Isaac Butt

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  • People in History

Early Years

Isaac Butt was born on 6 September 1813 near Stranorlar in Glenfin, County Donegal. His father was the rector of the Anglican parish of Stranorlar. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin and trained as a barrister.

A brilliant debater, he started his career as a Tory politician for Dublin Corporation. He was known for his opposition to the nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell's campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union.

†In his early years, Butt was a staunch unionist and Orangeman. He firmly believed that Ireland should be ruled by Westminster. All this changed when Butt witnessed the tragedy of the Great Famine (1845-1849) first hand. He saw how it could have been avoided if Ireland had its own government, and how inept Westminster was in dealing with the problem.

Home Rule

As Butt's opinions changed, he gradually became involved in Irish nationalist politics.

After the 1848 Rising, Butt defended William Smith O'Brien in court. He also defended Fenian prisoners, such as Charles Kickham, between 1865 and 1869. As a result of this exposure, he became an advocate of Home Rule for Ireland.

In 1870, Butt founded the Home Government Association, which was renamed the Home Rule League in 1873. In 1871, he stood for election as a Home Rule candidate, and was returned as MP for Limerick. At first, the Home Rule Party failed to make an impact in Parliament.

Butt believed in peaceful persuasion, but many of his colleagues believed in 'obstructionism'. This involved disrupting the business of Parliament by using delaying tactics or talking for long periods during debates.