Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burke, Thomas (1710?-1776)

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BURKE, THOMAS (1710?–1776), historian of the Irish Dominicans, was born at Dublin about 1710. After having studied there he became a member of the Dominican order at Rome in 1726, and is stated to have attracted the special notice of Pope Benedict XIII. In 1731 he published at Rome, under the title of 'Promptuarium Morale,' a Latin and enlarged edition of a Spanish work on moral theology by Francisco Larraga. At the instance of the catholic clergy in Ireland, and with papal sanction, Burke compiled offices for the festivals of Irish saints. This work appeared at Dublin in duodecimo in 1751, under the title of 'Officia Propria Sanctorum Hibernise.' In 1752 Burke published at Dublin 'A Catechism, Moral and Controversial.' In the following year, while engaged upon a Latin work on dogmatic theology, the provincial chapter of the Irish Dominicans unexpectedly appointed him historiographer of their order for Ireland. Burke laboured with great industry on the history of his order. Owing to the destruction of documents of Roman catholics in Ireland, Burke was able to obtain but little historic material from the Dominicans there. He laid a copy of his work before the provincial synod at Dublin in 1757, by which it was referred to the authorities at Rome for examination. Burke published at Dublin, in 1758, 'Historical Collections out of several eminent Protestant Historians, and the strange confusions following in the reigns of Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth.' While the work, which Burke had compiled on the history of his order, was undergoing revision at Rome, he was, by papal brief dated 9 Jan. 1759, appointed to the vacant see of Ossory, and was consecrated at Drogheda in the following April. The results of Burke's labours as historiographer of the Dominican order in Ireland appeared in 1762 in a quarto volume, with the following title: 'Hibernia Dominicana: sive Historia Provinciæ Hiberniæ Ordinis Prædicatorum, ex antiquis manuscriptis, probatis auctoribus, literis originalibus nunquam antehac impressis, instrumentis authenticis, et archivis, aliisque invictie fidei monumentis deprompta. … Per Patrem Thomam de Burgo, prælibati Ordinis alumnum, Sacræ Theologiæ Magistrum, et Protonotarium Apostolicum, necnon Hiberniæ Dominicanæ Historiographum, postea E[piscopum] O[ssoriensem]. Coloniæ Agrippinæ, ex typographia Metternichiana sub signo Gryphi, anno mdcclxii.' It has been conjectured that the book was printed, under the supervision of the author, at Kilkenny. The work is divided into seventeen chapters. In these the author treats of the history of Ireland and its government, the introduction of the Dominican order, its convents there and on the continent, with catalogues of Dominican prelates, priors, writers, and eminent personages. The last chapter is devoted to an account of the then depressed state of the Irish catholics and of their sufferings under penal legislation from the time of Henry VIII. In an appendix is a succinct list of the religious establishments which had formerly existed in Ireland. At the end of the volume is a decree of 1761, from the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, in relation to ecclesiastical arrangements in Ireland. A new edition of the offices for Irish saints was in 1769 printed at Paris, with an intimation prefixed to it that the inaccuracies in the publication of 1751 on the same subject were to be ascribed to those to whom the preparation of the work had been entrusted by Burke. In 1772 Burke published an addition to his historical work, entitled 'Supplementum Hiberniæ Dominicanæ. … Per eundem auctorem, Patrem Thomam de Burgo, O[rdinis] P[ædicatorem], Ep[i]sc[o]p[u]m Oss[o]r[ie]ns[e]m.' The author, in a brief preface, mentions that the materials in the supplement were mainly the result of researches which he made during a visit to the continent in 1769. Among the most important of the contents of the supplement are extracts from archives of the Irish Franciscans, then preserved at Rome, and from the Rinuccini MSS., accounts of which by the writer of the present notice have recently been given in the reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. The supplement to the 'Hibernia Dominicana' closes with an instrument of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, dated at Rome 9 April 1772. Owing to the penal laws against Roman catholics in Ireland the political tendency of portions of 'Hibernia Dominicana' was regarded with apprehension by some of their prelates. In July 1775 a formal declaration, in relation to the book and its supplement, was signed by James Butler, Roman catholic archbishop of Cashel, and six bishops. In this document they stated that the publications had occasioned general uneasiness and alarm in Ireland, and that they disapproved of sentiments contained in them, which tended to weaken allegiance to George III, and to disturb the public peace and tranquillity. The passages objected to were not indicated in the document, but they would appear to be those relative to the change of the royal succession in England, and the acts of James II, Prince James Francis Edward, and his sons, Charles Edward and Henry Stuart, cardinal of York. The leaves containing this portion of the work were excised from many copies of it. In September 1775 Burke issued a pastoral condemnatory of acts of the agrarian insurgents in Ireland styled 'Whiteboys.' Burke's death took place on 26 Sept. 1776. He was succeeded in the see of Ossory by John Thomas Troy, subsequently archbishop of Dublin. A copy of aportion of 'Hibernia Dominicana,' with annotations in the author's autograph, is preserved in the library of the Roman catholic college of Maynooth, Ireland.

[Anthologia Hibernica, 1793; Catalogue of Library of Richard Heber; Hist of Dublin, 1854; Collections on Irish Church History, 1861; Brady's Episcopal Succession, 1876.]

J. T. G.