• Stephen Callaghan

Captain John Burke of Birr

Today we have a special guest post. To celebrate the completion and printing of a family history book, Ossie and Irene Burke have kindly agreed to share the details of an interesting ancestor from Birr, County Offaly, who joined the British Army and worked his way up the ranks from Private to Captain.

John in 1895

John Burke was born in Birr around 1815. He is recorded in the 1821 Census in Birr, with sister Anne (later married a Connelly). He was the son of Patrick Burke and Eliza Burke (possibly née McNamara). John later had a brother Patrick and sisters Elizabeth (later married a Ryan) and Sarah (later married a Mannion).


John joined the British Army in 1833 and served in the 22nd Regiment of Foot, the Cheshires until 1854 when he joined the 27th Regiment of Foot. By that time, he had worked his way from Private to Captain.


During his career he spent 12 years and 4 months abroad and 8 years and 3 months at home. From 29 December 1835 to 10 March 1837 he was in the West Indies and 29 December 1845 to 3 March 1854 in the East Indies. While serving in the East Indies he distinguished himself in the in November 1844 during the attack on Panhala Fort, in the city of Panhala. Burke is mentioned in the regimental history “Maj George, in his report said ‘having expressed myself satisfied with the conduct of all it was not my intention to have mentioned the names of any but must in justice state that the very conspicuous gallantry of Colour Sgt. Burke 22nd Regt. was especially reported to me by the Brigade Major’.” Mention of his gallant conduct also appeared in the King’s County Chronicle, the local newspaper of his hometown of Birr.


John married Esther Edwards around 1837/38 and they had three children together, though Esther died in India around 1844. He remarried Margaret McGowan a year later in India. John and Margaret had five children.


After returning home Lieutenant Burke was stationed in Limerick Barracks for a period of time. His retirement from military life appeared in The London Gazette on 6 November 1868: “Quartermaster John Burke retired upon half-pay, late Depot Battalion, to have the honorary rank of Captain. Dated 7th November 1868’’ His career in the army points to a man of ability. Considering he was a Catholic and Irish, both handicaps at the time, his rise through the ranks is unusual.


John retired from the army on half-pay in 1868 but he had other resources. His mother Eliza died in 1869 and he inherited the two Georgian Houses at Oxmantown Mall, Birr and other property in Birr. He was registered as the owner of these in 1873/4 and he sold these on to Joseph Edwards.


He lived at 9 Eblana Terrace, Dublin, now 120 North Circular Road and several different houses in the Terrace between 1870 and 1895. We find the Captain listed as a member of the Dublin Zoological Society and attending the Civic Ball to mark the visit of the British Crown Prince in 1885 with his wife Margaret and daughters Agnes and Harriet. He was involved in his local church in Aughrim Street - being a trustee with the Parish Priest for some Railway Shares.


The family left Dublin in about 1896 to live in Liverpool at Sefton Drive, Toxteth Park, possibly to be closer to their daughter Agnes. In 1901 he appears in the UK census in Liverpool with his wife Margaret and their daughter Harriet Mary. He died there in 1901 aged 85.

John's headstone in Liverpool.

Thanks to Ossie and Irene for sharing this, on a side note they would be keen for more information on John’s parents Patrick and Eliza.

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