Barton, Frederick (Derick) (1900–93), athlete, farmer, and political activist, was born in London on 19 June 1900, the eldest son of Bertram Hugh Barton and his wife, Lilian (née Carden). The Barton family had lived in Ireland since Elizabethan times and built Straffan House, Co. Kildare, in 1832; they also had an estate in Bordeaux which formed the basis of the Barton and Guestier wine business. The nationalist and treaty negotiator Robert Barton (qv) was a cousin, although the two men met only as adults. Barton was educated at Eton and Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the 17th (Duke of Cambridge's Own) Lancers and served in Ireland (at Buttevant and Galway city) between September 1920 and late 1922. In 1924 he was a member of the British modern pentathlon team at the Paris Olympics.
On 16 February 1927 Barton married Joan Aileen, the daughter of Major General Robert St Clair Lecky of Ballykealey, Co. Carlow, with whom he had two sons. The death of his father in a hunting accident later in the year brought him the Straffan property, of whose financial problems he had been only dimly aware. (The French property was bequeathed to his younger brother and eventually passed to Barton's son.) The estate was insolvent, sustained only by the wine business dividends (which were steadily reduced by the rising value of the franc). Drastic staff cutbacks followed and the family jewellery was sold; Barton resigned his commission and began to learn farming, of which he had been almost entirely ignorant: ‘We were the last inheritors of a feudal system which (sadly) was about to pass away.’ In 1936 he demolished large sections of the house to reduce maintenance costs.
Barton succeeded his father as an activist in the Naas branch of the Farmers’ Union, as honorary secretary of the RDS, and as a member of Kildare county council and the county committee of agriculture (the last position he retained until the end of the decade); he later became chairman of the Kildare Hunt Club. In 1933 he contested the three-seat Kildare constituency on behalf of the Centre Party, winning 16.7 per cent of the first preference vote but not taking a seat. He subsequently served on the executive of Fine Gael and was active in the Blueshirt movement (with Thomas Cornelia, former local leader of the IRA, now a local smallholder, as his bodyguard). In September 1933 Barton was one of the first Blueshirts tried by military tribunal for disrupting sales at the Dublin cattle mart in Prussia Street (they were fined £50); he was also one of twenty Kildare Blueshirts returned for trial for disrupting the sale in Naas in April 1934 of cattle seized from farmers who refused to pay land annuities (he went on the run for a few days, and the case was dropped after their initial appearance in court).
In the 1930s the Bartons were active in the evangelical Oxford Group (also known as Moral Rearmament); although Barton later came to feel that some of their methods (such as the public confession of faults) were potentially harmful, he paid tribute to their sincerity and their role in deepening his personal religious faith. He became a long-serving member of the Kildare diocesan synod of the Church of Ireland, and served for a time on the general synod.
Barton's role in the Oxford Group led him to be suspected of German sympathies in the early days of the second world war (an impression reinforced by the presence at Straffan of some houseguests with extreme political connections). Although his religious views initially inclined him towards pacifism, the fall of France led him to realise he must play a role in the defence of Britain and Ireland. He served as an officer in the Irish defence forces and reached the rank of captain before resigning to join the British army in 1942. For the rest of the war he trained troops, then guarded a prisoner-of-war camp until demobilisation in 1946.
Faced with a series of crop failures and the disappearance of domestic servants, the Bartons finally sold most of their lands, including the then unsaleable Straffan House, at a low price. (In later, more prosperous decades Straffan became the base for an exclusive country club.) They lived in the former glebe house and continued to farm part of the former estate until they finally sold up in the mid-1960s. This final move to Dublin (to live at 8 Waltham Terrace, Blackrock) coincided with Barton's presidency of the Royal Dublin Society (1965–8), during which he developed a respectful acquaintance with President Éamon de Valera (qv). He spent his last years in a south Dublin apartment, and in 1989 produced a privately published autobiography, Memories of ninety years. He died 20 November 1993 in Newtownpark nursing home, Blackrock.
Barton's career is of interest as a representative story of twentieth-century gentry decline and as a reminder of the role of some protestant large farmers in the Blueshirt movement; this element, though obscured by later scholarly focus on the catholic integralist element in Blueshirtism, assisted its opponents in portraying it as the last gasp of the old regime. (It was also suggested by the future president Erskine Childers (qv) that the movement inadvertently helped to integrate the remnants of the old governing class in the political life of the new state.)