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Portumna, Co. Galway

The Burke Family - A History

by Sir William Burke Teeling, July, 1932

In the old days when the Earls of Clanricarde were rich and important, the genealogical writers were apt to exaggerate the family antiquity.

They started us off with Saint Anselm who was Bishop of Metz in the Fifth century A.D. In those days you could be a Bishop, and a Saint and still have children. It was before the days of Gregory the Great and clerical celibacy. In any case he was only a "local Saint".

From him descended the Pepins and Charlemagne and from the latter many generations - including Baudwin King of Jerusalem - until we come to one Sir Harlowen de Burgo ("of the city ") who was wise enough to blot the family escutcheon by marrying the mistress of Robert the Bold Count of Normandy. His two children, Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux - responsible for the famous tapestry - and Robert, Count of Mortain and Earl of Cornwall were therefore half-brothers of William the Conqueror. Robert’s son William, is supposed to have been the father (why, it is not quite clear) of one Adelm de Burgh living in Cumberland who married the daughter of St. Louis King of France. Their son (there is no proof other than that he is called FitzAdelm), William FitzAdelm de Burgh undoubtedly went to Ireland in the Twelfth century and obtained vast estates in Connaught - marrying, I think the daughter of Roderick O’Connor, King of Connaught.

He had a powerful and fascinating first cousin Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, who married Princess Margaret of Scotland. This Hubert was first used by King John to gouge out the eyes of young Arthur of Brittany, and there is an excellent description of him in Shakespeare’s King John. Later on (for Henry III) he became Justiciar and Lord Protector of England and defeated Louis of France at the Battle of Dover. In the end he fell from power - but one of his titles "the Barony of Burgh" - is at present held by his descendent in the female line Leith, Lord Burgh (The title was only revived about 10 years ago after having lain dormant for generations.)

From Sir William descended the Lords of Connaught, one of whom married the heiress daughter of de Lacy Earl of Ulster. They then became Earls of Ulster and left the Connaught estates in the hands of the younger brother of the one who married the Ulster heiress and he and his descendants were known as Lords of Clanricarde.

The second Earl of Ulster had many children, one of whom Margaret married Robert the Bruce the famous King of Scotland, and was mother of King David the second. Another daughter married De Bermingham Earl of Louth, and their heiress daughter married Sir William Teeling, my fathers direct ancestor. The third Earl of Ulster married the sister and heiress of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester who had, inter alia, large estates in the South-West of France. This Countess of Ulster endowed a now famous College of Cambridge known as CLARE college, and no doubt it was after her that the County Clare in Ireland was named, as all that land belonged to her husband. Their only daughter and heiress Elizabeth de Burgh was married by King Edward III in the fourteenth century to his son Lionel Plantagenet. (Directly descended from them was Edward the Fourth, and eventually King George the Fifth, who is also Earl of Ulster.) This Lionel, in compliment to many of his wives large estates, was created Duke of Clarence, and their wines coming from their estates in France have always been known in England as the wine of the Clare estates - or Claret.

This Lionel of Clarence & Elizabeth de Burgh, his wife, lie buried at Clare Priory near Marks Tey in Suffolk, in the back garden of Lady May’s estate. The arms on the tomb are well preserved.

When Elizabeth married Lionel, her cousins in Connaught, the Lords of Clanricarde and his brothers (sons of William of Clanricarde) were afraid they would lose their semi-independent position there, and fell back on the old Brehon (Irish) law, whereby the chief is not the oldest son or daughter - but is any member, whom the clan shall elect. And so they had themselves elected, one chief of the estates in Galway and Clare, the other of those in Mayo. They renounced their English allegiance and became more Irish (Celtic) than the Irish. The one in Galway called himself McWilliam (son of William) Ochter and the one in Mayo McWilliam Eichter. Two or three generations later, they reverted halfheartedly to English customs, reinstating the hereditary system (now secured for themselves) but dropped the DE and became known as Burke in Galway, and Bourke in Mayo.

About the end of the Fifteenth Century the second son of Burke Lord of Clanricarde was given the estates of Castlehacket and Cahirmorris which included Ower and extended some thirty miles along the Mayo border. These estates he and his descendants held until the time of Cromwell in the middle seventeenth century, in spite of being Catholic.

The elder line, the Lords of Clanricarde from then on continued until 1917 when the 2nd Marquis and 15th Earl died - but when he died there was not one branch intervening from the time of the Burke who got Castlehacket in the fifteenth century. Surviving in the male line therefore on the death of Lord Clanricarde, John Butler Burke became the senior male representative of all the many Burkes the world over !!, and I have always understood Lord Clanricarde recognised this.

There was however no official Peerage granted to the Burke family until the time of Henry VIII - some three generations after the Castlehacket branch broke off. Then Henry VIII wishing to make Ireland securely Protestant made a bargain with two of its chieftains who became Earls at Greenwich Palace & in return became Protestants. They were Burke who became Earl of Clanricarde and O‘Brien who became Earl of Thomond.

From then on the Earls of Clanricarde continued to live at Portumna Castle until the latter half of the nineteenth century. The fourth Earl, I think, towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, succeeded the Earl of Essex as the Queen’s favourite - but she died soon after. The Earl had married the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham (Secretary of State) and widow successively of Sir Philip (killed at Gutphea), and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. In the time of James II the Earls daughter (Honora de Burgo) married first Patrick Sarsfield (Earl of Lucan) and secondly the King’s illegitimate son FItzJames Duke of Berwick, and her descendents became Dukes of Alba and Berwick in Spain to this day. A later Earl married a Miss Smith who was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey, and you can see her huge tomb and monument on the left as you approach the High Altar.

