Book Review by Rob Butler
John Kirwan, THE CHIEF BUTLERS OF IRELAND AND THE HOUSE OF ORMOND, Irish Academic Press, 2018, 381pp.
Historian and author John Kirwan has undertaken a mammoth task in producing what is a most comprehensive genealogical history of the Chief Butlers, Dukes, Marquesses and Earls of Ormond and their families. There have been a number of publications about the Ormond Butlers, which are critically analysed within the book, but this tome surpasses all in its coverage and detailed accounts of the Ormond title holders and other significant members of the family.
These powerful aristocrats occupied a major part in the history of Ireland for over 500 years. According to Burke’s Peerage, they were, alongside the Fitzgeralds, ‘rivals in power and equals in renown’. They were seated in Kilkenny Castle from 1391, with other seats including Nenagh, Cahir, Roscrea, Kilcash and Thurles and had extensive landholdings in Kilkenny and Tipperary. Their titles included English and Irish dukedoms and an Irish marquessate and seven of them were appointed Governor of Ireland. They had a close relationship with the English Monarchy. One of the wives of Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, was of this extended family and James Butler (1610-1688), the 18th Chief Butler and 1st Duke of Ormond, is an ancestor of Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England.
The book is full of the many trials and tribulations of this family – battles, economic difficulties, sectarian issues, contested claims to titles and the politics of the monarchy and the English and Irish aristocracies in which the Ormonds were involved. It is superbly illustrated with many colour photographs of original portraits of the Butlers and includes a comprehensive essay on the history, architecture and archaeology of Kilkenny Castle by Kilkenny archaeologist, Ben Murtagh. The general format is one of separate biographies of all Chief Butlers in turn and its details can be somewhat repetitive in order for each of these accounts to stand alone, even to some repetition of the photographs which illustrate each section. It will be a valuable resource for anyone studying this particular genealogy.