Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

James Burke 1892-1920

James Burke was born at Limerick in 1892 to Peter and Susan Burke. Peter was a serving member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and after his retirement from the force the family moved to Newbridge Street in Birr, where James spent most of his childhood. James joined the RIC around 1911 and was stationed in Galway.

As the War of Independence progressed, republicans began to establish shadow systems of governance such as the so called Dail Courts and discouraged members of the general public from engaging with the pre-existing justice apparatus. On 19 July 1920, Burke was part of a contingent of four RIC officers, who had attended an abortive sitting of the Galway Assizes.

At 8:45 pm travelling to Dunmore Barracks, the party found the road blocked by a tree at Gallagh, Cortoon, three miles from the town. Burke and Constable Patrick Carey were killed when a group of IRA men lead by Michael Moran and Michael ‘Con’ Fogarty, opened fire on the van they had been travelling in. Their two companions surrendered after a sustained gunfight. These prisoners were later released to make their way to Tuam. 

The bodies of Constables Burke and Carey were removed to Tuam barracks where they were waked overnight. Early the following morning, police went on the rampage in the town. Shops and pubs were looted, shots were fired indiscriminately and several buildings including the Town Hall were set on fire. Press reports speculated that damages occurred in the region of £100,000.  

Burke’s body was returned to Birr by military lorry, and he was buried at Clonoghill cemetery after mass in St Brendan’s church. the Irish Times reported… 

‘The remains were carried on a gun carriage and covered with the Union Jack. They were preceded by a military firing party and were flanked on either side by police. Soldiers carrying fixed bayonets followed. The attendance by the general public was very small.’ (1)

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of Conor McNamara and Hilary Kiely on the revolutionary period in Galway.


1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at

Bureau of Military History Statements. Michael ‘Con’ Forgarty Witness 673. Search online at

Richard Abbott. Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922. (Cork) 2019.

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020.

Hilary Kiely. ‘The ambush at Gallagh and sack of Tuam’ Galway Decade of Commemoration. Online at 

Hilary Kiely. ‘The night Tuam was burned: A complication of contemporary newspaper accounts’ Galway Decade of Commemoration. Online at

Conor McNamara. Deadly Gun Battle at Gallagh Hill, Dunmore 19th July 1920. Galway Decade of Commemoration. Online at 

Conor McNamara. ‘Tuam ransacked by Crown Forces:19 July 1920, an inventory of destruction.’ Galway Decade of Commemoration. Online at

Irish Times. 31 July 1920.

(1) Irish Times. 31 July 1920.

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