What's in a name?
Butt Bridge is named for Isaac Butt who died in 1879, the year the bridge, then the Liffey’s most easterly, opened to the public. A quintessential Anglo Irishman, Butt was born in Donegal in 1813.
He was a man bursting with prodigious talents and contradictions - in the way heroes often do. He made his greatest mark on the political stage, cutting his political teeth in Dublin’s Corporation and graduating to Westminster where he variously represented Youghal and Limerick. A conservative, the great orator was persuaded to the cause of Irish Nationalism by the British government’s inept response to the Irish Famine of the mid 1800s and by their treatment of the Young Irelanders following their failed rebellion in 1848. ‘Are our best and bravest spirits ever to be carried away under this system of constantly defeated revolts?’ he asked.
Butt’s great legacy is that as the Father of Home Rule he breathed life into the movement which was to dominate and define Irish and British politics into the twentieth century. The Tory conservative turned Nationalist hero (and son of a Protestant minister), carried three miraculous medals with him everywhere he went, even to the grave, a most Catholic of habits. A Professor of Political Economy in Trinity College from 1836 - 1841, he was always in need of money and spent eighteen long months in the debtor’s prison in Thomas Street.
He was a barrister who penned novels and co-founded the Dublin University Magazine, when he was but twenty years old. A serial seducer, he acted for and won the libel case brought by the seduced Mary Travers against Jane Wilde with whom he had reputedly been entangled in a tryst of his own. Statesmen and miscreants were entertained at his table - Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston and Richard Pigott, convicted forger. He went about with his shirt inside out, yet fastidiously dyed his hair. Butt may well have smiled at the final irony - the very bridge which was named for him spanned the LIffey just a stone’s throw away from the one which had been named for his great adversary, Daniel O’Connell.