Monday 27th March 2006
I hope I don’t have another day as frustrating as today was – though I now suspect tomorrow may not be much different. I was on the door step of the National Library at opening time ready, willing and eager do whatever it took to find a record of Stephen Butler’s baptism. Although I took a half-hour break at 1:00 for a cup of coffee, by 5:00 pm I was sufficiently bug-eyed to call it a day and trudge my dejected way back to the hotel.
Of the 8 parish records I had set out to search for the period from 1819 to 1825 I’ve completed the 3 largest ones, with no joy at all. That’s not to say that there may not have been a record for Stephen lurking in there somewhere, it’s just that I wasn’t able to find it. Why? Well, some of the records are so faint that they are totally unreadable, some totally indecipherable because whoever made the entries had long lost the art of the clear rounded script I have no doubt the nuns had drummed into them. Script (if you could call it that) enhanced not at all by blots, smudges and other extraneous stains – and all in Latin!
I do believe that I could have taken one of the entries into any chemist/pharmacist and had it made up!
And if I tell you that the quality of the scanned images was only fair, you will perhaps understand why I retired “bug-eyed”. Oh how I envied the “readers” around me, perusing clear crisp images of archived newspapers or typescript pages with such ease. I’ll try and complete the remaining parish records tomorrow and, if I come away with nothing more than I had before, I guess I can take comfort from the fact that I’ve given it my best shot.
Tuesday 28th March 2006
I completed my search of the five remaining parish records and although the quality of both the handwriting and the images was significantly better, I found only two Butlers and neither was named Stephen nor, for that matter, male!
My only hope now is that the Waterford Heritage Service, to whom one of the National Library Genealogy Advisors referred me, may be able to help. In any event I’ve made an appointment to talk to them on Monday next when I’m there.
Tomorrow, I’ll head west to Galway for a couple of days and see if I can replace the views of registry pages with something more scenic if not more rewarding. With sunny intervals forecast for tomorrow and “sun” for Thursday it’ll make a pleasant change from the last couple of days of intermittent wind and rain.
Wednesday 29th March 2006
The day was gloriously fine and, at one point, nudged 10° C. The drive was an easy rather than picturesque one, the first 50 miles of which was either motorway or motorway under construction. I diverted to Portumna to view the castle there, only to find that it was closed until Friday while some major renovation work was being done to the driveway and entrance.
As a result of the detour, I did however get to see a little more of the countryside than I would have done from the main road to Galway.
Having said that I thought Ireland had become a construction site, from what I have seen today, I know the city of Galway is one. I only hope I can negotiate my way away from it tomorrow for my planned Connemara excursion!
Despite indications to the contrary, tonight’s dinner at the new Marriott in Galway was surprisingly good. It was described as Tempura Cod, but as well as cod, included, salmon, good sized prawns, vegetables (all crisply tempura battered – and hot), really good boiled rice and a Soya-based dipping sauce. I may even be persuaded to eat there tomorrow night!
Thursday 30th March 2006
Though the weather forecast was not encouraging (thundery showers) – and later in the day proved to be correct – I was back on the tourist trail today.
The 150 mile or so round trip via Oughterard, Clifden, Westport and Castlebar was again fairly leisurely and my only stop of any length was at Kylemore Abbey which I understand is one of the most photographed tourist sites in Ireland.
I can understand why, though I must admit that for my shots I had some difficulty finding a position where I could screen out the blue-tarpaulined tip truck unsympathetically parked on the terrace in front of the abbey.
The castle – now the abbey – was completed in the 1870s by a Mitchell Henry using the fortune he had inherited from his Manchester cotton merchant father. Fortune it must have been, because he built not only the castle, but also an 8.5 acre walled garden, a neo-Gothic church as a memorial to his wife, and developed what was then a 13,000 acre estate.
In 1920 the Benedictine nuns – dispossessed of their Ypres Abbey in the early days of World War I – purchased the castle and 10,000 acres from a later owner for a little over £45,000. The lands were subsequently purchased by the Irish Land Commission and divided out among the tenants, and the castle converted to an abbey, where the nuns have their community and run an international boarding school and day school for local girls.
The Victorian Walled Garden was, perhaps not surprisingly, not looking its best, and the restored rooms in the castle had a museum-like feel about them.
For me, the highlight of the visit was to the neo-Gothic church – a real gem of a “cathedral in miniature”.
Off to Kilkenny tomorrow, primarily because I’ve never been there but also because I’d like to get to see Kilkenny Castle, which seems to be of some importance to the Butlers. Perhaps I’ll find out why!
