• Stephen Callaghan

The Tragic End of Private Burke, Leinster Regiment

Today’s blog post came about via a brief newspaper article from November 1901 detailing the suicide of a soldier of the Leinster Regiment. While this is always a sensitive subject, this is the story of an ordinary soldier worth telling.


John Burke was born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary around 1864. He enlisted in the Leinster Regiment on 22 October 1884, his previous trade given as a labourer. After initial home service he was posted to India in 1885.


With a build-up of tension in South Africa, the Second Anglo Boer War broke out in October 1899. As the British were unprepared for war, the Boers had the initial advantage. Private Burke was one of the several hundred thousand of men sent as reinforcements, being sent with the 1st Battalion, Leinster Regiment. While in South Africa, solders would often have to perform the mundane block house duty, where boredom was more likely to be encountered than the enemy.


After a year of service in South Africa, Private Burke was granted leave, and he returned home to Ireland, arriving at Cork. While here, he married Norah Rice in Saints Peter and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, Cork. Norah is recorded as living at 7 Bachelors Quay, Cork, her father is listed as Richard Rice.


Moving on from Cork, Private Burke made his way to his native Carrick-on-Suir in full “war paint”. After his trip home, he was to make his way to Birr, however while at Clonmel train station, Burke proceeded to the toilet, where he removed his puttees, fashioning them into a noose he hung himself. A railway porter made the shocking discovery early the next day and raised the alarm. His body was cut down and handed over to the police. The local newspapers reported his death, where he was described as a “powerful man” and that he had been 5 days overdue to return from leave.


Private Burke was later interred in St Patrick’s cemetery, Clonmel, where he rests in an unmarked grave. His widow received the remaining money owed to him. His service in South Africa entitled him to the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps “Cape Colony”, “Transvaal”, “Orange Free State” and “South Africa 1901” which was likely also sent to his widow.

Entrance to St Patrick's Cemetery, Clonmel (image courtesy of Kay Neagle)

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