Hubert Butler (1900-90)


Life
[Hubert Marshal Butler] b. 23, Oct. 1900, Kilkenny; ed. Charterhouse, and St John’s College, Oxford; joined Sir Horace Plunkett’s Country Library Movement, working chiefly in Northern Ireland; on destruction of the movement by Catholic conservatism, he turned to teaching English in Alexandria and Leningrad, spending three years in Yugoslavia, where he learned the Serb-Croat; worked with Quaker group helping Jews escape, Vienna, 1938-39; inherited on death of his father Maidenhall, and three-bay Georgian country house in Co. Kilkenny, with several hundred acres, and settled there, 1941; m. Peggy, br. of Tyrone Guthrie, who had grown up at Annaghmakerrig;
 
reactivated Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1944, serving as secretary; returned to Zagreb in 1946, and learned of atrocities against Serb and Jews by collaborationist NDH regime, including complicity of local Catholic Hierarchy, and chiefly Archbishop Stepinac, whom he visited in his cell and who was later sheltered by the clergy in Ireland as a heroic anti-Communist; spoke of the 1941 campaing of forcible conversion aimed at Greek Orthodoxy in Croatia during a radio talk on his return, and subsequently challenged papal nuncio in public meeting at the Rotunda Dublin, 1952; forced to resign from Kilkenny Arch. Soc.; projected a journal to be called The Bridge, 1954;
 
Butler published chiefly in Dublin Magazine and Kilkenny People; travelled later to ‘Peace Conferences’ in Prague, and to Russia, China, and America; he objected to the Church of Ireland policy of ‘appeasement’ in Fethard-on-Sea boycott, 1957; issued Ten Thousand Saints (1971), advancing the view that most Irish and continental saints were euhemerised pagan deities and heroes christianised by the Church; four collections of his essays, previously printed in The Church of Ireland Gazette, The Journal of the Butler Society, The Bell, The Irish Times, and the Manchester Guardian, were issued by Lilliput Press, 1988-1996 - along with many previously unpublished; also wrote a translation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, highly commended by Joseph Brodsky; d. 5 Jan., survived by his wife; their papers were sold to the TCD Library; a Hubert Butler Lecture is given annually, as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival (Aug.) - curated in 2011 by Colm Toibin. DIW DIL FDA OCIL

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Works
Monographs
  • Ten Thousand Saints: A Study in Irish and European Origins ( Kilkenny: Wellbrook Press 1972), 334pp., ill. [maps]; Do. [rep.] (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2011), 296pp.
  • Escape from The Anthill, foreword by Maurice James Craig (Dublin: Lilliput 1985);
  • Children of Drancy, foreword by Roy Foster (Dublin: Lilliput 1988);
  • Grandmother and Wolfe Tone, foreword by Dervla Murphy (Dublin: Lilliput 1990), vii-x, 253pp. [contents];
  • The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue, ed. & intro. by Roy Foster (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press; Dublin: Lilliput 1990), 368pp., Do., in French trans. as L’Envahisseur est venu en pantoufles (1995);
  • In the Land of Nod, introduced by Neal Ascherson, with an afterword by Joseph Brodsky (Dublin: Lilliput 1996), 268pp.
 
Articles & Pamphlets
  • Extracts from ‘The Bell, An Anglo-Irish View’, in Irish Univ. Review, ‘Sean O’Faolain Special Issue’ (Spring 1976), p.66-72;
  • Wolfe Tone and the Common Name of Irishmen [Lilliput Pamphlet 15] (Mullingar: Lilliput Press 1985);
  • ‘Ireland in the Nuclear Age,’ in The Irish Review 1 (1986), pp.28-33.
 

See also Susan Butler, Mind’s Eye (Kilkenny 1993), 42pp.; poems by the widow of Hubert Butler and sister of Tyrone Guthrie [‘I am a human fringe-event / No star-turn I’].

