With hindsight it was naïve of me to think that I wouldn’t have distant Butler relatives in Spain, but that is exactly what I discovered thanks to a recent email from Cádiz-based historian and author, Lourdes Marquez.
The descendant of one of the diaspora who, during the eighteenth century, made a future for himself as a trader in the famous Spanish port city, Lourdes has written a fascinating account of the Irish who fled religious oppression in Ireland and their subsequent adventures trading with the Americas.
As emigration has once again become the norm in Ireland and the sad subject of mass immigration stalks our headlines, Lourdes’ tale has taken on new relevance for those affected by the need to leave their homelands for a new life overseas.
“History is cyclical,” said Lourdes, who studied Geography and History at the Universities of Cádiz and Granada before earning a Master’s degree from the University of Barcelona in Nautical and Mediterranean Archaeology.
“My nephew, Raul, went to Dublin last October – the same day as I launched by book in Cádiz. He was searching for a job in Ireland 285 years after our ancestor arrived from that country in Cádiz searching for work and a better life.
“We must learn of the past and we must welcome migrants. You never know when it can touch you or any of your family. It happened to the Butler family. They had to leave their homeland.
“My latest work - The Irish Memory: Cádiz and the Butler family - tells the story of my family and their descent from a man called William Butler. His mother was Anne Langton and so he became William Butler Langton in Spain.
“William’s father, James Butler, had to move to Ballinakill (County Laois) after he was banished from Kilkenny for not giving up his Catholic religion. There he became a baker. It must have been very difficult. They lost all their property.
“James encouraged his son to leave. Catholic Irish people were accepted in Spain in general – and in particular in Cádiz and Andalucía. In Spain, they could study in the Irish schools such as that in Seville.”
William arrived in Cádiz in 1731 when he was just 16 years old and became an apprentice in his cousin, Nicholas Langton’s trading business. At the time Cádiz held a monopoly on trade with America.
“I think had to work very hard. Later, he would cross the Atlantic in galleons bound to the Americas for trade. He did return to Ireland several times for business purposes. He spent much of his life as a bachelor but married María Josefa O´Callaghan, a granddaughter of another of the ‘Wild Geese’, the famous General Reynaldo MacDonnell, and remained in Cádiz until his death.
“William was part of the mercantile clan of Butler who established a dense network of correspondents at key points of the time. In England, it was vital to have agents in London and Bristol while in Ireland it was the port cities of Dublin, Waterford and Cork. If we look at the historical documents preserved in the old Spanish colonies, we find documentary evidence of the name Butler. The researcher Garcia Fernandez mentions the Butlers as “a family of great importance and extension”.
“The book explains the commercial process of exporting products from the West Indies around Europe and vice versa. Amongst other things, the Butlers brought Virginian snuff to Europe. They also became important in the distribution of sherry – the wine of the Jerez region – to America and England.
“Over time, the Butlers and Langtons became part of a wealthy and cosmopolitan class within the city. With the loss of trade, many families left the city. The Butlers remained and began to feel more ‘gaditanos’. I am the eighth generation from William to be living in Cádiz.
“However, they continued longing for their homeland and the memory of Ireland was kept alive within the family. My mother always said that our family came from Ireland, Kilkenny and specifically Galway. I promised her that I would record her family’s Irish origins – she is the reason that I wrote this book.”
The research also traced the family ties of the Cádiz Butlers to the Americas and involved stories about the family of Bernardo O’Higgins and the arrival of the first smallpox vaccine to Mexico.
“William’s half-brother, James Butler Archer, went to Argentina, changing his name to Diego, and lived in Cordoba and Tucuman amongst other places. He has many descendants still living in Argentina.
“I have made contact with Jose Buteler, my great-great half-cousin – or so I joke with him. He is a descendant of James Butler Archer. He has a rugby team which play with the Irish shamrock as part of their uniform.”
Having held her Butler heritage so firmly, Lourdes was dismayed to discover that the history of the family that settled in Cádiz was not known even to The Butler Society.
“I met David Butler, the Vice-President of the Society, in Madrid. He was surprised to hear of our existence! He knew of other branches but not mine. He sent me some literature, but all that told me was that we were from Ireland.
“There are many publications on the family from different places outside Spain, but the history of the Butlers in Cádiz did not exist. I began writing in 2014 and had to handle quite a lot of data. The Butler family is very extensive and has spread over five continents. In Spain alone there are Butlers in Madrid, Seville, Mallorca and Granada.
“At the same time, the research gives us a view of important events in modern and contemporary Spanish history, events such as the Peninsular War, the decline of Cádiz and socio-political changes there and technical advances.”
Her efforts and the intriguing story were noted and one guest at the Book Launch was His Excellency Mr David Cooney, the Irish Ambassador to Spain, who stayed with Lourdes in Cádiz and proved to be very knowledgeable about the Irish who were in Cádiz during the eighteenth century and the research in the Provincial Historical Archive in the city.
2017 will be a very important year for those descended from the merchant families of Cádiz. It will be the 300th anniversary of the transfer of the Casa de la Contratación to the city from Seville along with the right to the monopoly on trade with Europe and the Americas. This, above all else, led to so many families – Gordon, Terry, MacPherson, La Rosa, Bocanegra and Bombati – in addition to Butler settling in the city they had come to call home.
Ruadh: Many thanks Lourdes and good luck with the book
Book trailer: https://vimeo.com/133633870
You can also buy a copy of the book by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org