Isaac Butt, born in the glebe-house at Glenfin, County Donegal in 1813, remains one of the more enigmatic figures of modern Irish history. Making sense of the story of how the leading young defender of the privileges of Protestant ascendancy and Orange exclusivity in the 1830s became the ‘father of home rule’ in 1870 has never been easy. Is Butt’s story one of a sudden transformation from Orangeman to ecumenical nationalist, is it a story of the evolution of a patriot, or is there an underlying consistency in Butt’s political and cultural outlook between 1833 and the 1870s? Potential biographers have occasionally appeared on the promontory, but most of them, having offered lightning sketches of one or two aspects of his career, have moved on to other projects rather than complete a comprehensive survey of his life.1