Bibliographical details

Grandmother and Wolfe Tone (1990), vii-x, 253pp. Foreword by Dervla Murphy; Pt. 1, Ireland, [Chaps]: ‘Otway Cuffe’; ‘Home-Coming’; ‘Barriers’; ‘Two Languages’; ‘County Libraries, sex, religion & censorship’; ‘Crossing the Border’; ‘Abortion’; ‘The Decay of Archaeology’; ‘Midland Perspectives’; ‘Influenza in Aran’; ‘Grandmother and Wolfe Tone. Pt 2, Politics and Culture of Europe and America [CHPS.], James Bourchier, an Irishman in Bulgaria’; ‘Mein Kampf, Eliot and Foster’; ‘Yugoslavia, cultural background’; ‘Yugoslavia, Church and its opponents’; ‘Father Chok and compulsory conversion’; ‘post war Yugoslavia’; ‘The Final Solution’; ‘Escape to France’; ‘American Impressions.

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Criticism
  • W. J. McCormack, also ‘Appreciation’, in Eire-Ireland (Oct. 1991), q.pp.;
  • Robert Tobin, The Minority Voice: Hubert Butler and Southern Irish Protesantism [Oxford Historical Monographs] (OUP 2012), 320pp.;
  • Aidan O’Malley, ‘Hubert Butler “In Europe’s Debatable Lands”’, in O’Malley & Eve Patten, eds., Ireland, West to East: Irish Cultural Interactions with Central and Eastern Europe (Oxford, Bern & NY: Peter Lang 2014) pp.179-94;
  • Michael McAteer, ‘From Ireland to Croatia: Huber Butler and Alojzije Stepinac’, in O’Malley & Eve Patten, eds., Ireland, West to East (Peter Lang 2014), pp.195-210;
  • Steip Grgas, ‘Hubert Butler’s Non-Presence in Croatia’, in O’Malley & Eve Patten, eds., Ireland, West to East (Peter Lang 2014), pp.211-25.

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Commentary
John Dillon (The Irish Times, 23 Sept. 1991), writes: ‘Some Facts to Remember about “gallant Croatia”’, ‘Apart from the lesson about extreme religious nationalism, [the Irish aspect of] the story [of the persecution of the Orthodox] resides in the fact that it was taken up in the 1950s by the brilliant Irish essayist Hubert Butler (who had spent some years teaching in Yugoslavia before the war) in reaction to the violent campaing launched by The Standard, the main Irish Catholic, against the imprisonment of Archbishop Stepinac.’

The Partition Debate (Kilkenny) - gives an account of the controversy on Partition instigated by Butler in the Kilkenny Debating Society and the opposition to it. Contributors to the eventual debate were Col. Topping, William Douglas, Eoin ‘Pope’ O’Mahoney, Sean MacBride, Mary O’Malley, and Richard Hayward; Butler entered the controversy with one subsequent letter under the name of ‘Protestant Anti-Partitionist’. (See ‘Dateline 1954: Kilkenny Debates Partition’, in Causeway [Belfast], Spring 1994.)

Robert Greacen, Brief Encounters (Belfast: Lagan Press 1991), writes: Hubert Butler, An outspoken speech in Dublin in 1952 was considered by some to be an affront to Catholicism and, worse still, an insult to the Papal Nuncio who was present on the occasion. [.../..] This was when Hubert shocked the predominantly Catholic audience by speaking frankly of the forced conversion to Catholicism and the eventual massacre of thousands of Orthodox Serbs by the Croatian regime that collaborated with the Nazis. (Sean O’Casey refers to this incident in his autobiography.) The furore split the Kilkenny Arch. Society and forced Hubert to withdraw from it the life of a scholarly squire. He set about writing a book - as Patricia had prescribed years earlier - and this turned out to be Ten Thousand Saints. It meant further controversy, this time with the scholars rather than the saints of Holy Ireland. (p.35.)

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David Stevens, ‘Religious Ireland (II)’, in Culture in Ireland, Diversity or Division, ed. Edna Longley [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (QUB: Inst. of Irish Studies 1991), ‘Butler, I feel, does not really help in understanding the Southern Protestant tradition, a man who was marginal to that tradition in terms of his rather aristocratic self-conscious Republicanism and whose ‘real religion’ was a dream of local co-operative community’ (p, 143).

Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994), notes Butler’s charge that the Church of Ireland operated a policy of appeasement during the Fethard-on-Sea crisis in 1957, issued in ‘Boycott Village’ (From the Anthill, 1985). See also her discussion of Butler’s position on the ‘amiable inertia’ of the Protestant minority, and the importance of debate (Longley, op. cit., pp.139-43) and further remarks in Longley, ‘Defending Ireland’s Soul’ (op. cit. 1994, pp.130-49, espec. pp.139-42).

Jerry C. M. Nolan, ‘Standish James O’Grady’s Cultural Nationalism’, Irish Studies Review, 7, 3 (Dec. 1999), pp.347-57: ‘After Lady Desart had taken her place beside Yeats in Cosgrave’s Senate, republicans burned down Desart Court and made a bonfire of the furniture in the yard. Butler argued powerfully that such a wanton destruction of gentry property paled into insignificance when one considered the cultural impoverishment of Ireland which followed the withdrawal of a whole historic class of whch O’Grady was one of the shining examples.’ (p.355).

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft, ‘Message from a Gentle Protestant’, review of In the Land of Nod (Dublin: Lilliput [199]), in TLS, 28 June 1996, p.13-14: cites his title-essay of The Children of Drancy as referring to the deportation of 4,000 Jewish children from France, and quotes (after Butler) François Maurois: ‘the dream which Western man conceived in the 18th century, whose dawn he thought he say in 11789, and which, under 2 Aug. 1914, had grown stronger with the process of enlightenment and the discoveries of science - this dream vanished finally for me with those trainloads of little children’; quotes also Butler on Shaw: ‘His tributes to Hitler, Mussolini, Stain, his defence of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, are appalling in their tasteless frivolity, unless one thing so Shaw as a genius shaped like Joyce by a small community to be its gadfly but pitchforked by fate into being a World-Figure’.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft (‘Message from a Gentle Protestant’, TLS, 28 June 1996) - cont.: Wheatcroft quotes Butler’s bening conception of nationalism as ‘comprehensive and based on neighbourliness and shared experiences and a common devotion to the land in which you live’. Comments on the inadequacy of this patrician Anglo-Irish view in populist Ireland, remarking that ‘upper class nationalism is always dubious, but the nationalism of an alien colon class is truly absurd.’ (p.14.) Wheatcroft compares Butler’s outlook speculatively with that of the Magyar aristocracy in relation to old Hungary, of which they formed so small an ethnic and linguistic portion. Quotes Butler on ‘the dim hope which sustains the solitary writer, of being understood by posterity’, and compares his efforts to putting his brilliant and profound messages into bottles and tossing them into a literary sea. Butler quotes his friend Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, citing Herbert Spencer: ‘What I must realise is how infinitesmal is the importance of anything I do, and how infinitely important it is that I should do it.’

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Carlo Gèbler, review of Wicked Little Joe: A Tale of Childhood and Youth, in in The Irish Times (12 Sept. 2009): ‘[...] perhaps the greatest casualties are the Butlers. The Hubert Butler we meet on Hone’s pages is not the sage of Maidenhall but a frigid, cold, emotoinally distant Victorian who had no insight whatsoever into the inner life of the child who lived under his roof for so many years. As for Peggy, fra from being saintly, she turns out to have been vindictive, abrasive, and cruel’. (For further details, see under Joseph Hone, q.v.)

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John Banville, ‘A much travelled thinker rooted in his home place’, in The Irish Times (1 Dec. 2012), [Introduction to The Eggman and the Fairies]: ‘Hubert Butler is one of the great essayists in the English language, the peer of Hazlitt, Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell. This may seem a startling claim, given that Butler’s work is known to a relatively small coterie of readers. The narrowness of his reputation is due not only to his natural modesty – he was surely the least noisy of writers – but to the fact that, although he was a much-travelled man, he cleaved steadfastly to his home place. [...] Hubert Butler was a very particular kind of Irishman. He liked to describe himself as a “Protestant Republican”, but the historian Roy Foster has suggested that a more accurate formulation would be “Ascendancy Nationalist”, and certainly the essays return again and again to the theme of nationalism as a positive force. He was also, as a writer and as a citizen, quintessentially European.’ [Cont.]

