Isaac Butt

Isaac Butt 6 September 1813 – 5 May 1879) was an Irish barrister, and the founder and first leader of a number of Irish nationalist parties and organizations, including the Irish Metropolitan Conservative Society in 1836, the Home Government Association in 1870 and in 1873 the Home Rule League.

Butt was born in Glenfin, Co. Donegal in 1813, the son of a Protestant rector. He received his secondary school education at Midleton College, Co. Cork before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen. Whilst there he co-founded the Dublin University Magazine and edited it for four years. For much of his life was a member of the Irish Conservative Party.He became professor of political economy at Trinity in 1836 and held that position until 1841. [Irish Times 26 August 2008, page 15, An Irishman's Diary, Frank Bouchier-Hayes] .

Legal career

After being called to the bar in 1838, Butt quickly established a name for himself as a brilliant barrister. He was known for his opposition to the Irish nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell's campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union [Michael Doran. "Movements for political and Social Reform, 1870-1914(Irish Leaving Cert History Textbook)". Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2003. p 25-26] . He also lectured at Trinity College, Dublin, in political economy. His experiences during the Irish Famine led him to move from being an Irish unionist and an Orangeman [Alvin Jackson. "Home Rule: An Irish History 1800-2000". Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2003. p 25-26] to supporting a federal political system for the British Isles that would give Ireland a greater degree of self-rule. This led to his involvement in Irish nationalist politics and the foundation of the Home Rule League. Butt was instrumental in fostering links between Constitutional and Revolutionary nationalism through his representation of members of the Fenians Society in court. Butt gained notoriety for both himself and the Home Rule League as well as Fenians executed in England (the Manchester Martyrs incident.)

Political career

He began his career as a Tory politician on Dublin Corporation. He was Member of Parliament for Youghal from 1852 to 1865, and for Limerick from 1871 to 1879. (At the 1852 general election he had also been elected for the English constituency of Harwich, but chose to sit for Youghal).

In 1870 he founded the Irish Home Government Association. This was renamed the Home Rule League in November 1873. He did not want to separate from the United Kingdom totally. He noted that since the arrival of Henry II Ireland was an indissolubly linked to Great Britain. He said he wanted to forge a 'Siamese Union' between Ireland and Great Britain. He believed that Home Rule would promote friendship between Ireland and her neighbour to the east.

Butt achieved little in Westminster and many Fenians along with tenant farmers were very unhappy with his gentlemanly approach to have bills enacted. Most home rule MP's disliked Butt's methods also. They joined along with the more radical MPs to cause havoc in Westminster through a new tactic of "obstructionism". MPs could then stand up and talk for as long as they wished on any subject. In one case they talked for 45 hours non-stop, stopping any important bills from being passed; Butt disapproved of this method.

He resigned the leadership in 1879 and was replaced by William Shaw, who in turn was replaced by Charles Stewart Parnell in 1880.

Personal life

Butt's personal life was notorious. His chaotic finances led to a number of stays in a debtor's prison, while his sexual proclivities achieved legendary status, with members of his various parties describing his speeches being interrupted by heckling from women with whom he had fathered children. [Alvin Jackson, "Home Rule: An Irish History 1800-2000." p.36.] He was also involved in a financial scandal when it was revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

He died on the 5 May 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains were brought by train to Stranorlar, Co. Donegal where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree in which he used to sit and dream as a boy.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations Butt was capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends such as John Butler Yeats (father of the poet WB Yeats) and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick Edward Thomas O'Dwyer retained a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt's downfall.

The novel HOGAN MP by May Laffan Hartley features a hostile portrait of Butt as "Mr. Rebutter".

Footnotes

Isaac Butt was a notorious sex addict and this along with his alcoholism and poor health was the ultamite downfall to his career

References

*Rayment


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