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Hubert Butler

About Hubert Butler

Hubert Butler was born into an Irish Protestant family in Kilkenny in 1900. He was educated at Oxford and the School of Slavonic Studies in London, where he mastered Russian and Serbo-Croat. Travelling in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s gave him an early awareness of the growth of anti-Semitism, and in 1938 he went to Vienna to help hundreds of Jews escape from Nazi persecution. He returned to Croatia after the Second World War, and discovered evidence of ethnic cleansing of the Orthodox Serbs with the connivance of the Catholic Church - a discovery which made him deeply unpopular with the authorities in Ireland. He and his wife Peggy made his family home, Maidenhall, into a centre of intellectual debate, and founded the Kilkenny Lectures to encourage dialogue between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic. He finally found recognition as an essayist of international calibre in his eighties, with his collections  Escape from the Anthill, The Children of Drancy and Grandmother and Wolf Tone. He died in 1991. 

‘Hubert Butler's extraordinary oeuvre, after a lifetime's essay-writing, gained world-wide attention when Lilliput Press began publishing his work in volume form in the 1980s. His subjects spanned an arc from Ireland to eastern Europe and beyond, and his preoccupation with freedom of thought, the making and unmaking of nation states, and the threats presented by one kind of totalitarianism or another, have never been more relevant. This essay prize is founded to recognize Butler's achievement in intellectual history, and to encourage the kind of economical but substantial essay-writing which he perfected, on the sort of subjects which he persistently brought to attention. In the present state of the world, there could be no better way to commemorate a thinker whose uncompromising insights into follies and barbarities are more illuminating than ever.’ Professor Roy Foster

Further Reading

Hubert Butler's volumes of essays are available at Lilliput Press, Notting Hill Editions and Irish Pages.