Butler, John (d.1800) (DNB00)

BUTLER, JOHN, D.D. (d. 1800), catholic bishop of Cork, styled by courtesy Lord Dunboyne, was the third son of Edmond Butler, of Dunboyne, co. Meath, by courtesy eighth Baron Dunboyne (he died in 1732), and Anne, daughter of Oliver Grace, of Shanganagh, co. Tipperary. In his early days he devoted himself to the service of the church, but in consequence of his having lost an eye his ordination was delayed till the consequent canonical impediment had been dispensed with at Rome. The dignity of his birth and the interest of powerful friends procured his appointment to the see of Cork by brief of Pope Clement XIII, dated 16 April 1763, and he was consecrated in June the same year. After having occupied that see for twenty-three years he resigned his position and renounced his creed under very peculiar circumstances. On the death in December 1785 of his nephew, Pearce Edmond Creagh Butler, styled the eleventh Baron Dunboyne, the title and estates devolved on him. He expected from Rome a dispensation from the obligations of his episcopal character and permission to marry, but his application to the Holy See was answered by Pius VI. in language of stern rebuke. With the hope of perpetuating his name and family he violated his vow of celibacy and married at Clonmel a protestant young lady, a cousin of his own, and daughter of Theobald Butler, of Wilford, co. Tipperary. On the intelligence being conveyed to Rome of the bishop's marriage the pope addressed to him a letter couched in severe terms. The original of this document, dated 9 June 1787, and an English translation are printed in England's ‘Life of the Rev. Arthur O'Leary’ (pp. 227, 332). Dr. Butler paid no heed to this document, but read his recantation of the distinctive doctrines of catholicism in the parish church of Clonmel on 19 Aug. 1787. He never officiated, however, in the protestant church. After his apostasy he frequented the services of the established religion on Sundays; and on one or two occasions, when ordinations were held in the chapel of Trinity College, during his residence in Dublin, he was invited to assist at the imposition of hands, but he anxiously declined to do so (Life of O'Leary, 226). No issue came of his marriage. Lord Dunboyne, as he was called, being by courtesy the twelfth baron, died at his residence, Dunboyne Castle, on 7 May 1800, having been a few days previously reconciled to the catholic church by William Gahan, D.D., a celebrated Augustinian friar. His widow survived him sixty years. She afterwards married J. Hubert Moore, of Shannon Grove, King's County, barrister-at-law, but died without issue in August 1860, aged 96.

By his will he bequeathed the Dunboyne estate to Maynooth College for the education of youths intended for the priesthood, devising his other estates to his heir-at-law and family. The bequest was disputed in December 1801, in a suit against the trustees of Maynooth, on the ground that any one ‘relapsing into popery from the protestant religion was deprived of the benefit of the laws made in favour of Roman catholics, and was therefore incapable of making a will of landed property under the penal laws.’ Dr. Gahan was examined at the assizes at Trim, on 24 Aug. 1802, to elicit from him whether he administered the last sacraments to Lord Dunboyne, and, on his refusing to reveal the secrets of the confessional, was sentenced to imprisonment in the gaol of Trim for contempt of court by Lord Kilwarden; but the jury having found, on a separate issue submitted to them, that the deceased had died a catholic, the judge directed the witness's release after a week's confinement. The title of Dunboyne in the peerage of Ireland was created by Henry VIII in 1541, but was forfeited in the person of James, fourth baron, for his implication in the rebellion of 1641; he was outlawed in 1691 for adherence to the cause of King James II. The attainder was not reversed till 26 Oct. 1827, when James, thirteenth baron, was restored by the reversal of the outlawries affecting the title.

[England's Life of Arthur O'Leary; Brady's Episcopal Succession, ii. 95; Notes and Queries, 5th series, xi. 8,31, 59; Universe, 20 Jan. 1866, p. 5; Burke's Peerage (1885), 444; Foster's Peerage (1882), 233; Madden's Revelations of Ireland, 61.]

T. C.