Thomas H. Burke

1829-1882 [Thomas Henry Burke]; b. 29 May 1829, at Waterslade House, Tuam; son of William Burke; brought up in Knocknagur [Tuam] Co. Galway; ed. Oscott College, Sutton Coldfield, nr. Birmingham; later in Belgium and Germany; br. of Theobald Burke, 13th Baronet Glinsk; also br. of Augustus Nicholas Burke, an artist; appt. clerk in Dublin Castle, 1847; priv. sec. to three Chief Secretaries, Cardwell, Peel, and Fortescue-Parkinson; appt. Permanent Under-Secretary for Ireland, 1863-82 [var.1869], associated with the coercion policy during Land War, 1879-82; personally intervened to prevent the evictions on the Kirwan Estate at Carraroe, Co. Galway; he was chiefly instrumental in introducing the Intermediate Certificate and grant award system; assassinated by the Invincibles with Lord Frederick Cavendish in the Phoenix Park outside Vice-Regal Lodge, 6 May; bur. under a Celtic Cross with his father in Prospect Cemetery, Glasnevin, 9 May 1882; he left an estate of £1,901 11s. 4d. ODNB DIH

Thomas Henry Burke
Thomas Henry Burke

Memorial, Glasnevin
Memorial, Prospect Cemetery (Glasnevin)

Inscription: “To the memory of Thomas Henry Burke, Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Assassinated in the Phoenix Park. This monument is erected by his many friends among the Irish Resident Magistrates as a mark of their appreciation of his high character and eminent public service. RIP.” [Source: Wikipedia - online.]

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See Tom Corfe, The Phoenix Park Murders (1968); Senan Molony, Assassins in the Park: Murder, Betrayal and Retribution (Cork: Mercier Press 2006), 192pp. See also Frank O’Connor and Hugh Hunt, The Invincibles, ed. Ruth Sherry (Newark: Proscenium 1980) - a play.

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Shane Leslie, The Irish Tangle for English Readers (1946), remarks: ‘Burke’s murderer remained impenitent in prison, despite the loving attention of a namless Sister of Charity. At last he was told she was Burke’s sister. Then he broke down. It was all so Irish and dramatic.’ (p.20.)

Freidrich Engels on the Phoenix Park Murders: ‘But the Fenians themselves are being drawn increasingly to a type of Bakuninism, the assassination of Burke and Cavendish could have pursued the sole aim of thwarting the compromise between the Land League and Gladstone ... In this light the “heroic deed” in Phoenix Park appears as purely Bakuninist, boastful and senseless “propaganda par le fait”, if not as crass foolishness.’ (‘About the Irish Question’ [1888], K. Marx and F. Engels, On Colonialism, Lawrence & Wishart 1968, p.264; quoted in Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Irish Nationalism, London: Routledge 1995, p.126.)

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Maurice Headlam recounts that Lord Spencer, viceroy, saw what he took to be a drunken brawl through his window, and that no monument was raised at the site or the murders ‘since the Liberal government thought it would provoke enmity, and the Nationalist party were not proud of the deed.’ (Irish Reminiscences, 1947; p.39.)

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Family records: Thomas Burke was son of William Burke of Knocknagur, Co. Galway, and his wife Mary Anne, sister of Nicholas, Cardinal Wiseman; Burke’s family was connected with that of Sir Ulick Burke of Glinsk, Co. Galway, on whom a baronetcy was conferred by Charles II in 1628 [see ODNB]. In April 1851 he was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Redington [Sybil’s maternal grandfather], then Under-Secretary for Ireland. In 1869, he was himself appointed Under-Secretary. Burke was assassinate 6th May, 1882, and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The viceroy Earl Spenser erected a memorial window in the Dominican Church, Dublin; his sister was given a govt. pension; his estate at his death was £1,901.11.4. (Source: Family record of Sybil le Brocquy [née Staunton] - which includes an unidentified allusion to Fanny Xaviera, only dg. of Thomas Tucker of Brook Lodge, Sussex.)

