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Origin of the surname of Burke or Bourke in Connacht

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The surname, Burke—spelt variously Burk, Bourke, or Birk—derives from the Norman De Bourg, De Burgh, or De Burgo in Normandy. In his work, Universal Historical Dictionary (1825), George Crabb described how this name came to Ireland:

Extract from Universal Historical Dictionary (G. Crabb, 1825) :

   Harlowen de  Burgo, son of John earl of Comyn, had two sons, Robert and Otto, half-brothers to William the Conqueror, whom they accompanied into England. Robert became earl of Cornwall, and John, the youngest of his two sons, became earl of Kent; and the eldest, Adelm, had a son, William Fitz-Adelm, who was made governor of Ireland, and was high in the esteem of Richard I. His son, Richard de Burgo, by Isabel, natural daughter of Richard I of England, was lord of Connaught and Trim, and a person of no less honour and esteem than his father. He was constituted Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1227, and died in 1242, after having built the castle of Galway and Loughreah. His son Walter became earl of Ulster in 1243, in right of his wife, and in 1264 in his own right, having preserved both Ulster and Connaught to the king’s laws during his life, which ended in 1271. At the death of William, the third earl, in 1333, this earldom passed out of the family; but from William de Burgo, second son of Richard, lord of Connaught, and younger brother of Walter, earl of Ulster, before-mentioned, descended Ulick de Burgo, who was created, in 1543, earl of Clanricarde, and baron of Dunkellin. Richard, the fourth earl, was advanced to the dignity of the English peerage in 1624, by the title of baron Somerhill, co. Kent, and viscount Tunbridge, to which titles king Charles I added in 1628 those of baron of Imany, viscount of Galway, and earl of St. Alban’s. His son Ulick, the fifth earl, was advanced to the dignity of marquis of Clanricarde, who, dying in 1657, without male issue, the Irish marquisate and the English earldom became extinct; but the earldom of Clanricarde and barony of Dunkellin devolved on his first cousin Richard. 1

Thus, the first of the clan of Burke was part of the Anglo-Norman invasion in the twelfth century. The fortunes of the various branches waxed with various titles and waned with such forces as the Tudor, and then the Cromwellian, dynasties. In addition to the Earls of Clanricarde, there were the Viscounts of Mayo (1626–1767) and of Claremorris (1629–1657). 2 The latter title was lost, together with the estates, under the Cromwellian Protectorate. 3

Early genealogy of the De Burgo family in Ireland :

The following chart illustrates the early genealogy of the De Burgo family in Ireland: 4

Family tree depiction of the descendants of William Fitz Adelm de Burgo (died 1204); published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (Vol. III, New Series, 1861).

Extract from The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1839) :

   This county formed part of the grant made by King Henry II. to William Fitz-Adelm de Burgho about the year 1180. It would appear that the new possessor had very soon made a permanent settlement, as in the 24th year of the reign of King Henry III., the then king of Connaught made a journey to England to complain of the invasion of his territory by the family of the Burkes. The lord-justice of Ireland was on that occasion commanded to ‘root out that unjust plantation, which Hubert, earl of Kent, had, in the time of his greatness, planted in those parts;’ but the command was never acted on, Richard de Burgho having obtained a new grant of all Connaught after the death of O’Connor, the then king. There is very little known of the subsequent proceedings of the settlers until the period of the great rebellion succeeding the assassination of William de Burgho, earl of Ulster, in A.D. 1333. About this time Mayo was a county, as appears by a roll of the 49th Edward III., preserved in the chancery of Ireland. It fell away however from all subjection to the English law immediately after the murder of the earl; for some of the younger branches of the Burke family, seeing that the entire province of Connaught would be inherited by his infant daughter (who afterwards married Lionel, duke of Clarence, and so gave the crown its title to the inheritance in the person of Henry VII.), seized upon the counties of Galway and Mayo, and, to avoid the consequences of their usurpation, not only cast off all allegiance to the English law, but renounced their English names and habits, identifying themselves and their followers in all respects with the native Irish. The name chosen by Edmun de Burgho, who seized on Mayo, was MacWilliam Oughter, or MacWilliam ‘the farther,’ to distinguish his family from that of MacWilliam Eighter, or ‘the hither,’ who had in like manner usurped Galway.
   All the followers of the family in the county followed his example. The D’Exesters, or D’Exons, took the name of MacJordan; the Nangles, or family of De Angulo, took that of MacCostello; and of the inferior familes of the De Burghos, some took the names of MacHubbard, MacDavid, MacPhilben, &c. From this time till the reign of Queen Elizabeth the MacWilliam of the day continued to exercise the authority of an independent potentate. Many families from Galway and Ulster put themselves under the protection of the successive chiefs, and it is probably to this period that the first introduction of many of the most prevalent names at present in the county — Blake, Brown, Kirwan, Macdonnell, &c. — is to be referred. The first step towards a return to English law and manners was made in 1575, when the then MacWilliam, accompanied by the O’Malley and a number of the clan Donnell, came to Galway and made his submission, consenting to pay 250 marks per annum for his country, and to allow his followers to hold by English tenure. This chieftain is described by Sir Henry Sidney, who received his submission, as unable to speak English, though conversing fluently in Latin. The county was shortly after again declared shire ground. The Burkes however soon began to repine under the new government, and, after many complaints, broke into rebellion, in which they were joined by the clan Donnells, Joyces, and other families in the south of the county. To appease these tumults Sir Richard Bingham marched to Ballinrobe on the 12th July, 1586, and having razed several castles of the Burkes and Macdonnells, and given the rebels, who had been joined by a body of 2000 Scottish islemen, a signal defeat at Ardnaree, on the Moy, succeeded in restoring the county to tranquillity. The old families of Mayo, in general, took part in the rebellion of 1641 and the succeeding wars, and very extensive forfeitures were the consequence. The forfeitures consequent on the war of the Revolution extended to 19,294 acres, of an estimated total value, at that time, of 37,598l. 3s. The families of Burke, Browne, and Dillon were those chiefly affected. During these troubles however Mayo was not the scene of any military operations of importance; the only memorable event of that kind, since the battle of Ardnaree, being the invasion, by the French, under General Humbert, in 1798. The invading force consisted of 1100 rank and file only; but such was the alarm caused by their unexpected descent, that they easily carried the towns of Killala and Ballina; and, being joined by a large body of peasantry, defeated General Lake, at the head of 6000 men, before the town of Castlebar. The surrender of the invading force at Ballinamuck [co. Leitrim] however soon restored tranquillity. 5

Whether by misfortunes suffered through political manœuvre or, more prosaically, population growth, we can divine neither the branch nor the generation from which our own Burkes drifted from the titled lineage. Though pedigrees of varying genealogical reliability exist for these lines of note, no early records survive for the mercantile, trade, and peasant classes.

See also:“House of Burke,” online at Wikipedia.

Footnotes :

  1. Crabb, George. Universal Historical Dictionary. Vol. I. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1825. ↩︎
  2. Cokayne, George Edward. Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Vol. V, L to M. London: George Bell & Sons, 1893. ↩︎
  3. O’Hart, John. Irish Pedigrees; or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 3rd ed. Dublin: M.H. Gill, 1881. ↩︎
  4. Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Vol. III, New Series. 1860-61. Dublin: M’Glashan & Gill, 1861. (pg. 100) ↩︎
  5. The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Vol. XV. London: Charles Knight and Co., 1839. (pp 32–33.) ↩︎

End notes :

Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Origin of the surname of Burke or Bourke.” Chapter in the family history research completed for the Burke surname occurring in the parish of Kilcolman (Clanmorris), county Mayo. Online at Arborealis,

All rights reserved, except those transcripts (i.e., the two shaded extracts (i) Crabb and (ii) The Penny Cyclopædia) and the early genealogy chart of the De Burgo family) which are in the Public Domain.

Updated 1st Nov. 2023.