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De Burgo :: Burke

Burke / de Burgh – Tribes of Galway

Arms: Or a cross gules, in the dexter canton a lion rampant sable.

Crest: A cat-a-mountain sejant guardant proper collared and chained or.

Motto: Ung roy, ung foy, ung loy (though the language is a little strange, the motto means “one king, one faith, one law”).

The Heraldry of the Burkes is well documented and there is a long list of coats of arms associated with the name. The following is regarded as the most ancient and is the coat of arms for the entire sept.

Burke Family Crest Galway Ireland

The history of the Burke family is complex and widespread. William de Burgh was the progenitor of the Burkes in Ireland and brother of Hubert de Burgh, “the most powerful man in England next to King John”. These brothers claimed ancestry directly from Charlemange. William came to Ireland in 1185 and was made Governor of Limerick and succeeded Strongbow as Chief Governor. He consolidated his position by marrying a daughter of Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond. He set out to conquer Connacht and after much massacre and pillaging he overcame the reigning O’Connors. According to the annals “he died of a singular disease too horrible to write down”. He was buried c. 1205 in Athassel Abbey which he had founded.

William’s son, Richard (c. 1193 – 1243), Viceroy of Ireland and Lord of Connacht, despite his continual assaults on the O’Connor kings of Connacht, married an O Connor daughter. It is said that he founded the City of Galway. Certainly he built himself a fine house there between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic Ocean.

Burke (Bourke, de Burgh), gaelicised as de Burca (Burke), is much the most numerous of the Hiberno-Norman surnames. It is estimated that there are some 19,000 people of the name in Ireland today: with its variant Bourke it comes fourteenth in the list of commonest names.

The Burkes became more completely hibernicised than any other Norman family. They adopted Brehon Law and proclaimed themselves chiefs after the Irish fashion, forming, indeed, several septs of which the two most important were known as MacWilliam Uachtar (Galway) and MacWilliam Iochtar (Mayo).

Lacking a male heir, the title of Ulster went from the de Burgos to the royal family of England when Elizabeth de Burgo, Countess of Ulster (d. 1363), an only child, married Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the third son of the Yorkist King of England, Edward II. Lionel became Earl of Ulster, a title still used by the royal family. The Burkes saw to it that no Duke of Clarence, Earl of Ulster or not, would get hold of their Connacht territory. In fact they had grabbed it from the native O’Flahertys, having driven them from Galway city. They leased some land back to the O Flahertys, but, as no rent seemed to be forthcoming, a Burke was sent to collect it at the O Flaherty headquarters at the magnificent Aughanure Castle in Oughterard. They were enjoying a banquet and he was invited to join them. During the feasting he mentioned the rent. Immediately, an O Flaherty pressed a concealed flagstone which hurled Burke into the river. They cut off his head and sent it back to the Burke stronghold, describing it as “O Flaherty’s rent”.

Richard Burke, known as Richard of the iron, possibly because of the iron mines on his Burrishoole lands, was the second husband of Grania O’Malley the pirate queen, one of the outstanding Irish women of the Elizabethan age. Their son, “Theobald of the ships”, was born at sea just before his mother fended off marauding Turkish pirates. Theobald was taken hostage by the English and brought up to the English point of view. Just like his mother, he knew how to play both sides, and when he failed to be elected to the leadership of the Burkes of Mayo, he went back to England. He fought on the English side in 1601 at the decisive battle of Kinsale. He was created 1st Viscount Mayo in 1627 by Charles I – a title which lasted only until 1767.

Of the many Burkes who took service with continental powers after the defeat of James II, none was more distinguished than Toby Bourke (c. 1674-c. 1734), whose connection was with Spain. Raymond Bourke (1773-1847), a peer of France descended from the Mayo Burkes, accompanied Wolfe Tone to Ireland in the 1798 expedition and later became a famous Napoleonic commander. Several other Bourkes or Burkes distinguished themselves in the French army.

One of the greatest statesmen of his day, Edmund Burke (1729 – 97), was born in Dublin. A political writer and a powerful orator, while a Member of Parliament in Britain at the time of the French Revolution he exhorted diplomacy rather than bloodshed. Nor was he afraid to say that British stupidity had lost America and would lose Ireland. Although far from wealthy, when he was Privy Counsellor he reduced his own salary by three-quarters! His book, Reflections on the Revolution in France, was considered enormously important all over Europe.

Robert O Hara Burke (1820 – 61) of St Cleran’s, Craughwell, east of Galway City, was of the Clanricarde Burkes. He served in the Austrian army as a captain, and later joined the Australian police as an inspector. He and his companion, W.J. Wills, were the first white men to cross Australia from south to north. Their expedition was far from well planned and, on the return journey in 1861, they both died from starvation after they had covered 3,700 miles by foot and on camel back. A film of their tragic adventure, Burke and Wills, was made in Australia in 1986.

Great numbers of Burkes, many of them lawyers, went to America. Aedanus Burke (1742 – 1802) of Galway went to Virginia where his law studies led to his appointment as judge. He was the first Senator to represent South Carolina at Congress. A man at cross-purposes with himself, he believed in slavery and in democracy. During the French Revolution he wrote widely disseminated pamphlets advocating the abolition of all titles of nobility. He has been nicely described in the Dictionary of American Biography as “an irascible man leavened with Irish wit”.

Perhaps the strength of the powerful, well-recorded Burke presence in Ireland can best be demonstrated by the physical mark they have left on the island, where they built 121 castles in County Galway, and left at least 38 variations of the de Burgo – Burke – Bourke name!

The MacWilliam Burkes , Lord Mayo and related history

The Clanricarde, was a Gaelic title meaning “Richard’s family”, or “(head of) Richard’s family”. The Richard in question was the illegitimate son of William de Burgh, whose great-great grandson became the first Clanricarde in the 1330s. The title was first recorded in 1335, and had probably being used informally for a few generations. However, with the advent of the Burke Civil War 1333-38 it came to denote the head of the Burkes of Upper or south Connacht based largely in what is now east and central County Galway. Simultaneously it was used to describe the lands held by the family.

The title Mac William Uachtar was also used as a synonym. It was a Gaelic title meaning “son of the upper William (de Burgh)”. It was used to differentiate the Burkes of upper or south Connacht from their cousins, the Bourkes of lower or north Connacht, who were known was the Mac William Lower.

However it was never used as popularly as the term Clanricarde and was in any case abaondoned by the end of the 16th century.

In 1543 the then Clanricarde was created Earl of Clanricarde by Henry VIII.

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