P. J. Bourke

1882-1932 [Patrick J.] b. Dublin; orphaned at 12; drove department store van; frequented Queen’s Theatre, Brunswick (now Pearse) St., Dublin from age of 10; acting and managing in local halls at 20; key roles plays of J. W. Whitbread; works incl. When Wexford Rose, prod. Fr. Matthew Hall in 1910 and Queen’s in 1912; For the Land She Loved (prod. 1915); The Northern Insurgents (1912); For Ireland’s Liberty (1914); In Dark and Evil Days (1914), advertising for which was suppressed by the Government; wrote and produced Ireland a Nation, the first full-length film made in Ireland; set various plays to music incl. Kathleen Mavourneen, in which he appeared; d. 20 July 1932; his son Seamus de Burca [q.v.] is the historian of the Queen’s Theatre, a leading Irish antiquarian bookseller, a cousin to the Behans and Kearneys. DIW DIB OCIL CAB


  • When Wexford Rose (1910).
  • For the Land She Loved (prod. 1915).
  • The Northern Insurgents (1912).
  • For Ireland’s Liberty (1914).
  • In Dark and Evil Days (1914).
  • Betsy Gray [q.d.]

Note: For the Land She Loved (1915) and Betsy Gray are both reprinted in Cheryl Herr, For the Land they Loved: Irish Political Melodramas (Syracuse UP 1991).

See ‘A Bourke/De Burca Double Number’, in Journal of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan, 2 & 3 (Jan.-May 1984) [incls. Northern Insurgents: A Romantic Irish Drama of Ulster in 1798, pp.7-74, Handy Andy: A Play in 3 Acts, adpt. from Samuel Lover, pp.87-140; also and Kurt Jacobsen, interview with Seamus de Burca].

Bibliographical details

Betsy Gray (q.d.)

The play is set in 1798 around the traditional Ulster heroine of the Rebellion and Henry Munro, the Presbyterian rebel. Munro is arrested as a murderer when Jane Nugent, who jealously loves him, accidentally shoots Squire Gray, Betsy’s father. Shiela’s plan to get Munro out of prison is to make the sargeant drunk and empty the bullets [balls] out of the soldier’s muskets the night before the execution. The entire plot is noticeably skewed towards the women. Johnston acts the villain in attempting to exchange Munro for Betsy’s hand and fortune, and then threatens to take her by force (‘I mean to have you here and now’). When Betsy convinces General Nugent to release Munro as innocent on his warrant, Johnston tears it up, and plans to shoot the prisoner ‘while trying to escape’. Betsy joins in at the Battle of Ballynahinch.
 The plot-element that concerns the shooting of Squire Gray by Lady Nugent and the framing of Munro for his murder are mangled in subsequent scenes - notably where Betsy accuses Lady Nugent with Johnston of ‘murdering her father in cold blood’ - notwithstanding the nature of the episode and the fact that Squire Gray and the other two were on the same side. Betsy’s extinction, in the ‘business’ at the close is equally extraordinary. After a pistol duel with Lady Nugent ending in the latter’s death, she steps between Munro and and Col. Bruce, and is pierced by both their swords. Sheila now says to her, ‘Betsy darlin’! Are you much hurt?’

—Rep. in Cheryl Herr, op. cit. (1991); see extract.

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‘A Bourke/De Burca Double Number’, Journal of Irish Literature, 2 & 3 (Jan-May 1984); contains Northern Insurgents, a romantic Irish Drama of Ulser in 1798, pp.7-74.

See also ‘A Bourke/De Burca Double Number’, Journal of Irish Literature, 2 & 3 (Jan-May 1984) - which incls. an interview with Seamus de Burca by Kurt Jacobsen.


Cheryl Herr, ed. For the Land they Loved: Irish Political Melodramas (Syracuse UP 1991), gives biography information [as supra]; Notes: In 1915, Bourke’s For the Land She Loved was produced at the Abbey; the Castle remonstrated with St. John Ervine fror ‘permitting this piece of sedition to be performed’ (acc. de Burca); Ervine responded by barring de Burca from the Abbey. Bourke’s film, Ireland A Nation was shown at the Rotunda on 8 Jan. 1917, he himself playing the part of Michael Dwyer, and banned on the following day. (p.15.) , Herr calls the tradition of interpreting 1798 which eludes the trap of guilt, self-hatred and ‘cosmically mandated dependency’ an ‘alternative take’ for which ‘the primary vehicles [...] were ‘plays created by Whitbread and Bourke.’ [21] Their work asserts a typological patterning in order to resuscitate the triumphs of the highly varied political undertakings often too indiscriminately gathered together as the 1798 Rising. [...] they emphasised the coexistence of success and defeat. [...; they] entered into the dialogue that produced the Easter Rising. Further, This positioning of class relations has a great deal more to do with melodramatic tradition than with Ireland in the era of the Queen’s theatre, and by Bourke’s time such sentimentalising of the class system was highly anachronistic. [...] Bourke portrays a world in which the stakes are just as high but in which the principal players are neither aristocrats nor barrister-statesmen but folk more humbly placed in the social hierarchy. (p.53-54). In focusing on local instead of national heroes, Bourke achieved a shift in emphasis from the truly or metaphorically aristocratic to the position normally occupied by the stage Irishman ... the ordinary worker-as-hero found his or her place on the Queen’s stage’ (p.55.) [See further under Quotations - as infra.]

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For The Land She Loved (1915) : ‘DONAL [giving long account of the taking and re-taking of New Ross]: [T]raining and discipline must eventually triumph over mob bravery and for that reason the English are now in possession of New Ross. When we organise, drill, and inculcate a spirit of discipline into our men, the beating of the English soldiery will be a mere bagatelle.’ [283; cf. 303]. ‘and I can never know true happiness, General, until I take my place once more with the men of Wicklow and Wexford in the struggle for Independence’ [Quoted in Cheryl Herr, ed. For the Land they Loved (1991); see longer extract - as attached.]

Betsy Gray (q.d.): GEORGE: ‘Lost, - Lost - And forever. Oh God! What a fool I have been. yet thank God, there is one great hope left, and that would be to die for Ireland of a Hundred Sorrows.’ [321]; BETSY: ‘Oh yes, death would be a glorious thing. Why, I was ony thinking last night of how the women of Limerick fought and died like heroes with patrick Sarsfield but little over a hundred years ago. Don’t you think there are a few women left in Ireland still who could do as much for the land they loved as in those days.’ [322; See longer extract - as attached.]



MSS: When Wexford Rose, by P. J. Bourke, manuscript A, is [written] in the hand of Peadar Kearney [his brother in law] with a twelve-part score is housed in Irish Theatre Archive, Dublin.

Samuel Lover: Handy Andy, a Play in 3 Acts, was adapted from the novel of that title by Samuel Lover (Seamus de Burca, [Cat. No?], pp.87-140).]

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