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The Butlers of County Clare by Sir Henry Blackall


It may of interest to give a brief account of some of the homes of the Butlers, both before and after their removal into Clare and Connaught.

The lands of Grallagh came to the Butlers by conveyance dated 21 and 28 September, 1432, from Thomas Barret, vicar of Fethard, to Edmond, son of James le Botiller. On 5August, 1524, these lands were settled by James, 10 Lord Dunboyne on his younger son Peter (Piers).[145] On the latter's death Grallagh passed to his son James, whose son, Edmond Butler of Boytonrath, by conveyance dated 5 October, 1592, granted all his "rights, titles and interest in the lands of Grallagh to James Butler, Baron of Dunboyne." The castle later became the seat of Lord Dunboyne's fifth son, James  Butler, described as "a man of great power, means and alliance, being married to Lady Ellen Butler." She was a daughter of Walter "of the Rosaries", 11th Earl of Ormonde. The keep of Grallagh Castle still stands. A stone staircase provides ascent to the summit. It is situate in the parish of Graystown, and barony of Middlethird, Co. Tipperary.

James Butler, 10th Baron of Dunboyne, was shown to be seized of the lands of Boytonrath by Inquisition taken at Dunboyne on 28 January, 1533. These and other lands were purchased by Edmond Butler from James 12/2 Lord Dunboyne by an indenture which describes them as containing one and a half carrucates.[146] Boytonrath remained a seat of Edmond Butler’s descendants for five generations. It is situate in the parrish of the same name, and barony of Middlethird. No trace of the manor house remains.

Richard and Hugh O'Grady were forfeiting proprietors of Shranagalloon in 1641.[147] James Butler II is shown as tenant in 1659, and he made it his residence. He is said to have been so unnerved by the unsettled state of the times that he retired into the fastnesses of the north Clare mountains, from which he could not be induced to venture. When his son, Theobald (Sir Toby), entered the Inner Temple, he was described as "of Sranagolen in Come Clare in Hibernia", but after his call to the Bar, he lived in Dublin, where he had a house in St. Nicholas Street.

Doon, alias Doonmulvihill
O'Hart states that these lands derived their name from the family of O’Mulvihill, while another writer somewhat fancifully translates it as "the hill of the goats."[148] The MacNamaras has a grant of Doon by Letters Patent from Henry VIII, but notwithstanding this, they appear to have paid rent to the earls of Thomond.[149] When Conor, 3rd Earl of Thomond, was forced to surrender Clonroad Castle to his uncle Donogh O'Brien, in 1553, he retired to Doonmulvihill Castle, where he was besieged by Donogh. In 1592, it was found by Inquisition that the lands of Doon in reality belonged to the Queen; but the O’Briens and MacNamaras do not appear to have been disturbed, for 1641 the Earl of Thomond is shown as owner of Doon, and in a list of the chief rebels who besieged Ballyalla Castle the same year we find the name "Daniel MacNamara of Doon."[150] On 4 September, 1655, Lord O'Brien (on behalf of his father, the 6th Earl of Thomond) dimised Doonmulvihill to John MacNamara of Creevagh for 21 years, the lessee covenanting to repair and roof the castle, and plant an orchard with apple and pear trees. The MacNamaras neglected to perform the covenants, and on 21 February, 1684, the 7th Earl issued the castle and lands to James Butler of Shranagalloon for 21 years. This was followed in 1703 by a lease of 99 years to Sir Toby Butler, who in his turn leased part of the lands of Doon to his elder brother, James Butler III, in 1705, and a further portion on 23 January, 1710.

When he migrated from Tipperary, James made Doon Castle his home, and his son, James Butler IV, lived there, as did the latter's son, Cornet Butler, until the completion of Millbrooke (infra). When he moved there the Cornet executed a family settlement by which his brother Theobald was to have the life use of Doon Castle, which was thereafter to be the dower house for his  (the Cornet's) wife, Theresa. She does not however appear to have resided there during her widowhood, and the castle was allowed to fall into decay. Towards the end of the eighteenth century a shooting box was erected on or near the site by John Galwey [151] to which was given the name Doon Lodge. He had married Alicia Butler, only surviving daughter of James Butler of Kilcommon,[152] and as she had a large charge on the Ballyline estate, her nephew, Augustine Butler, discharged it by making over to her about six hundred acres of the property.

