Robert Tobin’s study of Butler is masterly … Tobin mixes familiarity with objectivity, scrupulous scholarship, and a gossip’s curiosity.Caroline Bowder, Church Times‘How do such people, with brilliant members and dull ones, fare when they pass from being a dominant minority to being a powerless one?’ So asked the Kilkenny man‐of‐letters Hubert Butler (1900‐91) when considering the fate of Southern Protestants after Irish Independence. As both a product and critic of this culture, Butler posed the question repeatedly, refusing to accept as inevitable the marginalization of his community within the newly established state. Inspired by the example of the Revivalist generation, he challenged his compatriots to approach modern Irish identity in terms complementary rather than exclusivist. In the process of doing so, he produced a corpus of literary essays European in stature, informed by extensive travel, deep reading, and an active engagement with the political and social upheavals of his age. His insistence on the necessity of Protestant participation in Irish life, coupled with his challenges to received Catholic opinion, made him a contentious figure on both sides of the sectarian divide.
This study therefore seeks to address not only Butler’s remarkable personal career but also some of the larger themes to which he consistently drew attention: the need to balance Irish cosmopolitanism with local relationships; to address the compromises of the Second World War and the hypocrisies of the Cold War; to promote a society in which constructive dissent might not just be tolerated but valued. As a result, by the end of his life Butler came to be recognized as a forerunner of the more tolerant and expansive Ireland of today.
Rev. Robert Tobin
Robert Tobin was raised in Boston and Texas and took his first degree in English from Harvard. After graduation, he taught school in South Africa and backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo. Awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, he went on to take his M.Phil in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin, studying with Professor Terence Brown. He then went to Merton College Oxford to pursue doctoral research under the supervision of Professor R.F. Foster. Having completed his D. Phil., he spent three years at Cambridge studying for ordination in the Church of England, after which he served as a curate in Buckinghamshire and as the Episcopal/Anglican Chaplain at Harvard. Currently he serves as Chaplain and Tutor at Oriel College Oxford. His book, The Minority Voice: Hubert Butler and Southern Irish Protestantism, 1900-91 appeared in the Oxford Historical Monographs series in 2012. He is now pursuing research on the social transformation of the American Episcopal Church in the 1960s. Follow the link for information about Butler and the recent Notting Hill edition of his European Essays.