The Butler Arms Hotel

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The Butler Arms in first winter sunshine, 1 November 2011

The Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville, County Kerry, Ireland is best known for its guests such as Charlie Chaplin,[1] Walt Disney, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Flatley.[2] But it has a written history closely linked with the history of Ireland that extends back to 1884. In that year the Commercial Cable Company established a transatlantic cable station in the village while the Direct United States line had already one at Ballinskelligs and the first cable had been laid into Valentia Island a quarter of a century before. As the Butler Arms opened its doors the Morse Code had spanned the earth.


Golf and Angling[edit]

J B Hayens, Leamington, arrived on the 20th March 1884. Spent eight weeks in the Butler Arms and found everything as comfortable as any angler could wish for. Sport on the lake very good. Caught salmon of an average weight of 13 lbs.

T. C. Kingsmill Moore, who later became Justice of the Supreme Court stayed in the hotel in 1932 to fish on the lake and feature his experience in his acclaimed angling book, A Man May Fish. But nobody knows now if he was shown the entry of that very first angler who stayed in the hotel.[3]

Lough Currane still attracts many anglers but no lake nowadays can boast the abundance of salmon and sea trout once found in them. Waterville Golf Links has an ever increasing world stature, with Payne Stewart and Tiger Woods being its most famous players of recent years.[4]

Waterville showing the Lodge, Bay View and Butler Arms Hotels

In previous times the course designer, Lionel Hewson, came to the Butler Arms for golf and peace. While he was laying out Tralee Golf Course at Oakpark he was unsettled by men watching him from the fences. Soon after, in 1921, Major McKinnon of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary was shot dead whilst playing golf on the course. This was the only murder of someone playing golf during the entire War of Independence in Ireland and possibly the only murder of this type ever.,[5]

Historic guests[edit]

Beside Hewson's name on his first visit to the Butler Arms in 1916 is that of Captain Richard Aramberg Blennerhassett Chute and Mrs Chaloner Chute of Chute Hall and Blennerville in Tralee. And Mrs Chaloner Chute and her children, Desmond and Chaloner, returned to the hotel without the captain the following year. Blennerville was the estate of the Blennerhassets, most of which passed to the Chutes through the marriage of Theodora Blennerhasset and Richard Chute in 1836. She died nine years later, leaving five young children, and the grandson who finally inherited her estate was he who came to the Butler Arms in 1916. He sold Blennerville House in 1919 and retired to Chute Hall until his death in 1936. He was the last of the Chutes to live there and now only the pillars of the gateway to their estate remain.[6]

Sir Horace Plunkett came to the hotel twice in 1891, immediately after his appointment to the newly formed Congested Districts Board. From there he saw the conditions of the people and formulated his vision of setting up the cooperative societies and creameries of Ireland.[7]

In August 1899 the hotel register was graced with the name of Roland Allanson Winn. He was an engineer who had built roads in India and designed coastal defences at Bray in Wicklow and Youghal in Cork along with coast protection in his home territory of Glenbeigh. He would later inherit a peerage as Baron Headley, convert to Islam, found the British Muslim Society, write and lecture on his beliefs and become the first Muslim to sit in the House of Lords, styling himself Lord Headley Shaikh Ramatullah Al Farooq.[8]

The following year, as a new century began and a new Land Act was widely anticipated, James Burns Hartopp of Scraftoft Hall in Leicestershire came to the hotel. He was a landlord in many local districts and he would see his agent, James Butler of Waterville House, with a view to selling his lands through the new Act.[9]

Lord Dunraven, who chaired the Land Conference of 1902, was a frequent visitor to the hotel, as he had a thousand acres for leisurely pursuits at Derrynane, close by. This was the fourth Earl of Dunraven, a man who owned forty thousand acres in Adare in Limerick and Glamorgan in Wales and who had built the English Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. He also built up fifteen thousand acres of land there under the Homestead Act but lost most of it through legal challenges. Before taking interest in yachting and becoming Secretary For The Colonies he sold the remainder of his land to Freelan O Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame. Stanley, in turn, built the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King's novel, The Shining and can be seen in the mini-series of the novel.

Women of great influence and wealth[edit]

Women of great influence and wealth also came to the Butler Arms, amongst them, in 1937, the Countess of Lauderdale of Thirlstane Castle in Berwickshire, then one of the grandest private residences in Scotland. It is now open to the public since she bequeathed it to her grandson, Gerald Maitland-Carew.[10]

Lady Maud Petty-Fitzmaurice, Marchioness of Lansdowne of Bowood House in Wiltshire also spent time at the hotel in 1903. As the daughter of the first Duke of Abercorn and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Alexandra of Denmark, she held extensive influence in her own right, while her husband, the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne held numerous posts including Viceroy of India and Governor General of Canada. She was a woman of great beauty who had her portrait painted many times. With her was the land agent who left a clear message on the register to forward letters to The Caragh Lake Hotel. He too was negotiating the sale of the Landsdowne lands to whoever would buy them under the new act.[11]

The scenery[edit]

Lady Maud Landsdowne or The Countess of Lauderdale, like many others, didn't come to the hotel for golf or fishing but rather to relax in its comforts and enjoy the scenery as described in Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's The History of England from the Accession of James the Second

'Capes stretching far into the Atlantic.'

The south western part of Kerry is now well known as the most beautiful tract in the British Isles. The mountains, the glens, the islands, the capes stretching far into the Atlantic, the crags on which the eagles build, the rivulets brawling down rocky passes, the lakes overhung by groves in which the wild deer find covert, attract every summer, crowds of wanderers sated with the business and pleasures of great cities.

