Robert Childers Barton, Anglo-Irish politician, Irish nationalist and farmer who participates in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, dies in Annamoe, County Wicklow, on August 10, 1975. His father is Charles William Barton and his mother is Agnes Alexandra Frances Childers. His wife is Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske Warren. His double first cousin and close friend is the English-born Irish writer Erskine Childers.
Barton is born in Annamoe on March 14, 1881, into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family, namely of Glendalough House. His two younger brothers, Erskine and Thomas, die while serving in the British Army during World War I. He is educated in England at Rugby School and the University of Oxford and becomes an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of World War I. He is stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and comes into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. He resigns his commission in protest at the heavy-handed British government suppression of the revolt. He then joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).
At the 1918 Irish general election to the British House of Commons, Barton is elected as the Sinn Féin member for West Wicklow. In common with all Sinn Féin members, he boycotts the Westminster parliament and sits instead in Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil). Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, he escapes from Mountjoy Prison on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he felt compelled to leave, and requests the governor to keep his luggage until he sends for it. He is appointed as Director of Agriculture in the Dáil Ministry in April 1919. He is recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but is released under the general amnesty of July 1921.
In May of that year, prior to his release, Barton is elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Once again all Sinn Féin members boycott this parliament, sitting as the Second Dáil. In August 1921, he is appointed to cabinet as Secretary for Economic Affairs.
Barton is one of the Irish plenipotentiaries to travel to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. His cousin is a secretary to the delegation. He reluctantly signs the Treaty on December 6, 1921, defending it “as the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose.”
Although he had signed the Treaty and voted for it in the Dáil, Barton stands in the 1922 Irish general election for Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, the only TD who had voted for the Treaty to do so, and wins a seat in the Third Dáil. In common with other Anti-Treaty TDs, he does not take his seat. In October 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs in Éamon de Valera‘s “Emergency Government,” a shadow government in opposition to the Provisional Government and the later Executive Council of the Irish Free State. His memoir of this period is completed in 1954, and can be seen on the Bureau of Military History website. He is arrested and interned for most of the war at the Curragh Camp.
Barton is defeated at the 1923 Irish general election and retires from politics for the law, practicing as a barrister. He later becomes a judge. He is chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation from 1934 to 1954. He dies at home in County Wicklow on August 10, 1975, at the age of 94, the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Éamon de Valera dies only nineteen days later, on August 29, 1975.
Glendalough House, run by Barton for over 70 years right up until his death, is still considered one of Ireland’s most notable properties, alongside nearby Powerscourt Estate. The house is the center of numerous political meetings and gatherings from 1910 to 1922. It has also been featured as a location in many large Hollywood films including Excalibur, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart.