At the time Ireland was awash with secret societies, the Ribbon-men were just one of many. They were by definition a Roman Catholic secret society founded in Ireland in the early 1800’s that opposed the landed gentry or the landlord class. They were set up to provide protection for farm workers and the poorer tenant farmers. They were illegal for many reasons especially for the fact that they were oath bound.
The Catholic Church opposed them and condemned the taking of secret oaths. the societies in turn threatened priest who spoke against them; they also took up issues like increases in baptismal, marriage, and Mass fees. Clergy who increased their fees were issued with threatening letters ordering them to lower their charges. (Pat Feeley)
John Burke was a devout Catholic and comparatively wealthy, making him a prime target for initiation into their society. He upheld his faith but made no secret of the fact however he was in no way opposed the establishment. The Ribbon-men sought him out and took him to their secret meeting place by force.
http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/whiteboys%20and%20ribbonmen.pdf/Pat Feeley/retrieved 04/04/2015