The beauties of that country are indeed too often hidden in the mist and rain which the west wind brings up from a boundless ocean. But on the rare days when the sun shines out in all his glory, the landscape has a freshness and warmth of colouring seldom found in our latitude.The myrtle loves the soil. The arbutus thrives better than on the sunny shores of Calabria. The turf is of livelier hue than elsewhere. the hills glow with richer purple, the varnish on the holly and ivy is more glossy; and berries of a brighter red peep through foliage of a brighter green.

. ,

'Freshness and warmth of colouring seldom found in our latitudes
'..the islands..too often hidden in the mist and rain which the west wind brings up from a boundless ocean'


The Railway leads to Expansion of Tourism[edit]

Bradshaw's Railway Guides would also promote the scenery and fishing but not in such unique words as Lord Macaulay's and the coming of the railway to Killarney in 1853 was of great benefit to the Butler Arms Hotel and to Kerry in general.

The railway company owned two of the finest hotels in Ireland in Killarney and Parknasilla but Great Southern Hotels, as they were known, were also established at Caragh Lake, Waterville and Kenmare, while the Curtayne family built a 'Railway Hotel' in Killorglin in 1887 which is still in business as The Manor Inn. There was a coach service from the train to Waterville and from there to the Derrynane Hotel (now Bridie Keating's Bar) beside Lord Dunraven's summer house. A separate coach ran from Waterville to Kenmare and Kenmare to Killarney, this entire route becoming the now famous Ring of Kerry.[12]

When the Butler Arms opened in 1884 it not only benefited from the cable companies but nine years later the railway was extended to Cahersiveen and Renard Point opposite Valentia Island. The Huggard family, who had bought the hotel from the McElligotts soon spread their wings along the railway lines and came to own the Royal Hotel in Valentia, The Caragh Lake Hotel and the Lake Hotel in Killarney, the last of which is still in their possession.

Writers and Film Stars[edit]

In the 1960s business was at a peak and Charlie Chaplin and his family were almost turned away; but the owner stepped forward and gave them his private suite. It was the beginning of a great relationship, as they returned for long holidays several times after that. Walt Disney and his wife and daughters had stayed there in 1947 and with them was Dr James Delargy, the man who had set up the Irish Folklore Commission. Song of the South, from the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris of Georgia (1946) was a box office success at the time Disney met Dr Delargy and Dr Delargy had taken down more folklore from Sean O Connell in Ballinskelligs, across the bay from the hotel, than had ever been collected from one source at any time.

Famous writers such as Alfred Perceval Graves, Virginia Woolf and John Steinbeck also stayed in the Butler Arms but Chaplin is remembered best of all. A statue of him stands, life size on the street, and a festival runs for his honour. But a young Miss Blake who holidayed in the hotel with her parents and throughout her married lifetime as Mrs O Connor remembered the best moment of all for her was one in 1932 when John McCormack sang his best from the steps of the hotel stairs.[13]

The Butler Arms register[edit]

The hotel register wasn't preserved so well from the end of the 1950s and it hasn't been relied on for the article. But its quality and neatness until then allows for a unique summary regarding those who once graced the hotel carpets. The very first guest in the Butler Arms left an account of what he hoped for and what he found in the hotel and in Lough Currane. But his address, Leamington, is so broad that it allows no enquiry into his own story. Hundreds of entries in the register have similarly broad addresses.

The finding of such precise addresses as Scraftoft Hall or Thirlestane Castle has been great, and only equalled by finding the inclusion of double barrel and treble barrel Christian names that link the guests unmistakably with their positions and stories.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Sullivan, Majella (11 April 2011). "Painting the town black and white in honour of Charlie." News. Accessed November 2011.
  2. ^ Huggard family and hotel register November 1947
  3. ^ Hotel register 1932; Supreme Court list of judges; Saracen Books
  4. ^ Huggard family; Statue of Payne Stewart in Golf Links; Pictures of Tiger Woods in newspapers
  5. ^ Hotel register 1916, 1917, 1922 and 1924; O'Connor, Mary. Barrow and Its Hinterland
  6. ^ Hotel register 1916 and 1917; Barry, Valerie. Houses of Kerry. Blennerhasset and Chute genealogy on internet.
  7. ^ Hotel register July and September 1891; Plunkett, Sir Horace. Ireland In the New Century (1904;) Breathnach, Ciara. The Congested Districts Board 1891-1923 (2005)
  8. ^ Hotel register 1899; Barry, Valerie. houses of Kerry; Woking Muslim Organisation; Winn family tree, as published on internet
  9. ^ Hotel register 1900; countless land folio details in Kerry; Scraftoft Hall preservation Society; Ernest Cooke Trust
  10. ^ Hotel register 1937; Scottish Tourist Board; Thirlestane Castle Trust; Maitland family tree, as published in internet.
  11. ^ Hotel register 1903; Petty Fitzmaurice, Henry William Edmond 6th Marquess of Lansdowne. Glanerought and the Petty-Fitzmaurices. Oxford University Press 1937
  12. ^ Praeger, Robert Lloyd. The Sunny side of Ireland from the Great Southern and Western Railway
  13. ^ Hotel register 1932 and 1947; Peter Huggard, Monica Fitzgerald and Dr Tim O'Connor, son of Mrs O Connor.

Further reading[edit]

  • (27 October 2007.) "Leader of men who went his own way." News. Accessed November 2011.
  • Irish Times: 10 August 1896, 25 May 1914,14 July 1960, 28 March 1961, 21 March 1984, 25 August 2011.
  • Chaplin, Michael (1966). I Couldn't Smoke the Grass on My Father's Lawn. Ballantine Books.
  • Bell, Anne Olivier; McNeillie, Andrew (1983). The Diaries of Virginia Woolf 1931-1935

External links[edit]