Clan History

We Burkes have long known of our importance and dominance throughout Irish history so it comes as no shock that the name Burke is one of the most popular of all surnames of Irish origin.

It is estimated that over 25,000 people in Ireland are of the Burke name and our reach is even broader and our numbers even more vast when the global community is taken into account with the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand to name but a few countries that are now well populated with our revered ancestry!

An article on the Burke Clan history reveals the following:

“The history of the energetic Burke family is complex and widespread. William de Burgh (called William the Conqueror by Irish annalists and wrongly described as William Fitzadelm de Burgo) 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.

Burke - a numerous Hiberno-Norman surname

William came to Ireland in about 1185 and was made Governor of Limerick and succeeded Strongbow as Chief Governor. He consolidated his social position by marrying a daughter of Donal Mor O Brien, King of Thomond (now the area around Shannon airport). He set out to conquer Connacht and after much massacre and pillaging he overcame the reigning O Conors. 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 and Trim in County Meath, despite his continual assaults on the O Conor kings of Connacht, married an O Conor 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.

His eldest son, Walter (d. 1272), acquired the Earldom of Ulster through marriage with a daughter of Hugh de Lacy. He fortified his Ulster territory with many castles which still enliven the coast in counties Donegal, Down and Antrim. It was he who built the amazing Dunluce Castle near Portrush in County Antrim which was used in succeeding centuries by the MacQuillans and the MacDonnells. From Walter, 1st Earl of Ulster, descend the Burkes of Limerick and Tipperary.


Burke (Bourke, de Burgh), gaelicised as de Burca, 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.

Sir John Davis said in 1606: "There are more able men of the surname of Bourke than of any name whatsoever in Europe". Having regard to the large number of Burkes, or Bourkes, now living - the figure 19,000, given above, must be multiplied several times to include emigrants of Irish stock to America and elsewhere - it is hardly possible that they all stem from the one ancestor (the name, it may be remarked, is not found in England except in families of Irish background); nevertheless, even if several different Burkes came to Ireland in the wake of Strongbow, it is the one great family, mentioned above, which has been so prominent in Irish history.

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). Minor branches became MacDavie, MacGibbon, MacHugo, MacRedmond and MacSeoinin. Of these the name Mac Seoinin is extant in Counties Mayo and Galway as Jennings, and MacGibbon as Gibbons.

As late as 1518, when the City of the Tribes was still hostile to its Gaelic neighbours and the order was made that "neither O nor Mac should strut or swagger through the streets of Galway", a more specific instruction was issued forbidding the citizens to admit into their houses "Burkes, MacWilliams, Kelly or any other sept".

Thor Ballyee - formerly a 16th Century Burke stronghold

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".”