Frank Burke: teacher, sportsman and patriot

James Durney

Frank Burke was born in Carbury, Co. Kildare, in 1895. In September 1909 he was sent as a boarder to St. Enda’s College, which had been founded the previous year by P. H. Pearse in Cullenswood House, Oakley Road, Ranelagh. In 1910 the school was transferred to the more spacious grounds of The Hermitage, Rathfarnham. There was another Frank Burke at St. Enda’s when he arrived so Pearse called him Fergus. On 25 November 1913 a public meeting was held ‘to establish a corps of Irish Volunteers’, at the Rotunda, in Dublin. Frank Burke was in attendance as a steward.

On Easter Monday 1916 Frank Burke made his way to the GPO on a tram with the rest of Rathfarnham Volunteers. His first few days were spent on the roof of the GPO. He said,

“Judge of my delight when a message was brought to me on the roof to say my sister [Eva] was in and would like to see me. We saw each other for a few moments each day…”

After the evacuation of the GPO Frank manned a barricade in Moore Street and on Saturday morning he was part of the group in Sackville Lane, under the command of Lt. Seán McLoughlin, who were preparing to attack the British barricade less than  thirty yards away in Parnell Street, when the decision to negotiate a surrender was made. Frank Burke spent Saturday night on the Rotunda lawn, where he said the officer in charge, Capt. Percival Lea Wilson, made a nuisance of himself, mistreating prisoners.

On 1 May he was deported to Stafford Detention Barracks and recalled that the Volunteers were jeered, stoned and spit at in Sheffield on their way to Stafford. Irish people living in Britain visited the incarcerated republican prisoners bringing them much appreciated luxuries like cigarettes and food. A group of Irish girls teaching in England visited Stafford Jail, among them Angela Curran, who went to see Frank Burke, although she did not know him. From that chance meeting, romance blossomed and the two later married.

Prisoners designated Class ‘A’ were internees ‘who in the opinion of the Police should not be released’. There were three Class A prisoners from Kildare: Domhnall Ua Buachalla, Michael Smyth and Frank Burke. The RIC Special Branch report for Frank Burke declared: ‘… release will tend to further the cause of Sinn Feinism. He belongs to family of Sinn [Fein] tendencies, well educated … two of his brothers members of GAA … not known locally to Police …’

Most of the rebel prisoners had been released over the previous months, but some were held until the end. Frank Burke was released on 23 December. He immediately sent a postcard to his mother in Carbury with the words: ‘The first taste of freedom. Just being released. Hope to see you soon.’  Frank returned to Dublin on Christmas Eve. Brunswick Street and Westland Row were packed to capacity. Frank Burke made his way through the throngs of well-wishers and cheering crowds and hopped on a Drumcondra-bound bus to see his sister, Eva. While on the bus he spotted Eva, who did not know he had been released. They, no doubt, had an emotional re-union.

Frank Burke travelled home by train to Carbury for Christmas Day. Over the next few days Frank Burke travelled around to neighbouring houses giving the story of the Rising and his imprisonment. Mrs. Margaret Pearse visited Carbury, meeting many local people and staying for a few days. When the schools reopened in January 1917 Frank Burke returned to St. Enda’s to teach. He remained there as Headmaster until the school closed in 1935.

Frank was one of the most outstanding all-rounders in GAA history, winning two All-Ireland hurling medals and three All-Ireland football medals, all with Dublin. On Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920, he was marking Mick Hogan when the Tipperary captain was fatally shot by British forces. Frank Burke died on 28 December 1987, aged ninety-two and was buried in Cruagh Cemetery, Rathfarnham.