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