Bourke, Patrick John (1883–1932), actor-manager and dramatist, was born at 34 Lower Dorset St., Dublin. His father, Laurence Bourke, died about 1892 and his mother, a native of Newbridge, Co. Kildare, three years later. He spent the next six years living with relatives in west Wicklow and Kildare, but by the age of eighteen had returned to Dublin and found work as a van man for Arnott's of Henry Street.
He developed a keen interest in the stage as a child in Dublin, when he attended the populist and often political melodramas put on by J. W. Whitbread at the Queen's Royal Theatre. Bourke (who was always known professionally as P. J. Bourke) broke onto the Dublin drama scene himself as a young man of twenty, when he staged J. B. Buckstone's comedy ‘The green bushes’ in the basement of the Royal College of Surgeons, producing both the scenery and costumes himself. He also produced in 1906 Dion Boucicault's (qv) tragedy ‘Robert Emmet’ at the Molesworth Hall; this production, in which he also starred and which included his wife's brother Peadar Kearney (qv) among the cast, proved successful enough to warrant a tour of Wicklow and Kildare. He established himself as a successful actor and manager, and with his No. 1 Company became a significant force in the dramatic life of Dublin and the provinces, keeping alive the patriotic melodramas of Whitbread and Boucicault. In his repertoire as an actor were roles in works such as ‘Wolfe Tone’, ‘Lord Edward’, ‘Sarsfield’ (in which he played the title role), and the hugely popular melodrama ‘East Lynne’ (in which he took the part of Bunker Brown).
Bourke also made a name for himself as a dramatist with his play on the 1798 rebellion ‘When Wexford rose’, first performed in the Father Mathew Hall, Dublin, in 1910, and produced professionally at the Queen's Theatre in 1912. After this he wrote a string of politically charged melodramas, such as ‘The northern insurgents’ (1912), ‘For Ireland's liberty’ (1914), ‘In the dark and evil days’ (1914), and his piece on the rebel heroine Betsy Gray (qv), ‘For the land she loved’ (1915). These were sometimes controversial. The posters that advertised ‘In the dark and evil days’ were considered seditious by Dublin Castle, who had them removed throughout the city, while ‘For the land she loved’ aroused similar suspicions when it was performed for the benefit of the Defence of Ireland Fund at the Abbey Theatre in November 1915. The Abbey's manager, St John Ervine (qv), bowing to pressure from the British authorities, subsequently barred Bourke from staging his work at the theatre.
During this period Bourke also became involved with the Irish-American producer Walter MacNamara in the first full-length feature film made in Ireland. Described as a ‘complete record of Ireland's fight for freedom in the days of Emmet, Grattan and O'Connell’, Ireland, a nation was first shown in New York on 22 September 1914; owing to its overt republicanism it was banned immediately after its Dublin premiere on 8 January 1917. While it is certain that Bourke acted in the film, it has been suggested that he may have also scripted and directed the piece (De Búrca).
Throughout his busy career as an actor Bourke is thought to have taken on more than fifty different roles. A talented singer, he was also responsible for adapting the popular song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ into a well-received musical, in which he often performed until 1928. In February 1905 he married Margaret Kearney, a Dublin seamstress, sister of Kathleen Behan (qv). They had at least three daughters and three sons, among them the writer Séamus De Búrca (qv). With his son Richard and business partner George Wilde, he took over the lease on the Queen's Royal Theatre in 1928. He also founded a successful Dublin costumier. He died at his home, 26 Nelson St., Dublin, on 20 July 1932 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.