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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Isaac Butt, Barrister & Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Isaac_Butt.jpgIsaac Butt, barrister and politician, is born in Glenfin, County Donegal on September 6, 1813. If not the originator of the term Home Rule, he is the first to make it an effective political slogan. He is the founder (1870) and first chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.

Butt is the son of a Church of Ireland rector and is descended from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, through the Ramsays. He receives his secondary school education at The Royal School in Raphoe, County Donegal, and at Midleton College in County Cork, before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen, where he is elected a Scholar. While there he co-founds the Dublin University Magazine and edits it for four years. For much of his life he is a member of the Irish Conservative Party. He becomes Whately Chair of Political Economy at Trinity in 1836 and holds that position until 1841.

Butt is called to the Irish bar in 1838 and the English bar in 1859. Intermittently from 1852 he represents, successively, one English and two Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. In 1848 he undertakes the defense of the Young Ireland leaders, who are charged with high treason for their abortive insurrection that year. From 1865 to 1869 he is the principal defense counsel for the imprisoned leaders of the Fenians (Irish Republican, or Revolutionary, Brotherhood).

Despite his legal work for the Fenians, Butt, who is basically a conservative, fears the consequences of a successful Fenian revolt. Disillusioned, however, by the British government’s failure to relieve the Irish Great Famine of the late 1840s, he becomes convinced that a native parliament is required for Irish land reform and other needs. In May 1870 he calls for an Irish Parliament subordinate to the imperial Parliament at Westminster, and later that year he forms the Home Government Association. From 1871 he quickens the Irish nationalist agitation in the House of Commons but gradually loses his leadership, partly because he disapproves of Parnell’s tactics of obstructing routine parliamentary business.

Butt amasses debts and pursues romances. It is said that at meetings he is occasionally heckled by women with whom he had fathered children. He is also involved in a financial scandal when it is revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

Isaac Butt dies on May 5, 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains are brought by train to Stranorlar, County Donegal, where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree by which he used to sit and dream as a boy. His grave has been restored and the memorial now includes a wreath.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations, Butt is capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends, such as John Butler Yeats and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, retain a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt’s downfall.

In May 2010 the Church of Ireland parishes of Stranorlar, Meenglass and Kilteevogue instigate an annual memorial Service and Lecture in Butt’s honour, inviting members of the professions of law, politics and journalism to reflect aspects of his life. Speakers have included Dr. Joe Mulholland, Senator David Norris, Dr. Chris McGimpsey and Prof. Brian Walker.

(Pictured: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats)


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Birth of The Reverend Edward Hincks

edward-hincksThe Reverend Edward Hincks, Anglo-Irish clergyman best remembered as an Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform, is born in Cork, County Cork on August 19, 1792. He is one of the three men known as the “holy trinity of cuneiform,” with Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and Jules Oppert.

Hincks is the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Dix Hincks, a distinguished Protestant minister, orientalist and naturalist. He is an elder brother of Sir Francis Hincks, a prominent Canadian politician who is also sometime Governor of Barbados, and William Hincks, the first Professor of Natural History at Queen’s College, Cork and afterwards University College, Toronto.

Hincks is educated at home by his father and at Midleton College before entering Trinity College Dublin. He is elected a Scholar of the College in 1810, and in 1812 wins the Gold Medal and Bishop Law‘s Prize for Mathematics. He is elected a Fellow of the College in 1813 and four years later takes his M.A. In 1819, following the death of Thomas Meredith, he is presented to the Rectory of Ardtrea in County Tyrone. Though Ardtrea is a valuable and highly prized Rectory, it is also isolated for a young bachelor and he resigns the position in 1826, taking up the Rectory in nearby Killyleagh, County Down, an office he holds for the remainder of his life.

The undemanding nature of his clerical duties leave him with more than enough time to pursue his interest in ancient languages. His first love is for the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. His greatest achievement is the decipherment of the ancient language and writing of Babylon and Assyria: Akkadian cuneiform.

Hincks deduces correctly that cuneiform writing had been invented by one of the earliest civilisations of Mesopotamia, who then bequeathed it to later states such as Babylon, Assyria and Elam. In 1848 he is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his achievements.

By 1850 Hincks comes to a number of important conclusions regarding the nature of Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform. He also discovers that cuneiform characters are “polyphonic,” by which he means that a single sign can have several different readings depending on the context in which it occurs. However, not everyone is convinced by the claims being made by the Irishman and his distinguished colleagues. Some philologists even suggest that they are simply inventing multiple readings of the signs to suit their own translations.

In 1857 the versatile English Orientalist William Henry Fox Talbot suggests that an undeciphered cuneiform text be given to several different Assyriologists to translate. If, working independently of one another, they come up with reasonably similar translations, it will surely dispel the doubts surrounding their claims.

As it happens, Talbot, Hincks, Rawlinson and Oppert, are in London in 1857. Edwin Norris, secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, gives each of them a copy of a recently discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser I. A jury of experts is impaneled to examine the resulting translations and assess their accuracy.

In all essential points the translations produced by the four scholars are found to be in close agreement with one another. There are of course some slight discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot makes a number of mistakes, and Oppert’s translation contains a few doubtful passages due to his unfamiliarity with the English language. But Hincks’ and Rawlinson’s versions are virtually identical. The jury declares itself satisfied, and the decipherment of cuneiform is adjudged a fait accompli.

Hincks devotes the remaining years of his life to the study of cuneiform and makes further significant contributions to its decipherment. He dies at his rectory in Killyleagh on December 3, 1866 at the age of 74. He is survived by a wife and four daughters.