Discussion: Banville discussed the The Eggman and the Fairies and The Invader Wore Slippers, Butler’s collections which he edited, with Fintan O’Toole in the Long Room Hub at Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday Dec. 5th. 2012 at 6.30pm. (See Nottinghill Editions - online.)

John Banville, ‘A much travelled thinker [...]’ (Irish Times, 1 Dec. 2012) - cont.: ‘The breadth of Butler’s interests and concerns is remarkable, even for a writer whose career spanned the greater part of one of the most violent and tumultuous centuries the world has known. [...] Although he is fully conscious of the dangers of blinkered parochialism, his vision is all of a piece. Whether he is writing about wartime atrocities or local history, the slaughter of the Jews or Celtic hagiography, he speaks with unfailing authenticity. In this he is a member of a dying species. [...] Butler is a vigorous thinker and a marvellous writer, one of those rare figures whose mild tone masks a steely resolve. Rarely does he raise his voice – he does not need to, so incisive are his perceptions and so corrosive is his wit. With him, to read the writer is to know the man, and to know Hubert Butler is to understand a little more about oneself and a great deal more about the world.’ (The Irish Times, 1 Dec 2012, Weekend, p.10; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

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References
Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994) contains extract; The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991), selects Escape from the Anthill [546-50], with biog. at p.560.

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Quotations
Escape from the Anthill
(1985) - Introduction quotes Chekhov: ‘I see that our salvation will come from solitary personalities, scattered here and there over Russia, sometimes educated, sometimes peasant. Power is in their hands even though there are few of them. No man is a prophet in his own country and these solitary individuals, of which I speak, play an imperceptible role in society; they do not dominate it but their work is visible.’ Also quotes Wolfe Tone: ‘to unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denomination of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’. Further: ‘[Bishop Robert Fowler of Kilkenny] shares in the opinion of Catholic exclusion common to liberal Protestants in Ireland since Swift, “When the Numbers, the Riches and the Power of that Body are considered, ’tis wonderful they have submitted to the Yoke so long. For what is it but Oppression for so large a Majority of the Inhabitants of one Nation to be deprived of almost every privilege dear to a Citizen on account of a difference of Religion, when they pay their share of the Taxes of the State?”

(For further remarks on Wellington, Standish O’Grady, Anglo-Irish absentees, Ne Timere, Elizabeth Bowen, Irish county libraries, Patrick Kavanagh on nationalism, and extracts from ‘The Bell: An Anglo-Irish View’, in Irish University Review [“Sean O’Faolain Special Issue”; Spring 1976], see attached.]

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Beside the Nore’: ‘I have always beleived that local history is more important than natioanl history. Tehre should be an archive in every village, where sories such as the old man told me [of the Tans at Woodstock House] are recorded. Where life is fully and consciouisly lived in our own neighbuorhood, we are cushioned a little from teh impact of great far off events which should be of only marginal concern to us.’ (The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue, 1990, p.32.)

County libraries: ‘[...] through my years in county libraries, I discovered the varied beauties of my country and the rich diversity of its people. Why is it that now we look at the beauty mainly as something we can sell to tourists, and the diversity of its people, their faiths and loyalties, not as an enrichment but a source of bitter antagonisms?’ (Butler, quoted as epigraph in Culture in Ireland, Regions, Identity and Power, ed. Prionsias Ó Drisceoil [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference, 27-29 Nov. 1992], QUB: Inst. of Irish Studies 1993. Note: the conference was ‘dedicated to the example of Hubert Butler, a lifelong campaigner for cultural understanding, and to Patrick Kavanagh.’

