Journal Volume 6 2010
Sir William F. Butler (continued/13)
On his retirement Butler bought Bansha Castle near his old family home and close to the Suir and the Galtee mountains which he had loved since childhood.
For the last five years of his life he interested himself in community and national affairs and lectured widely to clubs and societies. He was a member of the Senate of the National University, a Commissioner of the Board of National Education and a Privy Councillor. He continued working on his autobiography until his death and left the task of final editing and publication to his daughter Eileen. He lent his voice to the campaigns for Land Reform and Home Rule.
He died on June 7th 1910 and was buried next to the family vault in Killardrigh Cemetery. Tipperary has seen few such splendid funerals. His coffin on a gun carriage was led by the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment and escorted by detachments from the Royal Irish and the Connaught Rangers. The Royal Field Artillery fired a salute of six guns.
After his death a poem was found amongst his papers:
Give me but six-foot three (one inch to spare)
Of Irish earth and dig it anywhere;
And for my poor soul say an Irish prayer,
Above the spot.
Let it be where cloud and mountain meet,
Or vale where grows the tufted meadow-sweet;
Or boreen trod by peasants’ shoeless feet,
It matters not.
I loved them all – the vale, the hill,
The moaning sea, the flagger – lilied rill;
The yellow furze, the lake shore lone and still,
The wild bird’s song.
But more than hill or valley, bird or moor,
More than green fields of my native Suir;
I loved those hapless ones , the Irish poor,
All my life long.
Little I did for them in outward deed,
And yet be unto them of praise the need;
For the stiff fight I waged ‘gainst lust and greed,
I learnt it there.
There are echoes here of what Yeats would later write of another Irish warrior in British service:-
Those that I fight, I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end can bring them loss,
Or leave them happier than before.
The verdict on him must be that he was a man of immense fortitude and moral courage. He always stood up for the poor and the oppressed. The question, given his background and instincts, is why did he ever become a soldier. The answer must be that all his life he lived for adventure and danger. As a youth his opportunities were limited and the army offered at least a career. Later in life he showed himself to be a capable administrator in Canada but no one offered him an opening. His organization skills were displayed in planning and supervising the River transport for the Nile Campaign. Similarly in South Africa he showed a wise appreciation of how the impasse there should be resolved and showed great courage in putting forward opinions directly contrary to the spirit of the age,
His experiences in the Gold Coast, Egypt and South Africa left him disillusioned. He felt that the soldiers had been misused to further the greed and lust for power of politicians and financiers. He believed that the professional soldier should be an agent of justice, a defender of the weak and enemy of evil, and regretted that only in the Campaign to rescue Gordon had he seen these ideals pursued. We may hope that modern times have seen soldiers, particularly Irish soldiers, employed to deliver the kind of objectives which Butler would have approved.