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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall

Grallagh, Boytonrath and Doon

As already mentioned, most of the Clare Butlers descend from the Boytonrath family. The ancestor of this branch of the house of Butler was Piers (als Peter) Butler of Grallagh, Co. Tipperary (1520-78) second son of James, 10th Lord Dunboyne.[9] His immediate forebears on the distaff side included two outstanding figures in the history of their time, for his mother was a daughter of Pierce Roe Butler, 8th Earl of Ormonde, who married Lady Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Garrett, the Great (8th) Earl of Kildare. Piers himself was a fiery warrior as is connoted by his Irish nickname “Piers na mBhuile” i.e. Wild Peter or-in the picturesque phrase of the Four Masters- “Piers of the Madness.”[10] His first taste of active service was in 1544 when he took part in Henry VIII’s expedition to France. The English army on that occasion included a contingent of Irish kerne provided by the Earl of Ormonde,[11] who, writing to the King on 6 May in that year said “I have appointed a young gentlemean called Piers Butler, being also a nephew to me and seconde brother to the Baron of Dunboyne, to have the rule and conduct of one hundrethe of my men.”[12]

On reaching France the Ormonde kerne were posted to the Duke of Norfolk’s force that invested Montreuil in July 1544.[13] As the besiegers found provisions very hard to come by, the Irish were sent out on foraging expeditions, where the behaviour of Wild Peter’s wild kerne did not, I fear, make a very good impression on the French, for we read in Hollinshed’s Chronicle that they ravaged the country so ruthlessly that a deputation from the local inhabitants waited on the English King on his arrival at Boulogne and begged him to withdraw his Irish levies, asking him “whether he had brought beasts or men.” Before returning to England in December 1544, Henry held a parade at which he “knighted certain persons of worth.” It would seem from Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s account of the campaign that the captains of Ormonde’s compaies, of which Piers Butler was one, were among those so honoured. But the passage is somewhat ambiguous, and no document of later date had come to light in which Piers is described as a knight.

In September 1551 Piers Butler took part in an expedition of the Lord Deputy against James McDonnell “the Scott”, and in 1563 he was appointed a Commissioner for the Peace for Tipperary during the Lord Deputy’s absence in the North, with power “to treat with enemies and rebels.”[15] Piers married a Geraldine,[16] but this did not deter him from taking the part of the Butlers in their feuds with their traditional rivals. On 7 September 1565 he and his sons carried off six hundred kine belonging to John McGrath, a Geraldine supporter; and on 4 May 1566 we find the Earl of Desmond complaining to the Lord Deputy of the depredations committed by Piers Butler on O’Brien Ui Cuanach during his absence in the Pale.[17]

Piers na mBhuile was possessed of a great estate, for his father settled on him Grallagh, and other lands together with the manor of Drangan, Craghane, and Magowey,[18] comprising in all over 16,000 acres. His elder brother Edmond viewed with resentment so excessive an appanage for a younger son, and after his succession to the title, made strenuous efforts to regain what he regarded as his rightful inheritance. This led to family feuds and protracted litigation.[19] By a decree in Chancery dated 23 November 1562 in the suit of “Sir Edmond Butler Knt. Baron of Dunboyne v Peter Butler of Grallagh, his younger brother” it was ordered that the plaintiff should recover against the defendant, Grallagh, Drangan and other lands. Piers seems to have flouted the decree, for a Remembrance issued on 24 February 1566, whereby Peter Butler was bound over in the sum of £3,000 to deliver up to Lord Dunboyne by the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the lands mentioned. But even this did not avail the unhappy Dunboyne, for Piers had a powerful supporter in his uncle Ormonde, and by decree under the Queen’s Letter of 8 September 1566 it was ordered that inasmuch as Peter Butler had failed to defend the suit in Chancery of 1562 at the advice of the Earl of Ormonde, “who claimed sovereignty over the lands,” the suit should be again tried at common law, and Peter Butler should enjoy undisturbed possession until such time as the Baron of Dunboyne obtained judgement thereunder.[20] With such influential backing, Piers was able to retain possession of the greater part of his estate up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1578. In recording that event the Four Masters describe him as “one of the most powerful chiefs of the English in Munster.”[21]

On Piers Butler’s death, his son James (born 1543) succeeded to Grallagh, Drangan and other lands of his father, and he too held them throughout his life. In 1569 James Butler was implicated in the revolt known as “the Butlers’ war.” The unwonted disaffection of the Butlers on this occasion was due to the proceedings of Sir Peter Carew, a filibustering genealogist from Devon, who claimed to be heir to the vast patrimony of the long defunct Carews of Ireland,[22] including an estate of Sir Edmond Butler, brother of the Earl of Ormonde.[23] His preposterous claim was admitted by the Lord Deputy Sidney-no friend of the Butlers-and Sir Edmond, finding protest of no avail, took up arms and was joined by his Butler kindred, including James Butler of Grallagh. Although the Butlers’ quarrel was with Carew, their resort to arms was a defiance of Elizabeth’s government in Ireland and took place at a critical juncture, for it synchronized with the outbreak of the formidable FitzMaurice rebellion in Munster and while Turlogh Luineach O’Neill was on the war-path in the North.

On Ormonde’s return to Ireland in August 1569 the Butlers at once joined him, vowing they had never meant to revolt against the Queen and bitterly complaining of Sidney’s treatment. But Elizabeth was not appeased, and an Act of Attainder in 1570 included Ormonde’s brothers and James Butler of Grallagh as well as FitzMaurice, O’Neill and other rebels, and castigated them all in no uncertain terms as “vile and ingrate traytours.”[24] Black Tom’s persuasive pleading however caused the Queen to relent towards her erring kin when her wrath subsided. On 2 January 1571 James Butler of Grallagh was granted a general pardon for his part in the Geraldine rebellion up to that date and fined £6 13s. 4d or one hawk;[25] and in 1573 Sir Edmond Butler and his two brothers were pardoned and restored to their estates, although the attainder of their blood was not reserved. In the second Geraldine rebellion James Butler of Grallagh supported the Crown, and was one of the commanders of the Ormonde forces at the battle of Knockgraffon in 1582 when the Butlers suffered defeat at the hands of the Geraldines.[26] James Butler married twice; viz. Honora O’Dwyer[27] and Elinor Purcell.[28] He died cir 1589.

Edmond Butler of Boytonrath, his eldest son, succeeded. He purchased that manor from James, 12/2 Lord Dunboyne on 10 September 1590, and conveyed Grallagh to the latter on 5 October, 1592. These transactions put an end to the long standing quarrel over the family estates, and in the Tyrone rebellion Edmond Butler served under his cousin Dunboyne, who had joined the Ormonde’s forces. He was present with the Essex’s army at the siege of Cahir in May, 1599.[29] Edmond Butler’s name appears in a list of “free-holders in the cantred on Middlethird in the Cross of Tipperary” dated 18 November 1600 and again in 1626. He also figures in a list of “The Chief Gentlemen in each County in Ireland in the year 1625.”[30]

On the coming of age of his eldest son James on 14 July 1626, Edmond entailed his estates on himself for life with remainder to his eldest son James, further remainder to said James’ eldest son, Edmond.[31] In 1627 Charles I. promised as one of “the Graces” that land titles for sixty years back were to be valid against all claims of the Crown, and by Inquisitions at Clonmel on 18 April 1631 and 14 August 1637 it was found that Edmond Butler was seized of the estate of Boytonrath by good and sufficient title, and it was confirmed to him and his heirs forever. Edmond Butler married in 1604 Dorothy, daughter of Cian O’Carroll of Ballybrack, chief of the great Gaelic house of Ely O’Carroll.[32] He died 1st August, 1637.