Friday 31st March 2006
The drive to Kilkenny was uneventful other, says he, than the range of weather conditions to be accommodated. I had planned my route so that I’d arrive at Cashel about midday and spend a couple of hours at the “Rock of Cashel” before moving on to Kilkenny. Nothing much wrong with the plan itself, other than a failure to apply to it even the most basic Potential Problem Analysis. Having been overcast but fine as far as Tipperary, it then started to rain; and by the time I got to the Cashel car park it was bucketing down.
Now, I did want to revisit this site, but not at the risk of drowning, so I exited before “paying and displaying” and proceeded to test LRC’s water-tightness and water-worthiness to the full in the remaining 50 or so miles to Kilkenny.
That it took all of an hour and three quarters to do just that will give you some idea of the conditions. And when I made it there, I had to wait in the hotel car-park for ten minutes or so before it had lightened off enough to dash for the front door.
A nice enough, if unremarkable, dinner! So I won’t.
Saturday 1st April 2006
I was at Kilkenny Castle at what I understood to be the opening time of 10:00 am to find that I was thirty minutes early. Across the road, however, was one of the other places that, for some reason or other, I thought I’d like to see, Butler House and Garden. The house, built as a dower house in the 18th century, is now a hotel and, as such, is not open to visits from “colonial” Butlers – other than, from what I could make out, as a “very well-heeled” guest.
A quick circuit of the garden and a quick “snap” of the house from the garden and I still had time to spare to do a slower circuit of a small part of the Castle’s 50 acre park, and take a few more shots for the growing album. One interesting, rather than immediately attractive, piece of sculpture in a treed section of the park is dedicated to “missing persons” and incorporates the handprints of relatives of some of these.
Entry to the castle itself is by guided tour only and, as is often the case, no photography is allowed. The guide was knowledgeable, and informative – a rare enough combination – and enthusiastic as well.
Originally built as a defensive castle early in the 13th century, it was roughly square and had drum-shaped towers in each corner – three of which still stand.
Now, I’m afraid, for a bit of Irish Butler history.
The Butler family arrived in Ireland with the first wave of the Norman invasion, rapidly acquiring great wealth and influence. Originally called “Walter” they changed their name to “Butler” on acquiring the Royal Privilege of Chief Butler in Ireland in 1185. The family accumulated vast tracts of land in Tipperary and Kilkenny and, in 1391, James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde bought Kilkenny Castle, installing himself there as undisputed ruler of the area.
This Butler dynasty – unlikely to be mine, I hasten to add – was to dominate the south east of Ireland for over 500 years. From what we were told, there are quite strong links with the English “royals” including the fact that the 10th Earl “Black Tom”, who was brought up at the English court, was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and, to quote Lord Dunboyne, “there is not lacking circumstantial evidence to support the persistent and rather startling rumour that the Virgin Queen bore him a son, Piers Butler”.
Like many such buildings, Kilkenny Castle has had a number of reincarnations – as an elegant chateau after the restoration of King Charles II and the return from exile in France of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, and as a country house in the 1820s. At this time, the north wing was completely rebuilt to house the large family picture collection in a new “Long Gallery”. For me, this and the Library far and away the most impressive features of the castle today – albeit Victorian in style.
Unable to maintain it, the family left the castle in 1935 and, after lying abandoned for the next thirty years, the 24th Earl handed it over to a restoration committee. Fortunately for its survival, it came into State care in 1969 and conservation and, later, restoration began.
My second visit for the day was to have been to St Canice’s Cathedral – dating from about 1285 – but when I got there, it was thronged both inside and out for what I later learned was a “Confirmation” service.
Outnumbered, I retired in good order in the belief that I would be able to get back later in the day. I would have had the heavens not opened up again. The rain was heavy enough, in one case, to activate a car alarm in the car park just below my room. I clearly wasn’t meant to see St Canice’s!
A really good dinner this evening: an entrée of Caesar salad served in a toasted cheese bread coupe with just loads of shaved parmesan – delicious; and a main of rosemary and mustard crusted roast of lamb rump on a chive mash with red wine jus, new potatoes and sweet red cabbage, both properly crusty and pink within – delectable.
As if to match the meal, all this was partaken – or partook, even – from a table with an uninterrupted view across the River Nore to a damply sunset lit Kilkenny Castle. Easily into the “Wow, look at that” category!
I head for Waterford tomorrow to continue the hunt for “Stephen”. Weather willing, I may divert to visit Cahir Castle and, perhaps, Swiss Cottage on the way – but I’ll just have to see what the day has in store.