News Irish News

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Blood, mud and a dysfunctional Butler dynasty

Lay of the land

Lay of the land
Lay of the land

Fiona O'Connell

There are lots of castles around this country, many from when the Normans aggressively nudged their way into ruling residence. Most are now crumbling ruins that charm our summer tourists. Making it easy to forget they were once home to some seriously hardcore nutcases.

Certainly, that phrase coined by Lady Caroline Lamb to describe Lord Byron as "mad, bad and dangerous to know" could apply to the Mountgarret branch of the Butler family of Tinnahinch Castle. For the saga of this dysfunctional dynasty is pickled with psychopaths, right from the family's fledgling days.

Certainly, you would have wanted to lock up not just your wives and daughters but also any menfolk with an overdeveloped sense of honour when it came to one early Butler. He seduced the daughter of his host during a hunting expedition, leading her indignant brother to challenge him to a duel.

Butler refused, on the grounds that the brother was not an equal. So the stubborn sibling joined the French army and rose through the ranks to become a decorated officer, before returning to Ireland to reissue the challenge, leaving bad-ass Butler no option but to fight the duel.

The men were so focused on their bloody brawl that they rolled into the river and drowned.

And while there may be no such thing as a free lunch, a fatal feast is surely taking things too far, judging by another brutal Butler. He invited many of the neighbouring chieftains to dinner, waiting till they were all seated and salivating, before locking the doors and flooding the castle by means of large cisterns at the top of the building. The chieftains' heavy clothing thwarted their attempts to draw their swords from their scabbards, so they drowned.

Perhaps there is truth to the tale, for a number of skeletons were discovered when a turbine race was being cut to the south of the castle in the early 1900s.

Harder to prove is the myth that horrified monks in Duiske Abbey reacted by putting a spell on the town, which means it always rains on days when there are big events, like an assembly, fair or meeting - making you wonder what the rest of us did to deserve our frequent daily downpours.

Another Butler, by the name of Tybott, was so twisted that he was nicknamed 'Mad Butler'. Which makes it all the more bizarre that a widow approached him for help in controlling her spirited son.

Butler solved the problem - by hanging her child. The distraught widow threw herself on her knees and prayed that Mad Butler might also meet a violent death. Sure enough, like his abusive ancestor, he died at the hands of an angry brother-in-law, who shot him for ill-treating his sister.

But apparently not all the Butlers were wicked. Like Lady Anna Butler, sister of James Butler of Tinnahinch Castle, who donated a silver chalice to Duiske Abbey in 1636.

Then again, who knows it wasn't a poisoned one?

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News