James Butler (b.1605) his eldest son who succeeded, is shown in the Civil Survey of Tipperary for 1641 as living at Boytonrath with his sons Edmond and James. When the rebellion broke out that year, the Lords of the Pale were at first reluctant to join the insurgents, with whom indeed they had little in common except the Catholic faith. The O’Neill, MacMahon and Maguire chieftains had been virtually independent until the Plantation of Ulster in the previous reign, and they chafed under English rule. But the old English aristocracy, proud of their origin, were tradionally loyal to the Crown . This was true above all, of the house of Butler, whose chiefs had held for centuries the leadership of the English interest in Ireland, and bore the lofty sobriquet of “cousins of the Crown.”[33] But the violently anti-Catholic policy of the Puritan Long Parliament and the machinations of their agent in Ireland, the unprincipled and rapacious Parsons, whose slogan was “the more rebels, the more confiscations,” left the Old English no alternative but to take up arms in self-defence: and after meetings with the Irish leaders at the hill of Crofty and Tara, they decided to join forces. The formation of the Catholic Confederacy followed, and in it the Butlers played a notable part. Ormonde himself remained faithful to the faithless Charles, holding that the cause of the King must come first. But Richard Butler, Lord Mountgarret, was placed in command of the Confederacy forces, with Pierce Butler, Lord Ikerrin, and Richard Butler of Kilcash (Ormonde’s brother) as Lieut-Generals “till His Majestie’s pleasure was signified to them.” In December 1641 Kilkenny was captured by Mountgarret, Waterford by his son Edmond Butler, Clonmel and Carrick by Richard Butler of Kilcash: and in January, 1642, Theobald Butler, titular Baron of Ardmayle, took Fethard. In the previous October James, 14/4 Lord Dunboyne, who was feudal overlord of the barony of Middlethird, had come to Tipperary to raise levies for the Confederacy. Among those who joined him was James Butler, who owed “suit and service” for his manor of Boytonrath.[34] In December 1641 James was commissioned as captain in Dunboyne’s 7th Company of Foot, for which he enlisted two hundred men from the Boytonrath estate.[35] With them he fought at the battles of Ballysonan and Liscarrol in 1642, and took part in the siege of Golden Castle in that year and of Limerick in 1643. James Butler took the Confederacy oath on 24 October 1642, wherby he swore to bear true allegiance to King Charles and “to obey and ratify all the orders and decrees made by the Supreme Council of the Confederate Catholics of the Realm concerning the public cause.[36]

It has been remarked by D’Alton that the influence and conduct of the great Ormonde prevented the attainder of many of his name in 1642 and that only four Butlers appear on that Roll of Outlawries.[37] James Butler of Boytonrath was however one of the unfortunate exceptions (Lord Dunboyne was another) and he was outlawed and attained in the county of Tipperary on 9 November 1642. When “Ormonde’s Peace”[38] was made in 1646, James Butler joined the Ormondist party, and in March 1649 he was with Dunboyne when the latter’s stately home in Tipperary, Kiltinane Castle, was taken by Cromwell, who in a letter to Bradshaw described it as “a very large and strong castle of the lord of Dunboyne.” On the fall of Kiltinane, Dunboyne and the other Butlers submitted, and we hear nothing further of James Butler of Boytonrath until 30 June 1652, when a warrant for his arrest on a charge of high treason and murder was issued out of the Cromwellian High Court of Justice. In Hilary term 1653 he was tried at Clonmel before Mr. Justice Cooke and a jury wholly composed of Englishmen. The murder charge arose out of the death of a poor old woman who had been callously thrown into the river Suir by the Irish soldiery after the surrender of Golden Castle to the Confederates in 1641. James Butler’s company was ultimately among the besiegers, but he himself was in Cork when the castle fell. He could not therefore be lawfully convicted of murder for the Commissioners’ Instructions of 15 April 1653 (constituting the Court) provided that a prisoner “is not esteemed guilty of murder except he had actually a hand in any particular murder or did command the same, or except he was present and had command when a particular murder was committed by persons under his command.” But James Butler had the ill fortune to be tried before a judge whose mentality may be gauged by an outburst of his during the same Assizes when, we are told, he “cried out aloud from the Bench that all Irishmen living on October 20th 1641 or born since in Ireland to that same day, were all traitors.” James Butler’s trial before so partial a judge and a packed jury had the result that might be expected, and he was convicted both of high treason and murder and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This savage sentence was carried out on 10 May 1653 outside the Court House at Clonmel.[39]

