Monthly Archives: December 2015

New Beginnings Part 2

The newly married Rev Burke needed a new position in the church. In March 1862 the Incumbency of Castlejordan, Co. Meath became vacant, he either applied or was recommended for the job. He got the position. The Incumbency paid £250 (€15,000) per annum, not very much for a family to live on but it was a new beginning for the Rev Burke.

Job for Rev Burke, Dublin Evening Mail 12 March 1862. p4The Rev. Thomas Marshal, A. M., has been appointed to the Union of Tryvett, in the Diocese of Meath (net value, £250), in the room of the late Rev. T. H. Barton. Patron the Crown. Mr Marshal vacates Incumbency of Castlejordan, in the same diocese.

By mid 1862 he was attending to the parishioners of Castlejordan. His first ceremony in the parish was the burial of Mr Michael Gill aged 70 years on 17th September 1862. His wife Emily, son William and their new baby joined him a year later. It seemed that he had left his past and the persecution, suffered by religious converts, behind in the West of Ireland, but it did not take too long for it to follow him in his new life.

The ruin of the Church at Castlejordan, Co. Kildare where Emily's father was Incumbent

The ruin of the Church at Castlejordan, Co. Kildare where Emily’s father was Incumbent

Dublin Evening Mail 12 March 1862. p4
National Archives of Ireland, Church Records
Special thanks to Dr Ciaran J. Reilly Therese Abbott and the members of Edenderry Historical Society.

The Second Mrs Burke: Part 2


Marriage Settlement

Emily McArthur was well over thirty years old when she married Rev. William John Burke in October 1861. Emily had lost her entire immediate family in recent years and was pretty much alone in the world. She was independently wealthy, holding a trust fund, inherited from her mother, who died in 1855. Her only brother Rev. Richard McArthur, who had succumbed to scarlet fever in Canada a few years later left his entire estate to her. She need not have got married but she was a woman alone and maybe by the standards of the times it was better for her to do so.

On October 1st 1861 a marriage settlement was drawn up between Rev William John Burke and Charles Knox of Downpatrick and Rev. Michael Kennedy of Dublin. acting in the interest of Emily McArthur. The couple married the next day.

The newlyweds lived in Dublin for some time, until Rev took a post in Castlejordan Co. Meath. His wife pregnant with their first child remained on in Dublin for the birth. Their firstborn Miriam Sophia arrived in June 1863. After the birth the family moved to Edenderry Co Offaly (then Kings County), close to Rev Burke’s new parish of Castlejordan.

Miriam Sophia's birth announcement

Miriam Sophia’s birth announcement



16 June 1863 – Dublin Evening Mail – Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland. P 1


Rev Burke Widowed

In 1858 Rev Burke’s first wife Catherine died. After her death it appears that he went to live in Dublin for some time, away from the West of Ireland, away from the sadness of the loss of his wife.

All that remains of St. Peter's Church, Dublin.

All that remains of St. Peter’s Church, Dublin, where Emily’s parents married

He appeared to keep a low profile for some time, his name absent from the newspaper columns. He did not appear in the church records for a short period either. In October 1861 he married his second wife Emily McArthur, who would become mother to Emily.



Rev Burke Widowed
The threat of violence was a factor that loomed constantly in the life of Rev Burke and extended to his family. Such an incident that happened in Tuam, Co Galway  in 1856 caused Mrs Burke an injury that never healed. In fact it lead directly to her death two years later. A stone thrown at the Revered Burke had missed him and hit his wife instead. The injury caused her much pain and could not be cured.

When Mr. Burke left this place with his family he removed, after some time, to Tuam, and subsequently to Clifden, and it is believed that the persecution which Mrs. Burke, in common with her husband endured in these places laid the seeds of a mortal disease in a naturally strong constitution.

Her obituary was in the Achill Missionary Herald of August 17 1858.

On the 17th ult., Mrs Burke, wife of the Rev. William Burke, entered into rest at the Parsonage Castelkerke.

The write up talked of her popularity in the mission and her kindness to all. What was particularly poignant was a the mention of her children:

…Some time after, on of her sons, in an adjoining room, played on a violin an old Irish air, which she set the sixth Irish hymn. After a while she said “I will soon, my darling hear more delightful music than that; it will be heavenly music and I will join in it.

Mrs Burke gave instructions for her funeral and requested a low key and no money should be wasted on extravagances, which was customary for the time. She requested to be buried in Oughterard graveyard.Mrs Kennedy Obituary

Rev was now a widow with seven stepchildren, although most of them were grown up by now. The couple had one child together, William Junior, who played the music to his dying mother, and was only a young boy when she passed away.  This early trauma along with other hardship he had suffered, being the son of a convert priest may have played a part in the great difficulties he suffered later on in life.

Rev Burke went to live in Dublin for a while, taking young William with him. He stayed at an address in Harrington Street, near the South Circular Road. The boy was sent to school at the prestigious school Hollyville in Monkstown.



The churchyard in Oughterard, the final resting place of Mrs. Burke

Achill Missionary Herald August 17 1858


Rev Burke traveled the country preaching the Gospel to anyone who would listen, and bravely went where few would venture. He was reliable and fearless, and was called upon to assist with new converts. An incident in Clifden, Co. Galway in 1856 illustrates how dangerous his work was. In the letter below from Rev Hyacinth D’Arcy (Evangelical landlord and founder of the Clifden Mission) to an unnamed recipient, gives an insight into how an innocent reading of the Bible could end up in a violent outburst, what missionaries called ‘disturbances of the peace’.


…Convert widow sent for Hyacinth D’Arcy, who asked Mr Burke to go to her, HD heard a noise, saw that ‘an immense multitude of people pressing up the street’

 Mr Burke had been reading with the widow when people collected and threw stones at the door.  Police sent for HD[Hyacinth D’Arcy] addressed the crowd. HD thought trouble was due to idleness or keeping the day by way of Holy Day contrary to the commandments of God. (Corpus Christi) Fr Mac Manus [parish priest of Clifden] accused HD of ‘parading through the streets a man obnoxious to the good people of Clifden, namely Rev. Burke…

The incident happened well over a decade after William John Burke converted. The backlash against him never went away. He was persecuted everywhere he went. This persecution would in time cause a tragedy that would be far reaching enough to impact on at least two generations of the Burke family.

(Letter from Hyacinth D,Arcy to unnamed recipient, 27th May 1856, MS Number G3/3/12 in Copley
Papers, University of Durham)
Special thanks to Miriam Moffett, author of Soupers & Jumpers: the Protestant Missions in Connemara, 1848-1937, who shared her knowledge and expertise with me