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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chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.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 Frances Browne, Poet & Novelist

frances-browneFrances Browne, Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for Granny’s Wonderful Chair, her collection of short stories for children, is born on January 16, 1816, at Stranorlar, County Donegal, the seventh child in a family of twelve children.

Browne is blind from infancy as a consequence of an attack of smallpox when she is only 18 months old. In her writings, she recounts how she learned by heart the lessons which her brothers and sisters said aloud every evening, and how she bribed them to read to her by doing their chores. She then worked hard at memorising all that she had heard. She writes her first poem, a version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” when she is seven years old.

In 1841, her first poems are published in the Irish Penny Journal and in the London Athenauem. One of those included in the Irish Penny Journal is the beautiful lyric “Songs of Our Land” which can be found in many anthologies of Irish patriotic verse. She publishes a complete volume of poems in 1844, and a second volume in 1847. The provincial newspapers, especially the Belfast-based Northern Whig reprint many of her poems and she becomes widely known as “The Blind Poetess of Ulster.”

In 1845 she makes her first contribution to the popular magazine Chambers’s Journal and she writes for this journal for the next 25 years. The first short story that she has published in the Journal is entitled, “The Lost New Year’s Gift,” appearing in March 1845. She also contributes many short stories to magazines that have a largely female readership.

In 1847, she leaves Donegal for Edinburgh with one of her sisters as her reader and amanuensis. She quickly establishes herself in literary circles, and writes essays, reviews, stories, and poems, in spite of health problems. In 1852, she moves to London, where she writes her first novel, My Share of the World (1861). Her best known work, Granny’s Wonderful Chair, is published in 1856. It remains in print to this day and has been translated into several languages. It is a richly imaginative collection of fairy stories. It is also in 1856 that Pictures and Songs of Home appears, her third volume of poetry. This is directed at very young children and contains beautiful illustrations. The poems focus on her childhood experiences in County Donegal and provide evocative of its countryside.

After her move to London she writes for the Religious Tract Society, making many contributions to their periodicals The Leisure Hour and The Sunday at Home. One of these is “1776: a tale of the American War of Independence” which is printed in The Leisure Hour on the centenary of that event in 1876. As well as describing some of the revolutionary events, it is also a touching love story and is beautifully illustrated. Her last piece of writing is a poem called “The Children’s Day” which appears in The Sunday at Home in 1879.

Frances Brown dies from apoplexy on August 21, 1879, at 19 St. John’s Grove in Richmond-upon-Thames. She is buried on August 25, 1879, in plot 40 in the cemetery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Richmond, London. Frances dies unmarried and leaves all her belongings, valued at less than 100 pounds, to Eliza Hickman who had been her faithful companion and secretary for many years.