Millbrooke alias Ballyline
Some years before his death James Butler IV commenced to build a house on the townland of Ballyline, which was completed by his son in 1763. It was the perverted taste of the age to give English names to gentlemen's seats, and, following, the dictates of fashion, Cornet Butler called his new residence Millbrooke, from a mill that stood on a stream flowing through the demesne. It remained the seat of this branch of the family until early in the nineteenth century, when the lease was determined by the lessors, the Butlers of Kilcommon. When Augustine Butler attained his majority he went to live at Millbrooke, to which he gave its Irish name, Ballyline. The front part of the house was destroyed by fire in his time, but was re-built. Ballyline House is, or rather was, about a mile on the Ennis side of Crusheen. The mansion was demolished some years ago when the demesne lands were divided into holdings for the tenants, but the handsome entrance gates remained standing until recently. Owing to the loss of Millbrooke, James Blake Butler found himself without a home when he came of age, so he took a small house near Crusheen, called Glenwilliam. He later resided at Stamer Part, where he died in 1849. These Butlers had also a place in Co. Galway originally known as Mount Vernon, but re-named Thorn Park by Xaverius Blake Butler after he purchased it from his nephew Henry.

Reverting to Sir Toby's descendants, they had a number of abodes during the eighteenth century, among them Castlekeale and Caherbane in Clare, and Kilcommon, Knockgraffon and Fishmoyne alias Cardenton in Tipperary; which is rather confusing for genealogists. The list of High Sheriffs in Frost's History of County Clare adds to this complexity by describing James Butler of Castlekeale as "of Newmarket." This James, after the death without issue of his elder brother, Theobald, settled at Kilcommon, a finely timbered demesne of 300 acres adjoining his mother’s ancestral home, Cahir Castle. In September, 1750, the 9th Lord Cahir made him a lease of Kilcommon for life, and he continued to reside there until his death in 1780.

In 1708, the Earl of Thomond set the lands of Bunnahow to Morgan Ryan in trust for Sir Theobald Butler, whose son, James, on 22 March, 1722, made a lease of the lands to his uncle, James Butler of Doon. The latter made over Bunnahow to his younger son, Peter, who built in the 1730’s house that remained the home of his descendants for many generations. A feature of the mansion was the portico, each pillar of which was hewn from a single block of stone. Bunnahow House stood on the borders of Clare and Galway in an extensive demesne which included the lake of the same name. Nothing now remains except one of the entrance gates, some stretches of the old demesne walls, and an obelisk erected by William Butler II to give employment during the Great Famine. The dower house, Drumcore, was about a mile from Bunnahow House.

As previously mentioned, the Bunnahow estates were divided on the death of William Butler I in 1823, between his sons, Walter and William. As Bunnahow House went to the latter, Walter rented Ashfield from his son-in-law, Robert Blake-Forster (who resided at Abbey Knockmoy), and later commenced to build a house on the lands of Ballynagranagh, which was completed by his son, Nicholas. This house, to which the name Walterstown was given, is finely situate overlooking the picturesque lake and island of Inchicronan. It was sold by Col. Walter Butler-Creagh. Mrs. Hardy (née Vere O'Brien) is the present owner.

The first home of this branch was Ballygegan, where Pierce Butler, the transplanter, and his heir, Theobald, lived. The latter’s son, Francis, moved to Cregg, where he built a house on the hill-side opposite Bunnahow, the Ennis-Galway road running between the two demesnes. On the summit of the well-wooded hill behind the house, stands a stone turret with a curious history. It is the burial place of the amputated limb of one of the Butler ladies, who had the macabre notion of erecting this monument to her 'nearest and dearest'.

Capt. Francis Butler (1789-1855), in a misplaced display of uxoriousness, re-named the family seat 'Sallymount' in compliment to his wife [153] but the original name was later restored; and when Mr. Lattey set up as a country squire, he called the place 'Cregg Park.' It was occupied in the early years of the present century by Sir Lucius O'Callaghan; and was later acquired by a local schoolmaster, who dismantled the three storied mansion in 1950, using some of the material for the building of a small house more suited to his needs.

When William Butler settled in Clare he made his home at Rossroe Castle, which originally belonged to the MacNamaras, who sold it to Viscount Clare cir. 1629 Col. William Purefoy,[154] a Cromwellian officer, was Titulado in 1659. There is a sketch of Rossroe Castle in Dineley's Journal, 1680, who describes it as "a fair seat situate among good lands and orchards." It was then in the possession of John Fennell. The first connection of the Butlers with Rossroe dates from 1688, when Anne Clungeon, who had a lease from Lord Clare, made over a moiety of Rossroe to William Butler in trust for Henry Ievers; and later the lands were conveyed to Butler for seven years. On 27 April, 1704, Nicholas Westby (one of the purchasers of the forfeited estates of Lord Clare) demised Rossroe to William Butler for 31 years at £86 2s. 0d. It was inherited on William's death by his eldest son, Henry, who demised the lands on 29 September, 1721, to John Molony at a rent of £187 10s. 0d. [155] He was the last of the Butlers to live at Rossroe Castle. His son, Capt. Henry Butler being an officer in the regular army, spent the greater part of his life in England. He is, however, described in some documents as "of Bryan's Castle, Co. Clare." Part of these lands (the Irish name was Bealach na Fir Bhearnan, alias Bealnafiervarna) were mortgaged by Donough McNamara of Cotteen on 20 August, 1694, to Terence O'Brien of Durra. He assigned the mortgage to William Butler of Rossore, who purchased the equity of redemption on 14 April, 1698. Another part was mortgaged by Terence's son, Francis, to Butler; and eventually the whole passed into the ownership of the Butlers.

Castle Crine
This formed part of the ancient estate of the earls of Thomond. It was forfeited in 1641, and was granted in 1653 to Col. William Purefoy, above mentioned. It is not certain how Castle Crine came to be acquired by the Butlers. The first of the family to live there was Thomas (ob. 1743), second son of William of Rossroe, and it remained a family seat without intermission for over two centuries. Castle Crine was an imposing castellated mansion, standing in an undulating park in the vicinity of Six Mile Bridge. Col. Henry Butler, the present heir male of the family, lives at Mount Cashel, about a mile distant. The present house was built about 1860 by Capt. Henry Butler [156] on the shores of Castle Lake where the Stacpooles formerly had a house of the same name, which seems to be derived from the townland of Ballymulcashel. Other residences of this branch of the Butlers were Bryan's Castle and Boscobel.

In a return of castles in Co. Clare for the year 1584, preserved in Trinity College Library, Knoppogue Castle is recorded as having been lately in possession of Turlogh O'Brien, but then owned by MacNamara of West Clanculein. The forfeiting proprietor in 1641 was Daniel Mac Namara 'Fionn'. The castle was used as headquarters by Cromwell’s army 1651, and was later restored to John MacNamara, who had become a Protestant. It remained the property of his descendants until the end of the eighteenth century, when, on the foreclosure of a mortgage, it was purchased by Bindon Scott, who spent £13,000 on renovating the castle. The Scott ownership lasted until 1855, when the place was bought by the 24/14 Lord Dunboyne. The Knoppogue demesne then covered 486 acres, but further purchases of adjoining lands brought Lord Dunboyne's total acquisition to 1448 acres. He then proceeded to enlarge the castle, and on 9 June, 1856, the foundation stone of a new west wing and clock tower was laid "in the presence of a numerous and distinguished company", who, we read, afterward "partook of a sumptuous repast of the choicest viands".

Further improvements to the castle were made at considerable expense by the 16/16 Lord Dunboyne in the early years of the present century. He died in 1913, when it was stated in his obituary that "Knoppogue Castle is one of the few Irish feudal fortresses still habitable, and the dungeons and secret passages are still in good preservation." But it did not remain so for long. In 1920 Clare became the scene of raids and counter-raids, reprisals and counter reprisals, and the rule of the gunmen superseded law and order. In that year the household staff at Knoppogue with the exception of one faithful retainer, quitted, so the family had perforce to find a home elsewhere.

The year that followed saw the disappearance from the county of most of the old landlord class, and in 1927 Knoppogue was acquired by the Land Commission. No attempt was made by that body to preserve the castle as an ancient monument; it was disposed of to a Limerick timber merchant, who lost no time in stripping the interior of its handsome panelling, and removed the roof to save paying rates. The fine trees of the well-timbered demesne were ruthlessly felled, and all that now remains of this historic castle is an empty shell.

Other Dunboyne homes in Co. Clare were Craganoura, and Ballyvannion, where James Butler was residing when he succeeded to the peerage. It remained the property of the family throughout the nineteenth century.


Dunboyne; Cregg;
Derryclooney; Other Butler Grantees


Burial Places;
Family Estates; Origins