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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall


Theobald FitzWalter, the first Butler of Ireland,[1] had grants of the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormonde in the present county of Tipperary as far back as the twelfth century; but it is not until the middle of the seventeenth that the Butlers appear among the landowners of the neighbouring county of Clare and south Galway.

Pedigrees of various branches of the family seated in those counties are to be found in Burke’s Landed Gentry, but they do not in any instance carry their ancestry beyond the Restoration. In O’Hart’s Irish Landed Gentry when Cromwell came to Ireland there is indeed a pedigree of the Butlers of Boytonrath, Co. Tipperary, from Tudor times to the Cromwellian period: but the author apparently did not know that these Butlers were then transplanted into Clare, and were the progenitors of several of the later families of the name in that county. And yet at the time he wrote, there was in existence a pedigree by the well-known historian Prendergast,[2] which showed that the Bulters of Ballyline, Co.Clare were descended from the Boytonrath family. The circumstances in which this pedigree came to be compiled are not without interest and may be recalled.

On the death of Richard Butler, 2nd Earl of Glegall and 13th Lord Cahir in 1858, the earldom of 1816 unquestionably expired: but it was believed in some quarters that the Butlers of Ballyline were heirs to the more ancient barony of Cahir (created 1583), and Col. Augustine Butler, the head of that family, deputed Prendergast to examine his muniments with a view to claiming his title. The historian’s researches had a disappointing outcome for Col. Butler, for they established beyond doubt his descent from the Barons of Dunboyne. His hopes of a cornet were therefore dashed, and he seems to have lost interest in the subject, and did not bring Prendergast’s discovery to the notice of Burke. Fortunately however the papers relating to it were preserved at Ballyline, although their existence was unknown outside the family circle; and they proved of considerable value when Mr. Theobald Blake Butler commenced his researches into the ancestry of the Clare Butlers many years later. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Butler for freely placing at my disposal the fruits of those very extensive researches. The writer collaborated with him in the years preceding the First World War, but after that lived abroad, and Mr. Butler carried on the work alone. Thanks to his exertions, the contents of a large number of documents of historical and genealogical interest destroyed in the tragic holocaust of the Public Record Office in 1922, have been preserved for posterity.[3] I am also very grateful to the present Lord Dunboyne for information about this line, and to the Hon. Mrs Butler-Henderson for the use of the Castle Crine papers.

The Butler domains in Clare and south Galway might be divided topographically into two; for the Castle Crine estates lay mainly in southeast Clare and those of the Butlers of Doon, Bunnahow, Walterstown, Ballyline and Cregg in north-east Clare and south Galway. That division would not however coincide with the genealogical; for the ancestor of the Butlers of Cregg was a younger son of the 2nd Earl or Ormonde, while the other families mentioned descend from the Butlers of Grallagh and Boytonrath, Co. Tipperary, whose ancestor was a younger son of the 10th Baron of Dunboyne (ob.1533/4). That nobleman has, until recently, been described in the Peerages as the ninth Baron; but Mr Blake Butler in The Barony of Dunboyne[4] has shown that the line of succession previously accepted was incorrect in certain respects, and that the cidevant ninth Baron was in reality the tenth. This enumeration has been adopted by Burke and Debrett and will be followed here.

There is however, another matter relating to the Dunboyne barony about which opinions differ. The earlier holders of that title are not infrequently referred to as “feudal” or “titular” Barons of Dunboyne, and the question is whether before the creation of the barony by Letters Patent in 1541, the Barons of Dunboyne were peers of the realm or titular barons, of which there were a number in Ireland in former times. These latter titles were conferred by the earls of Ormonde and Desmond in exercise of their rights as Counts Palatine. Among the families upon whom the Ormonde earls conferred them were Purcell, Baron of Loughmore, and Hussey, Baron of Galtrim. The holders of these titles enjoyed the style of the Baron but were not Lords of Parliament. This is a material distinction, for in order to establish the existence of a barony by writ of summons,[5] it must be proved that the claimant’s ancestor was summoned to Parliament by individual writ, and that either he himself or one of his direct descendants took his seat in the Upper House.

Into which category then do the earlier barons of Dunboyne fall? The barony came to the Butlers through the marriage in 1320 of Synolda, Lady of Dunboyne[6] with Sir Thomas Butler, uncle of the 1st Earl of Ormonde. He had a writ of summons to Parliament as a peer under the style of “Lord of Dunboyne” and took his seat in 1324. Several of his successors were likewise summoned. Betham and other authorities are of the opinion that these facts constituted a barony by writ, but Mr. Blake Bulter thinks otherwise, and has argued (inter alia) that the manner in which some of these barons were styled is inconsistent with their being peers e.g. the 6th Baron is described in the Statute Rolls of Edward IV as “James le Botiller esquire, lately Lord and Baron Dunboyne.” Mr. Butler infers from this and other instances cited by him that a hereditary peerage could not have existed before 1541. Too much importance should not however, it is submitted, be attached to a lack of precision in mediaeval styles of address. In the earliest writs of summons in England (temp. Edward I) the recipients were not distinguished from commoners by any style or title. The only prefix at that time was dominus (lord) which was regularly used by simple knights, and writs of summons were issued to the lower order of peers as knight (chevalier) only. As late as 1387, John, Lord de Beauchamp and Baron of Kydderminister, the first holder of a peerage by patent, was summoned to Parliament by the style of “John Beauchamp of Kydderminister.[7] Owing to the creation of 1541, the status of the earlier barony of Dunboyne has never had to be considered by the Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords, and the advent of a republic of Ireland rules out the possibility of any future decision on the point. It will suffice to say here that in this memoir a dual prefix will be used where the peer in question holds both the earlier and later baronies e.g. 11/1 Lord Dunboyne for the first baron by patent.

Another point relating to nomenclature may here be mentioned. There were five James Butlers in succession in the Boytonrath-Doon line,[8] and five William Butlers in Bunnahow. Conveyancers distinguished these by referring to them in dynastic style, e.g. William Butler I. Their example will be followed where it would make for clarity.



Grallagh, Boytonrath and Doon