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Thursday, March 31, 2016

David Bourke, The Man of History or a Man of Mystery?

For many writers on the events during Easter week 1916 the witness of Fergus O’Kelly has been both a starting point and a historical document to be accepted as the truth but alas sometimes with the passage of time and the confusion of the battle some facts merge without intention to mislead.

This is perhaps the case with O’Kelly’s naming of David Bourke (or sometimes Burke) as one of the men who assisted him with the launching of the rebel’s radio station in Reis’s Chambers on O’Connell Street.

“In March and April 1916, I was closely in touch with Joseph and Jack Plunkett and was frequently at their house at Larkfield: Some wireless apparatus was assembled by the Plunkett’s and two others named Con Keating and David Bourke. These two were qualified Marconi operators.

On Holy Thursday 1916, Joseph Plunkett discussed who would go away immediately and sent Con Keating and David Burke to terry. Their mission was to obtain wireless apparatus from the wireless station at Valencia, Kerry, and there were rumours of arms to be landed and distributed up the west to counties Galway and Mayo.

Meanwhile, David Burke had tackled the connecting up of the transmitting plant and putting it into commission. The apparatus was a standard l1/2 K.W. ship's set and so was familiar to Burke as a Marconi operator. It was found that the electric power from the Pigeon House Station was still on, and so the motor convertor supplying the power for operating the set was available.”

Fergus O'Kelly, 26 Castle Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin.

“Bourke David J. (Dáití de Burca). Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. Born in 1890 died on the 28th of July 1978, aged about 26 years old at the time of the Rising. Fought at Reis's Building, the Hibernian Bank and the G.P.O. He joined the Volunteers in 1913. He arrived in Dublin from Limerick on the Wednesday before the Rising and stayed with the Kimmage Garrison at Plunkett’s house. He was arrested after the surrender and deported to Knutsford, he was released sometime at the end of July or beginning of August. After release he returned to Limerick and joined the Volunteers there, he served through the War of Independence and served as Battalion Officer Commanding and later served with the Cork Flying Column. He took the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War and was a member of several Flying Columns. He was arrested in Limerick in September 1922 and detained at the Curragh and Harepark until about May or June 1923.”

And these facts are listed in Jimmy Wren’s excellent book ‘The GPO Garrison” but when this author talked to Jimmy even he said that he used O’Kelly’s Witness Statement as the basis of Bourke’s involvement in the Rising.

But in the list of garrison members on David Bourke or David Burke is not on the list of rebels who fought in 1916.

Bourke is not mentioned in any of the other witness statements or papers of the other Volunteers who were stationed in Reis’s Chambers. He has become a man of mystery. But rather than ‘Bourke’ being the other radio man in the outpost it was most probably Londoner Paddy O’Donoghue. So why did Fergus O’Kelly name ‘Bourke’?

He may have wanted to protect the identity of O’Donoghue as the Londoner was not captured after the rebellion and made his way back to London. Some men used pseudonyms because of a lack of trust as there were many English volunteers based in Reis’s Chambers or O’Kelly may have simply been mistaken.

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