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D. J. Doherty & J. E. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), cite under ‘Parnellism and Crime’ the supposed letter by Charles Stewart Parnell of 7 March 1887 [recte 18 April], actually forged by Pigott, in which the author writes, ‘But you can tell all others concerned that though I regret the accident of Lord F. Cavendish’s death, I cannot refuse to admit that Burke got no more than his deserts.’

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R. R. Madden: Dr. Madden was joined by T. H. Burke in persuading Disraeli to provide a civil list pension for Mrs. Michael Banim, relict of the novelist (See Irish Literature, gen. ed. Justin McCarthy, 1904; under ‘Michael Banim’.)

C. S. Parnell: The most offensive content in the letter of 18 April 1887 forged by Richard Pigott included the assertion that Thomas H. Burke deserved his fate at the hands of the Invincibles on account of his anti-nationalist role in Irish affairs. (See further remarks in review of Myles Dungan’s article on the Parnell Commission of 1887 under Parnell, infra.)

Lord Spencer: ‘Please make acquaintance with the Under Secretary T. H. Burke. He was the Irishman of all I know in whom I placed the greatest trust. I certainly knew him better than any other man in the country, but my constant intercourse with him only made me like and trust him more and more.’ (Letter to W. E. H. Gladstone on the eve of the latter’s visit to Ireland in 1887. [Information supplied to Ricorso by James H. Murphy, Oct. 2011.]

The Invincibles (I): The Invincibles’ plot compassed the idea of capturing W. E. Forster, the unpopular Chief Secretary [called “Buckshot” Forster] , and taking him to John Street to be killed there. They were arrested for the Phoenix Park assassinations on 13 Jan. 1883, and both charged [in Feb.] and tried in April for murder on 6 May 1882. Before the trial Superintendent Mallon of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (G Division) induced James Carey, the leader, and Michael Kavanagh to testify against the others. Carey was a bricklayer from Chapelizod with a business at Denzille St. and a name in corporation politics. He acted in the conspiracy as spotter, pointing out the intended victim, Burke, from a cab near the scene but did not himself take part in the killings. The first blow was struck at Burke by Joseph Brady and the next at Cavendish by Tim Kelly. Those convicted along with Brady and Kelly were Daniel Curley, Michael Fagan, and Thomas Caffrey - all of whom were hanged in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, between 14 May and 4 June 1883. The hangman was William Marwood. [See further under James Joyce, Notes > Joyce’s People - infra.]

There is a memorial plaque to the Invincibles giving their names and dates of execution between  14 May and 4 June 1883: Anseo a crochadh Joseph Brady (14.5), Daniel Curley (18.5), Michael Fagan (28.5), Thomas Caffrey (2.6), Timothy Kelly (9.6.) James Fitzharris (“Skin the Goat”; 1833-1910), who drove the cab, served 15 years in prison and did not inculpate any of his colleagues. There is also a plaque at his grave citing the names of the hanged men. Those considered leaders of the Invincible organisation who were not charged and later made publica appearances in America included John Walsh, Patrick Egan, John Sheridan, Frank Byrne, and Patrick Tynan.

Take her Up To Monto ...”

When Carey told on Skin-the-goat,
O'Donnell caught him on the boat
He wished he'd never been afloat, the filthy skite.
’Twasn’t very sensible
To tell on the Invincibles
They stood up for their principles, day and night by going up to Monto Monto ...

The Invincibles (II): Burke was said to have been ‘executed by Order of the Irish Invincibles’ according to a card delivered by the principles to the Irish newspapers. James Carey, who turned Crown witness, was killed by Patrick O’Donnell on board the Melrose out of S. Africa on route to Natal, having out the Kinfauns Castle with his wife Mary [née McKenna] under the name Power - leaving London on July 6. The Powers formed a convivial friendship on the voyage with O’Donnell, also a bricklayer, who was notified by an English traveller called Cubitt that Power was actually Carey as he had learned in the newspapers - a copy of which he showed to O’Donnell. O’Donnell drew a gun on Carey and shot him several times on 29 July. It remained unclear whether he was moved by spontaneous anger or prior intent. O’Donnell was hanged in London on 17 December for the offence. (See Michael Newton, The Age of Assassins, Faber 2011; also J. L. McCracken, The Fate of an Infamous Informer, in History Ireland (2001).

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