The first Marquis and fourteenth Earl, who by this time had gone back to the name of de Burgh, was Postmaster General and later Ambassador to Russia. He married the daughter of Canning and his son the second and last Marquess of Clanricarde took the additional name of Canning. He died in 1916 leaving over two million pounds to his great nephew Lord Lascelles, who immediately bought Chesterfield House - which he has given up - and married the present Princess Royal.

In 1800 a new Earldom of Clanricarde was created to go to the eldest daughter, failing male issue of the 14th Earl and 1st Marquis, and so in 1917 this Earldom went to her grandson the present Marquess of Sligo. While the Clanricardes ruled at Portumna in South Galway through the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries, the next branch of the family were in control in north Galway at Castlehacket. This property was so called because in the 13th century it had been lent by the head of the De Burghs of that time to one of his supporters called Hacket, and he had permitted him to build a castle there. In the time of James 1st the Burke of Castlehacket married the daughter of Bourke Viscount Mayo, whose mother was the famous Grace O‘Malley , Chieftain of the Isles, around whom many stories are woven. The next Burke, whose sister had married the O’Connor Don, married the daughter of De Bermingham, 17th Baron Athenry and Premier Baron of Ireland. It was he who, a Catholic, rescued the Protestant Bishop of Killala, who was lying stripped naked after the massacre of Shruel when zealous Catholics had murdered all his followers.

Burke Crest and Arms Later in the time of Cromwell, all the Castlehacket property was confiscated and handed over to one of the Kirwans from the city of Galway, a supporter of Cromwell. When Charles II returned, Kirwan became alarmed and offered to return Castlehacket to Burke for a small consideration - but Burke indignantly refused, believing that Charles II would reinstate him for nothing. Charles however forgot his friend and the Kirwans retained Castle - hacket to this day. Their heiress descendant married Col. Percy Bernard, son of the Bishop of Tuam, and his son General Denis Bernard lives there today - though the Burke Crest and Arms are to be seen on many old gates.

When Burke was turned out, he had cousins called Browne who lived at the Neale, and who later became Barons of Kilmaine. These were Protestants, and for two generations the remains of the Burke property Ower was held in the Browne’s name. Thus the risk of the place being confiscated because of the Burke owners being Catholic, was eliminated.

Part of the Burke property which the Brownes retained was later sold by the Brownes to Sir Benjamin Guinness about 1860. He turned his land into a family estate for the Guinnesses, called Ashford, and the woodcock shooting here became so famous that King George used to come to stay for the shooting, and the best shots in England used to be on a waiting list to be invited. One shot, Sir Merwyn Manningham - Butler once told me with pride he had been once three places of being invited to Ashford. The present owner Col. Walter Guinness, son of the late Lord Iveagh was a member of Mr Baldwin’s Cabinet and last year was created peer. He has taken the title of Lord Moyne, after the property the other side of Ower, divided from it by Ross Abbey which now belongs to the Free State Nation - being classified as a National Monument.

At Ower, all that remains is a gate near the house leading into the orchard. This, of wrought iron, was originally in the Market Square at Tuam. My great-uncle John Burke purchased it to beautify Ower. When Ower was being sacked, according to Dermot Donelan, they came to take the gate at night, (it being too heavy to remove at the first sacking) and there they all swear they found the ghost of John Burke in a beaver hat and a cut-away coat protecting his gate. So they have left it standing to this day!

Of the other Burke families only two are directly descended from our branches in Galway without a break. The Burkes of Ballyglunin represented by George Burke who is ranching in Canada, and the Burkes of Iserclerans, - a branch of the Ower family, now represented by Arthur Burke Cole, of Iserclerans, and his sister Anne, the wife of Mr Neville Chamberlain, English Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Further distant are branches of the Burkes in Limerick - but they cannot show an unbroken descent. They are represented by the late Sir Bernard Burke, Garter King of Arms, and his sons who edit Burkes Peerage and the Landed Gentry. Of this branch Edmund Burke the Orator was a member. There is an older branch called De Burgh living in Kildare, and the Bourkes, Earls of Mayo, still living at Palmerston, Co. Kildare (though the main building has been burned down) cannot connect themselves up with the Bourkes Viscount Mayo, extinct. Their pedigree gets hazy about the 17th century. The Burkes of Marble Hill, are only descended from a Burke peasant, and the Lady Fayallis branch is equally obscure.

The Bourkes of Glinsk died out about 30 years ago. Miss Reddington was at her cousins, the last baronet’s bedside when he died, and she told me distinctly how the banshees came waiting for hours before he died. His brother was the Mr Burke who was murdered in the Phoenix Park murders with Lord Frederick Cavendish. Their heirs are, I think, the present Lord Huntingfield. There are Burke branches in England - the Burkes of St. Auberies in Essex, and a large number in Canada. In the Unites States - especially Los Angeles - they are very wealthy - and in Australia. But the Burkes of Ower are the genuine surviving branch, of which, according to Dermot Donelan (+1929), Miss Billie Burke, the actress and wife of Mr Zeigfield of New York, is an authentic member.


The original script was handwritten by Sir William Teeling in 1932. It has been transcribed by Ruth Donoghue and Sean Ryan in 1997.

Sir William Teeling was M.P. for Brighton for twenty years, and he is credited with saving the famous Brighton Pavilion from demolition, after giving a party for Queen Mary. He was the owner of Lucan House in Dublin for many years, but eventually sold it to the Italian Government, where it now serves as the Italian Embassy and residence of the Italian Ambassador to Ireland. He is a cousin of William A. Miailhe de Burgh, who is involved with us in this project.

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