Isaac Butt

Isaac Butt monument Stranorlar
Isaac Butt monument Stranorlar

Isaac Butt ~ Father of Home Rule

Isaac Butt regarded as the founder of the Home Rule movement in Ireland, was born in Glenfin, Co. Donegal, on the 6th of September, 1813.  Isaac was educated at the Royal School in Raphoe, Co. Donegal and Middleton College, Co. Cork.  He took first place in the entrance exam into Trinity College at the age of fifteen.  He graduated from Trinity in 1835 with the triple distinction of an honours degree in classics, mathematics and mental sciences.   In 1833 he co-founded the Dublin University Magazine and The Protestant Guardian.  He became professor of political economy at Trinity in 1836 and held that position until 1841.

He was called to the bar in 1838 and quickly established a name for himself as a brilliant barrister.  He obtained his MA and LLD in 1840, and in 1844 was made Queens counsel at the age of thirty one.  A member of both the Irish and English bar, he was a noted conservative lawyer and an opponent of Daniel O’Connell.  After the Great Famine of the 1840s, he became increasingly liberal.  The idealism of the Young Irelanders won him over to nationalism, and he defended many Fenians in 1848.  Isaac sacrificed a financially rewarding career as a writer and a barrister to represent disadvantaged Irish people in Parliament.

In 1852 to 1865, Butt was elected to Westminister as Tory MP for both Harwich and Youghal in Co. Cork.  In 1867 Butt became an advocate of Home Rule and legislative independence for Ireland.  In 1869 Isaac founded the Amnesty Association for the release of Fenian prisoners. 

In 1870 he founded the Irish Home Government Association and was influential in bringing about the Land Act of 1870 and The Ballot Act of 1873.   In 1873 the Irish Home Government Association was renamed Home Rule League.  In the General Election of 1874 his party won more than half the Irish seats at Westminister.  At first his party failed to make any impact in Parliament.  Butt believed in peaceful persuasion, but many of his colleagues believed in ‘obstructionism’.  This meant disrupting the business of the Parliament by using delaying tactics.  After fourteen attempts to amend the Land Laws failed between 1870 and 1876.  Isaac warned the Parliament that the failures to deal with land issues would result in Land War.   Isaac’s followers grew impatient and many withdrew their support.  This divided the Home Rulers and left a struggle for the leadership for the party.  Isaac tried to resign as leader of the party as he became dishearten with the lack of reform and commitment from the British Government.  The Home Rulers retained confidence in him and he lead the party until 1879.  The Home Rule Movement was a very important part of the progress towards Irish independence, which was eventually secured in 1921.  Butt was known as the ‘Father of Home Rule’.  His influence and passion were important to the movement.

Isaac Butt died on the 5th May 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin.  His remains were brought by train to Stranorlar, in Co. Donegal.  He is buried in accordance with his wishes at a spot in the Church of Ireland cemetery in Stranorlar, where he often studied his lessons as a boy. 

The Butt Bridge close to Liberty Hall in Dublin, was opened in 1879 and named in his honour.  This represents the high regard the Irish people had for Isaac Butt, who worked tirelessly to build bridges towards a better future for the Irish people.  The Butt Hall in Ballybofey opened in 1919 and was recently replaced with the Balor Theatre.  In August 1998 the Isaac Butt Heritage Centre was officially opened by Dr. James McDaid in Cloghan, Ballybofey.    In more recent times a monument of Isaac Butt was unveiled in Stranorlar on Saturday 21st July 2012.