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The Invaders Wore Slippers’: ‘The Germans sheltered the Breton rebel leaders, Mordrel and Debauvais, as they had once sheltered Roger Casement and they too were invited to recruit a rebel army to fight for independence among the prisoners of war. The Breton prisoners responded in the same half-hearted way as the Irish had once done. The Germans, however, continued to support the Breton movement till France had been brought to her knees. Then they made terms with Vichy, withdrew all aid form the Breton separatists and allowed them to operate only against the Maquis. They led the Bretons the sort of dance that cannot be done in jackboots. / I think the Nazi policy in regard to Ireland would have been equally agile and ambiguous. The Celtic nationalists would, as in Brittainy, have been regarded as a valuable tool for undermining a non-German hegemony, but of decidedly less value for the reconstruction of a German won. The nationalist would have been manoeuvred, not kicked, out of his privileged position. / [...] I think that when the success of the invasion had been assured, it would have emerged that the respectable Xs, the Anglo-Irish Herrenvolk of Ulster and the Dublin suburbs, would prove the more satisfactory accomplices in establishing a German hegemony.’ (The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press; Dublin: Lilliput 1990, p.256; see also under Ernest Renan, q.v..]

CND: ‘... I am proud to think that six or seven years ago we joined the protest at Carnsore Point where the Irish reactor was to be build and laid our stones on a symbolic cairn which we erected there. There was strong evidence that Ireland now wishes to be non-nuclear and neutral. .’] ‘Ireland in the Nuclear Age,’ in The Irish Review No. 1 (1986), pp.28-33.

The Decay of Archaeology” (1963): ‘It may sound ungenerous to say so, but the salaried expert canot afford to be as strenuous a defender of our antiquities and our right to free speculation as the amateurs of a hundred years ago. Archaeology, by becoming a profession out of which you support a family and/or an academic reputation, often becomes very timorous and self-important.’ (quoted in The Irish Times, [14] Aug. 2004.)

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Unique culture?: ‘It is a strange time to maintain the theory that a distinctive culture cannot exist without cultural intercourse, but since the mainspring of our freedom was not political theory but the claim that Ireland possessed and could develop a unique culture of her own, it is seasonable to examine this claim. It need not take us long, not longer than a walk down O’Connell Street past the bookshops, the cinemas, the stationers, the theatres, the hotels. By the time we are in Parnell Square we can have no doubt that after twenty years of effort, the culture of Ireland is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon, nakedly or in word-for-word translation. The machinery of the national culture is of the approved ( international ) model, but the wheels have never once gone round.’ (Hubert Butler, The Bell, 1941; quoted in Lawrence Osborne, ‘Dreaming Shamrocks: The Use of Being Irish’, in The Village Voice, 3 June 2008; available online - accessed 29.03.2011.) [Note that Osborne calls the author an ‘Irish journalist’.]

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Notes
Major and minor
: ‘[A] whole forest of minor talents may have to flourish and die before our soil is rich enough to sustain a single genius’. (’The Bell: An Anglo-Irish View’, in Irish Univ. Review, ‘Sean O’Faolain Special Issue’ (Spring 1976), pp.66-72.

The Unicorn: Hermann Rausche writes, ‘Erwin Strunz had been a journalist in Vienna. With the help of the writer Hubert Butler and the International Relief Centre of Quakers in Vienna he and his Jewish wife Lisl were able to leave Austria and were offered refuge in Ireland. Erwin and Lisl later managed the Unicorn Restaurant in Dublin’s Merrion Row where they befriended many well-known Dubliners.’ (See ‘Ludwig Bieler’, in Gisela Holfter, German Speaking Exiles in Ireland 1933-45 [German Monitor Ser., 63] Amsterdam: Rodopi B.V. 2006, p.173.)

Man of letters: engaged in an exchange of letters in The Kilkenny Magazine with Brian Inglis following the latter’s vitriolic on modern Ireland in West Briton (1966).

Namesake: Hubert Butler is the the central character of Charles Kickham’s romance of 1798, The Eagle of Garryroe (1919).

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