When William John Burke entered the seminary at Maynooth in 1825 he was dedicated to his vocation. He studied hard and subsequently did well in his exams. He had no ambitions other than that of becoming a priest. He may have given main priorities to his studies, but he could not ignore the political events that were unfolding in the world outside, events that would have an impact on him directly.

While William John Burke was attending St Patrick’s of Maynooth from 1825-30 the one of the biggest political issues of the first thirty years of the nineteenth century –  ‘The Catholic question’, was drawing to a conclusion.  At the time Catholics were excluded from high ranking positions, in government.

Catholic Emancipation was finally granted by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 13 April 1829 (10 Geo. IV, c. 7). It provided a new oath of allegiance, enabling Catholics to enter Parliament. Catholics were allowed to belong to any corporation and to hold certain positions that they were previously barred from, namely, many high-ranking Governmental, administrative and judicial offices. The Act applied to the whole of the United Kingdom.

This new act should have pleased him, but it only served to divide his loyalties. Like his father he was a loyal subject to the King, but his peers and the college authorities were not. He fell under their influence. In his own words:

“I say I left it a rebel of the first water, thirsting, desiring, and praying for the destruction of the British empire, and solely because it was Protestant. Those I say were my own feelings and sentiments.”

But his feeling would change…

rebel at maynoothHe remained at Maynooth until 1830, when he was made a deacon. But illness forced him to deffer his ordination until a later date. When he recovered he did not return but did his final year in St John’s of Waterford where he was ordained in 1831.

Yorkshire Gazette June 2 1855. P 3
The Cambridge Chronicle and University Jornal, Isle of Ely Herald, and Huntingdonshire Gazette. May 12 1855


Ní Dheirg, Íosold. Emily M. Weddall: Bunaitheoir Scoil Acla. Baile Atha Cliath: Coisceim, 1995.