Butler, Eleanor Grace (1914–97), countess of Wicklow, senator, social campaigner, and architect, was born 7 September 1914 at 89 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, one of five children of the architect Rudolf Maximilian Butler (qv), a protestant, and Annie Butler (née Gibbons), a catholic. She and her siblings were brought up in the family home at 73 Ailesbury Road, Dublin, as catholics. Educated at the co-educational Tudor Hall School in Kent and later at Alexandra College in Dublin, Eleanor spent a year reading French literature at the University of Poitiers before studying architecture at UCD, from where she graduated B.Arch. in 1938. She was lame from the age of six, when she contracted polio, and soon after completing her degree she suffered a serious riding accident; during her year of convalescence in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, she determined to dedicate her life to the service of others.
She assisted in Rudolf Butler's practice, taking it over with her brother John Geoffrey after their father's death in 1943. Although this work did not play a major part in her life, her architectural background informed many of the commitments she undertook in public life. She had a particular interest in the architectural heritage of Georgian Dublin, and on recovering her health was appointed honorary secretary of the Irish Architectural Records Society. She contributed articles to Country Life and in 1947 addressed the architects’ conference in Dublin on the city's architecture. She also assisted John Betjeman, then press attaché at the British representative's office in Dublin, in his research on the architect Francis Johnston (qv). It was through Betjeman that she met her future husband William Cecil Howard (1902–78), Baron Clonmore and eighth earl of Wicklow, formerly editor of the Dublin Review (1937–40) and captain in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, after his return to Ireland in 1946. They were good friends for many years before marrying in September 1959. They had no family. By her marriage she became countess of Wicklow, but did not use the title in her professional life as an architect.
Butler's interest in housing, in particular the poor standard of public housing in Dublin, led to her involvement in politics. She joined the Labour party, became a member of Dublin corporation, representing the Pembroke ward, and in 1945 was selected by the party to investigate modern housing schemes in Britain. As a councillor she served on numerous committees, including the scholarships committee, the town planning and streets committee, the Coombe hospital board and the Dublin housing consultative committee. Later she was a governor of the Cork Street Fever Hospital and the National Children's Hospital in 1951. During the laundry workers’ strike of 1945 she publicly supported the strikers. Having failed to take a dáil seat in Dublin South East in 1948, she served as a senator during the first inter-party government (1948–51); she was appointed to the Irish delegation that assisted in drafting the statute of the Council of Europe, signed in 1949. She travelled extensively as a campaigner for the Moral Re-Armament movement and visited India as part of a team advising the Indian government. In 1956 she took up a three-year appointment as home-planning adviser and housing consultant to the Irish Countrywomen's Association. She travelled the country advising on rural housing problems and went on several fact-finding missions abroad, including visits to Norway, Denmark, and Holland.
After the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in 1969 she assisted catholic refugees who fled to the republic, and throughout the 1970s she was a prominent figure in the peace movement. She was a founder member and chairman of the Glencree Reconciliation Centre and a board member of Co-operation North. As a catholic nationalist and a relative of the duke of Abercorn, she had access to both communities and to leading figures in the British establishment. Over the years she also campaigned for the resettlement of travellers and for improved adult education, and persuaded Leonard Cheshire to establish a home for disabled veterans in Co. Wicklow.
Elected an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1939; she received membership of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in 1942 and became its first female fellow in 1959. After a long illness she died 21 February 1997 in a nursing home in Co. Dublin, and was buried in Kilbride churchyard, Arklow, Co. Wicklow.