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Civilian James Burke or Bourke

Civilian James Burke or Bourke (aged 42) of 4 Victoria Terrace, Blarney Street, Cork city (North Gate Bridge, Cork)

Date of incident: 18 July 1920 (ex-soldier killed by crown forces)

Sources: CE, 19, 21 July 1920; FJ, 19 July 1920; CC, 23 July 1920; CWN, 24, 31 July 1920; Malicious Injury Claims, Box 16/27, Cork County Secretary Files (CCCA); Borgonovo (2007), 82, 99; Borgonovo in White and O’Shea (2010), 573-83; Sheehan (2011), 29-31; (accessed 14 April 2016).   

Note: An ex-soldier and a ‘carman’, Burke was ‘done to death’ in the early hours of 18 July 1920 at North Gate Bridge by members of a military patrol. His injuries included a lacerated liver, a torn lung, and another gaping wound six or eight inches deep, possibly from a bayonet or other sharp instrument. The soldier who fired the fatal shot belonged to a detachment of twelve soldiers of the South Staffordshire Regiment (one report—probably by mistake—pointed instead to the Hampshire Regiment) under the command of a young officer. Burke and his friends had been fighting with two off-duty soldiers who had earlier called them ‘Irish pigs’. Police were breaking up the fight when the jumpy military patrol arrived on the scene; one of these soldiers then fired the shot that fatally wounded Burke. His death was accompanied by ‘some very sensational rumours’, but a newspaper reporter insisted that ‘from the closest investigation it is painfully evident that he [Burke] was foully murdered’. By one account Burke was bayoneted to death; the medical evidence indicated that the abdominal wound and ruptured liver could have been caused by ‘a thrust of a sharp instrument’. The affair was ‘the subject of general comment and considerable indignation’. See CE, 19 July 1920.

The general civilian view was captured by an anonymous bystander: ‘On the wall of a house close by which Burke lay before [he was] removed, some person wrote with his blood: ‘R.I.P. Killed by military of the Staffordshire Regt.’ See FJ, 19 July 1920. It was as a result of this incident that the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment became solidly identified in the public mind in Cork city with gross mistreatment of civilians and Volunteers. City walls, it was said, were then plastered with graffiti declaring, ‘Murdered by the Stafford Regt. Will be revenged tonight.’ See (accessed 14 April 2016). 

In the funeral procession that followed Burke’s body from the cathedral to the family burial ground in Curraghkippane on 20 July 1920, nearly 5,000 ex-servicemen were said to have marched. Leading the way and ‘at full strength’ in the cortège were the members of the Cork branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Federation, ‘augmented by large contingents of the federation from Bandon and other centres in Cork County’. In addition, ‘the huge cortège passed with military precision through the streets lined by thousands of citizens who reverently saluted the remains.’ Among the ex-servicemen acting as pallbearers were representatives of the Bandon branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Federation, which included Tom Barry, who led IRA forces at Kilmichael a few months later. See CE, 21 July 1920; Borgonovo in White and O’Shea (2010), 580-81.

The killing of James Burke led to ‘one of the largest outbreaks of violence during the Anglo-Irish War in Cork city’. Borgonovo has vividly described what happened: ‘After a military patrol killed a local ex-soldier named James Burke . . . , hundreds of enraged former servicemen attacked and brawled with off-duty British soldiers throughout the city. The disturbances continued for two days and were finally broken up when British forces fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians, killing two and wounding twenty.’ It was this violence that prompted the almost 5,000 ex-servicemen to march in Burke’s funeral procession. See Borgonovo (2007), 82. Aged 42 and unmarried, Burke had worked as a labourer at the Eclipse Chemical Works on Blarney Street in Cork and had served with the Second Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers during the war.     

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