(25 Jan 1939- 25 Aug 2021)
By Frances Devlin-Glass
It was with a sense of shock that we heard from the family of the sudden death of a beloved member of the editorial team of Tinteán, Rob Butler after a short illness. He’s not been very active with us for a few years as he careered around the country with a group of friends in his sophisticated camping rig, but he has completed a handful of reviews in the last four years.
His last communication to the team was one about his condition and how it was a more minor and treatable form of the illness. Given his medical smarts, and his compassion, he was probably minimising it to ameliorate the impact of such a prognosis. As recently as December 2020, he was making plans for a visit to his son and daughter-in-law’s new cottage on Achill Island (Mayo) once the pandemic had run its course. It was, of course, an ambition he was not able to realise and would have regretted not fulfilling, being a footloose inveterate traveller of many lands and seas.
Rob was a popular member of the Táin and later Tinteán teams from their beginnings over 20 years ago. He was funny, revelling (on the same day in July of this year that he shared his diagnosis with the team) in his designation in a family member’s contact list as Sinn Fein President, and wondering when he could expect a visit from MI6. A good diversionary tactic, and typical of this jocular man. He was a regular visitor (travelling from Shoreham weekly) to fellow-elder of Táin/Tinteán, Peter Kiernan’s bedside in Camberwell, and the running joke between them was an inflation of their status as navy personnel during the war. Peter, as befitted his senior status in the team, was the Commodore.
Rob was sought after as a reviewer. He was a partisan and witty commentator on the Irish scene which he followed closely. He was an elegant prose stylist and adopted a sly approach to books. A typical example is his review of John Kirwan’s The Chief Butlers of Ireland and the House of Ormond, a prominent Anglo-Irish family who occupied Kilkenny Castle from 1391. Having alluded to the ‘many trials and tribulations’ of this immensely privileged family (one felt his heart was not in their suffering), he seemed obliged to remind the reader that ‘Rob Butler may share a surname but has absolutely no ancestral links to this noble family’. His scientific training made him a clinical reviewer, giving information dispassionately – mostly – and always with an eye to what was amusing. In a review of Mary McAleese’s memoir, Here’s the Story, he enjoyed her describing her strict upbringing by the Mercy(less) Order. A democrat and an Irish-Australian patriot, he was keen to share his reading of Irish history with his fellow Australians and he did not trade in the stereotypical or the banal or the sentimental.
One could spend some very pleasant time with Rob during the pandemic by searching for his articles by putting Rob Butler into the search bar at Tinteán. You’ll find an Irish war-pilot, a fair-minded account of a hostile biography of Gerry Adams, an account of an early book on Brexit where Rob’s wider reading is on show, and he allows himself to hope for a united Ireland, and much more. As I said, there was never any doubt Rob was a committed partisan.
Rob was a calm and steady friend to the Tinteán editors, his humour often helping during the tough times. Andrew, Tintean’s compositor, and later webmaster for the online magazine, reminisced: ‘I’ve frequently used his meeting management method of writing the minutes before the meeting.’ He could be relied on in the Celtic Club bunker in the basement at Queen Street to deal with sticky situations, and minimise the impacts of tribulations. He was a party animal, and enjoyed the craic in the Cuchulainn bar after even the stiffest editorial stoushes. We will, to a person, miss our dear friend.
Frances Devlin-Glass, for the Tinteán editorial team.