His conviction entailed forfeiture of both life and estate, but as he was a life tenant under the family settlement made in 1626, the ownership of Boytonrath devolved upon his eldest son Edmond, and as he was a youth at the outbreak of the rebellion, he came within the category of those comparatively “Innocent Papists” who were to be transplanted into Connaught and Clare, there to receive lands equivalent to one-third or two-thirds of their former estate.[40] On 23 February 1654 Edmond Butler accordingly obtained a Transplanter’s Certificate setting out that eleven persons of his family would accompany him across the Shannon, and that he would take “6 acres of summer corn, 9 cows, 4 yearlings, 24 garrons, 60 sheep and 4 swine.[41] This was in due course followed by a Decree dated 22 June 1656 whereby “Edmond Butler of Boytonrahia” was awarded 300 acres west of the Shannon, and in 1657 a Certificate of Transplantation was issued setting out the lands allotted to him in Co. Clare in lieu of his forfeited lands in Tipperary. Edmond did not, however, settle on his new estate, but remained at Boytonrath until his death in 1663, although his lands there were ordered by the Cromwellian government to be handed over to Adventurers.

After the Restoration, he made an attempt to have this order set aside. Under the King’s declaration of 30 November 1660 Catholics who were minors in 1641 were promised restitution of their forfeited estates, and as Edmond Butler was one of that class, he filed a petition as an Innocent before the Court of Claims. His petition was allowed by the Court, which by a Decree dated 6 August 1663 found him to be Innocent and ordered that 577 acres of his Boytonrath estate be confirmed to him for life.[42] The Court of Claims, which was composed of five fair minded Englishmen,[43] proved too favourable to Catholic claimants for the liking of the Protestant interest, and owing to their influence at Court and in Parliament the Court of Claims was finally closed in 1667, thus shutting out over three thousand of the old properties from having their claims ever heard. Edmond Butler, as we have seen, was more fortunate in this respect, but as the Court had granted him a life interest only, the property would have been lost to the family on his death but for the intervention of the Duke of Ormonde, who Boytonrath had included in a grant made to himself under the Act of Settlement and Explanation on 14 November 1666, and proceeded to make a fee-farm of the lands to James Butler a few months later.[44] A large proportion of the grants to Ormonde were of forfeited lands of which he was overlord, and which under the law of treason would have escheated to the Crown had not the King granted the reversion to him. Carte tells us that it was the Duke’s practice in such cases to make fee-farm grants on easy terms to the former owners.[45] The grant to James Butler was an instance of this. It is alleged that Ormonde was more disposed to act generously if the dispossessed owner was a Butler. If such were indeed the case-and blood is thicker that water-it must be admitted that James was fortunately placed, for not only was he one of the favoured race of Butler himself, but his wife was closely related to the great Duke.[46] That Ormonde was not unmindful of these familty ties is indicated by the inclusion of the name “James Butler, Boytonrath” in a List of persons suitable for selection as Nominees under the King’s Declaration of 1660.[47] That list was prepared for Ormonde’s use at the Restoration. James Butler was not, it is true, among the 36 who were eventually selected by Charles to receive back their principal seats and 2,000 acres adjoining, “if lawfully entitled to so much on Oct. 22, 1641.” But as he recovered possession of his ancestral estate under a fee-farm grant, which was in due course renewed, he could count himself more fortunate than the great majority of the ancient proprietors; for Prendergast has estimated that owing to the constsant taking away of lands by the government for one cause of another, not one-twentieth of the old freeholders had in the end any land assigned to them.

