mention may here be made that it was tradtitional in the Doon family for the burial to take place at night, following a torchlight procession. Kilmacduagh was likewise the burial place of the Butlers of Cregg.

The Butlers of Ballyline had a vault in the ancient Abbey of Inchicronan, decorated with an armorial shield bearing the three covered cups of the Butlers, and an epitaph to Theobald Butler ob. 1735. The Abbey also contains tombs of other members of the family. Sir Toby Butler is buried in St. James’ churchyard, Dublin, beneath a monument with a Latin epitaph stating that it was erected by his eldest son “to the best of fathers.” It was surmounted by a bust of the deceased in high relief, wearing the long curled wig and costume of the period. The monument was restored by his descendant, Col. Augustine Butler of Ballyline, in 1845. Some other members of this branch also have their last resting place in St. James’ churchyard, while others are interred at Cahir.

The family vault of the Butlers of Castle Crine was in the old ruined church at Bunratty. There was still one vacant place at the death of Mrs. Sophia Butler (née Irvine) in 1887, but, as she had expressed a dislike to being interred in a vault, her daughters made a new burial ground on the hill-side facing the entrance gates to Castle Crine demesne, where she was laid to rest. Her second husband (Col. Graham) and her three daughters - Anna and Henrietta Butler and Lady Clarina - are also buried there. The remaining place in the old family vault was filled by Mrs. Jane Butler (née Welsh) of Mount Cashel, after which it was sealed. The latter’s son, William, is interred in the Protestant church at Six Mile Bridge.

There is a Dunboyne vault in Quin Abbey. Robert, 16/26 Lord Dunboyne and his wife were however, interred at his own request in a field about three-quarters of a mile from Knoppogue Castle. The burial place is surrounded by a low wall surmounted by ironwork and, although the family have long since left the neighbourhood, the flowers in the small graveyard are still tended by the country people.

To end this funeral catalogue, here is a ghost story. The Butlers were one of those old families to whom, according to popular superstition, the ‘Death Coach’ came as a harbinger. During the last illness of Willaim II, Simon Creagh, a relative, was staying at Bunnahow. One evening, as he was sitting alone, he heard the rumbling of wheels on the avenue, and then the sound as of a heavy coach turning and stopping. The noise was so distinct that he went to the hall door and looked outside. He could see nothing, but he heard the sound of a coach driving away. At that moment one of the watchers by William ‘Oge’s’ bedside came down to announce that the master had just passed away. Simon Creagh often related this incident to - among others - his cousin, Belinda Butler, my informant.

Family Estates
The greater part of the Butler domains in Clare and south Galway were acquired in the latter part of the seventeenth century and the earlier years of the eighteenth.

In 1781, Cornet James Butler held about 13,800 acres of which 1,364 acres, including Millbrooke, were under lease from the Butlers of Kilcommon. But by the year 1819, the property had shrunk to about 3,400 acres, and in the Return of Landowners in Ireland in 1876, this branch is shown as owning only 329 acres in Co. Galway, and none in Clare.

The Bunnahow estate reached its greatest extent in the lifetime of William Butler I, when it amounted to about 7,000 acres. In addition to this. “Billy the Farmer” held many other lands on lease, bringing the total to well over 9,000 acres in all. Under the terms of his will, the estate was divided in 1823 between his sons, Walter and William II. In 1876, the Bunnahow branch owned 4,227 acres (2,353 in Clare, 1,397 in Galway and 527 in Cork)[159] and that of Walterstown 3,042 acres (2,194 in Clare and 848 in Galway).

This branch of the family inherited extensive estates in Tipperary as well as in Clare from Sir Toby Butler; but those in the former county were alienated during the course of the eighteenth century.[160] In 1876, Col. A. Butler of Ballyline owned 7,767 acres (7,461 in Clare and 306 in Galway) but none in Tipperary. Miss Galwey of Doon owned 617 acres in Clare inherited through Alicia Butler.

Castle Crine
In 1876, the Misses Butler of Castle Crine owned 11,390 acres, and Capt. Henry Butler 1,195 acres, all in Clare.

In 1876, Lord Dunboyne owned 1,238 acres, and the Hon. James Butler 743 acres, in Clare.

The estate of the Butlers of Cregg at the date of the sale in the Encumbered Estates Court comprised 3,470 acres, of which all but one were in Co. Galway. The property is shown under the name of R.J. Lattey in the Return of 1876.

It will be seen from the foregoing that the Butler estates in Clare and south Galway comprised about 30,000 acres in 1876. To arrive at the acreage in the previous century, the properties of the Doon and Cregg branches should be added to the above, for as they were alienated prior to the publication of the Return, they do not of course appear in it. These estates at one time covered over 15,000 acres, so the total acreage of the Butler properties may be put at between 40,000 and 45,000 acres in the halcyon days of the eighteenth century.[161]

The ancestry of Theobald FitzWalter, the first Butler of Ireland, has been a fruitful theme for genealogists. No fewer than eight versions have been advanced at various times, including one that his mother was a sister of St. Thomas à Becket. This claim was put forward by the 4th Earl of Ormonde in 1444, when he procured an Act of Parliament declaring his descent from the martyred Archbishop. Despite this legislative authority, doubt has been cast on the claim by irreverent modern genealogists, who have pointed out that if the legend were true, the Butler ancestress would have been a grandmother at the age of eight! But while the descent from Agnes à Becket must be rejected, there is reason to believe that she was closely connected by marriage to Theobald FitzWalter, which may have given rise to the family tradition.

In 1937, the Hon. Patrick Butler (now lord Dunboyne) wrote a monograph in which he summarised the various versions of the early ancestry of the Butler family. This was followed in 1939 by Mr. T. Blake Butler’s Origin of the Butlers of Ireland. In this erudite and well-documented paper, Mr. Butler, showed that Theobald FitzWalter’s father, Hervey Walter (with whom the Ormonde pedigree commences in Burke’s Peerage) was grandson of Walter, who is mentioned in Doomsday Book as holding 27 manors in Norfolk and Suffolk, and who, Mr. Butler surmised, was connected with the Malet family. Further researchers made by him have confirmed this conjecture, and established that the above-mentioned Walter was in fact Walter de Caen, whom genealogists identify as a brother of William Malet, the great East Anglian landowner who fought at Hastings, and is said to have been the only companion of the Conqueror who was half English. It was perhaps for this reason that he was entrusted by William with the task of burying the body of King Harold on the seashore after the battle. As a result of Mr. Blake Butler’s researches, the house takes its place among the very few families in the Peerage who can trace their ancestry in the male line to the Norman Conquest.

“The history of the illustrious house of Butler of Ormonde”, wrote Sir Bernard Burke, “is in point of fact, the history of Ireland from the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. At the head of the great nobility of that country have ever stood the Butlers and the Geraldines, rivals in power and equals in renown.”

The families who are the subject of this memoir were cadet branches of that famous house, and they are not of course comparable in historical importance to the main line of the Ormonde earls. But the story unfolded in these pages shows that they too, played a part in historic events in Ireland which should not be lost in oblivion.

‘Butler a Boo’




Appendix I: Letter from James,
9th Earl of Ormonde, to King Henry VIII