SUSAN BUTLER

 

Mrs Susan Butler, who died recently at the age of 91, was responsible more than any other person since mid century for the development and appreciation of the arts in Kilkenny. The earliest chairman of Kilkenny Arts Week, she was also the prime force behind the Kilkenny Art Gallery Society, and at the time of her death was successfully canvassing for funds for a county archive, which will be established at the castle. She arranged for the splendid Pennefather Collection of modern Irish art to be rescued from dusty oblivion; the gallery in which it is now housed was retitled the Butler Gallery in honour of her work and that of her late husband, the author, Hubert Butler.

She disliked the name "Peggy", by which she was universally known, disowning her middle name of Margaret which she received from her parents, Dr and Mrs Thomas Guthrie of Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She, and her brother Tyrone Guthrie, felt uncomfortable in complacent English suburbia, preferring the home of their mother, Norah Power, at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan. When Dr Guthrie died prematurely, the family moved back to Ireland. It was Peggy who, in later years, convinced her brother that he should leave Annaghmakerrig to the nation as a workplace for artists.

She trained as a painter at the Regent Street Polytechnic. It is said that had she persisted - instead of devoting her time to her family and the encouragement of others - she could have taken her place alongside contemporaries such as Norah McGuinness and Nano Reid. She possessed a high minded disdain for bureaucracy, and readily admitted to having little time for what she saw as the caution and time serving of official arts administrators: She preferred eccentrics, and it is certain that she had a touch of that quality herself.

She also had a succinctly eccentric way with words, describing the design of a well know range of Irish carpeting as "looking as if a mammoth had been sick following a cauliflower lunch". "The English", she once remarked without regard for political correctness, "are as foreign as Hottentots". An acerbic utterance concealed a person rich in kindliness and warmth - particularly towards the young. Her book of humorous drawings, They Speak for Themselves (1981), and her more contemplative poems, Mind's Eye (1993), disclose these opposites in her character.

She will be very greatly missed by a huge circle of friends in Kilkenny and elsewhere, and especially by her family - her daughter Julia Crampton, her three grandchildren and her three great grandchildren.