But although he thus recovered Boytonrath, James Butler did not take up residence there, for he had transplanted himself and the remainder of the family into Clare in 1657 and settled at Shranagoolen in the Barony of Bunratty, for which he obtained a lease from Sir George Hamilton on 28 May, 1659.[48] He is shown in the Subsidy Roll of 1661 as tenant of those lands and also of Ballyvargin, Lisdoonvarna, Ballyknock, Knockaninana and Cuppaganana; and on 12 June 1666 the Earl of Inchiquin conveyed to him Ballyline, Moymoylane and other lands.[49] In 1668 he paid Hearth Money for his estates in Tipperary[50] and in 1671 his son Theobald (later Sir Toby) filed a claim on his behalf for the Grant and Final Settlement of the lands set out to his brother Edmond in 1654. The claim was allowed and James Butler had three grants of the land under the Act of Settlement and Explanation.[51] On 21 Feb. 1684 he had a lease for 21 years from the Earl of Thomond, of the lands of Doonemulvihill (als. Doon)[52] on which stood a castle which became the seat of the elder line of his descendants. James Butler died 19 October 1686.

The Butlers of Doon from The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall
James Butler of Doon who succeeded, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, to which he was admitted 24 October 1662.[53] When he came of age his father made over to him his Tipperary estate and James Oge (as he was called) settled at Grangebeg in that county. He obtained renewals of the fee-farm grant of Boytonrath from the Duke of Ormonde in 1674 and 1681[54] and obtained a Decree with Final Settlement of his father’s Clare estate on 19 August 1688. When James II landed in Ireland the following year in his attempt to regain the Crown, most of the Old English aristocracy flocked to his standard. Among them was James Butler, who was elected as M.P. for Co. Tipperary and sat in the historic Parliament of 1689.[55] One of the first measures enacted by that body repealed the Acts of Settlement and Explanation and restored all lands granted thereunder, to the representatives of those who were owners in 1641. On the passing of this Act, James Butler relinquished the grants of the lands in Clare which had been made to his father and himself, and was decreed to be re-intstated in the ancestral estate of Boytonrath: but owning to his subsequent attainder, he did not in the event obtain possession.

In addition to his legislative functions James Butler served as an officer in the Jacobite army. He was commissioned as Cornet in Purcell’s Horse on 14 May 1689, and fought with his regiment at the Siege of Enniskillen and the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim. After the latter the regiment was divided into two parts, and James was appointed captain in the part commanded by Lord Dunboyne. He was present at the last Siege of Limerick in 1691[56] where he had as a comrade his brother, Sir Toby, who was one of the negotiators of the Articles of Surrender on the Irish side. On the signing of the Treaty of Limerick the great majority of the Jacobite officers elected to sail for France in company with Sarsfield, but James Butler was among those who preferred to remain in Ireland. He had been attainted in 1690 and his estates forfeited[57] but upon his joing the Peace Party, as it was called, his life was spared. His estates were not however restored, so he became tenant of several properties which he had formerly held in fee. Fortunately for him, Sir Toby came within the benefit of the Treaty so was able to buy in or obtain grants of his brother’s forteited lands.[58] By this means the Doon and Bunnahow branches retained possession of their lands notwithstanding the Penal laws. The estates of those who went abroad, on the other hand, were destined to enrich further the new English Ascendancy and reduce Catholic Ireland to the shades.[59] James Butler migrated to Clare after the Williamite Settlement and thenceforth lived at Doon. He died 11 October 1726[60] leaving three sons (a) James, his heir, (b) Theobald, and (c) Peter of Bunnahow (infra.).

James Butler of Doon, the eldest son, was sent to France in 1695 with one of the “Flights of the Wild Geese” for his education. While still in his teens `he joined the Irish Brigade as an officer of the famous Clare’s Dragoons, in which he fought at Ramillies and Malplaquet.[61] He returned to Ireland after the Peace of Utrecht. James Butler’s name does not appear in the Convert Rolls, but as he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Co. Clare in 1742 it seems probable that he made some profession of conforming. He married Mary O’Shaughnessy[62] and died in 1746.

