William John Burke grew up in the Kinvara area of Co. Galway. He seemed to enjoy a relatively happy and comfortable childhood. His father, John owned quite a bit of land in the Kinvara area, affording William John and his sibling a few extra luxuries denied so many at the time.
The Burke family were popular in their community. John Burke contributed to local causes, including that of the building of St. Colman’s Church outside Kinvara. According to William John, in a lecture he gave many years later in theirs was an open house, welcoming people from all communities.
William John was the second son of John Burke and his wife. His father was a devout Catholic, whose faith he would give his life for, adhered to the tradition of encouraging one of his sons to become a priest. In those days it was usually the second son as the first (Patrick) inherited the land. William John as the second son was earmarked for the priesthood, this vocation was instilled in his from childhood, as he would tell in his lectures decades later. As preparation for the priesthood began as a child, education was an important factor. At the age of about 12 young William John would have left home to attend St. Jarlath’s School in Tuam, the first step on his journey to becoming a priest.
The Reporter, June 20 1868. P8
Sheffield Independent 10 December 1870. p 12