James Butler of Doon and Millbrooke (b.1730) his eldest son succeeded. He was commissioned as Cornet in the 14th (Campbell’s) Dragoon’s in 1759 and in 1763 married Theresa O’Hogan, daughter and co-heiress of Murtagh O’Hogan of Cross.[63] He was generally known as “Cornet Butler” although he actually attained higher rank. When, in the reign of George II, the O’Shaughnessies attempted to recover their ancient patrimony from the Prendergasts on the ground that the attainder of William and Mary affected only Roger O’Shaughnessy and his son William, they received considerable financial aid from their relative Cornet Butler. He was the moving spirit behind Joseph O’Shaughnessy[64] when, chafing at the law’s delays, he took forcible possession of his ancestral castle of Gort and drove out the garrison. This exploit unfortunately played into the hands of the Prendergasts, and the O’Shaughnessies eventually lost their suit. The Cornet was not however a mere knight-errant, for he amassed a considerable fortune through his farming pursuits. There was a large export of wool from Ireland to France in the 18th century and the limestone lands of the Butler estates were peculiarly well suited for sheep raising, in which the cornet extensively engaged. It is related of him that when asked on one occasion how many sheep he had he replied that he did not know the number of the shepherds, let alone his sheep! Be this as it may, he held land in no less than 36 townlands in Clare and Galway.

But “after a gatherer comes a scatterer,” and Henry Butler of Millbrooke who succeeded in 1797, was one of these. Like his father, he was an officer in the 14th Light Dragoons and, in the words of a family chronicler, gave wings to every shilling and acre he could dispose of. There were however other reasons for the decline of the family fortunes at this time. The embargo placed by the British Government on the export of wool to the Continent in retaliation for Napoleon’s Berlin Decrees, brought disaster on many of the great graziers in Ireland, and the Butlers were unable to recover large sums lent to neighbouring landowners. Henry Butler, who married Ann Blake, died in 1814.[65]

When James Blake Butler succeeded his father he found himself heir to an encumbered estate. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, of which he was a graduate. James was a friend and supporter of O’Gorman Mahon and was involved in a series of duels arising out of the Clare election of 1831 in which that redoubtable fire-eater was defeated by Maurice O’Connell, son of the Liberator.[66] After the poll was declared, O’Connell sent a challenge to William Mahon, O’Gorman Mahon’s brother, for some remarks he had made during the election, and Mahon referred him to James Blake Butler as his second. As O’Connell had been bound over to keep the peace in Ennis it was decided to have the duel fought at Kildysart, but when Butler arrived there with his principal, they found the attitude of the crowd so threatening that Butler declared he would not agree to have it fought there. This decision gave rise to a dispute between Butler and O’Connell’s second, who thereupon sent “a hostile message” to Butler. The latter promptly accepted the challenge and named as his second O’Gorman Mahon. The upshot of the affair was that Butler and Mahon notified their opponents that they would meet them at Scattery Island, but as the O’Connell party did not appear the duel did not take place.

The hostility of the Kildysart mob seems to have been due to a cry that was raised against Butler for his activity as a magistrate in dealing with agrarian outrages committed by the Terry Alts, a secret society who took the name of a harmless shoemaker of Corofin, but sought to attain their ends by methods reminiscent of the Whiteboys. In November 1829 a meeting of magistrates was held at Ennis at which James Blake Butler and others subscribed towards the rising of 100 men to police the baronies of Bunratty and Tulla, and on 22 March 1831 a Proclamation was issued by the Lord Lieutenant declaring Co. Clare and the Barony of Kiltartan, Co. Galway, to be in a state of disturbance. In 1830 James Blake Butler had been fired at by a Terry Alt, and in 1832 his workmen were beaten and a herdsman’s house levelled to the ground. These outrages of the Terry Alts continued unabated throughout the spring and summer of 1831, until a virulent outbreak of cholera damped the ardour of the agitators and caused them to subside. James Blake Butler, who died in 1849, was the last member of his branch to reside in Co. Clare.[67] He was succeeded in the representation of the family by his sixth son, Theobald FitzWalter Butler (the others having d.s.p.) who settled in Lancashire, of which county he was a Deputy Lieutenant. He was father of Theobald Blake Butler, F.I.G.R.S (supra) who is the heir male of the Butlers of Boytonrath and those of the Co. Clare Butlers who derive therefrom.




Bunnahow; Walterstown;
Kilcommon and Ballyline; Doonbeg