Burke (de Burgh), John (d. 1583), baron of Leitrim , rebel, known as John of the Shamrocks or John of the Clovers, was the eldest son of Richard Burke (qv), 2nd earl of Clanricard, by his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Donough O'Brien, 2nd earl of Thomond. For most of his career he was in rebellion together with his elder half-brother Ulick Burke (qv), the two being called the Mac an Iarlas. However, the two were also deadly rivals for the succession to the earldom of Clanricard, there being doubts over Ulick's legitimacy. By 1567 their feud was undermining the stability of the earldom, prompting the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), in April to imprison them in Dublin Castle. Their confinement does not appear to have lasted long and failed to induce them to mend their ways. In early 1570 John joined with Conor O'Brien (qv), earl of Thomond, in his brief rebellion against the English and continued to cause trouble during the following year.
In March 1572 the lord president of Connacht, Sir Edward Fitton (qv) (d. 1579), summoned the leading Irish nobles of the province to meet him in Galway city. However, after arriving there, John and Ulick suspected a trap and fled. Fitton responded by arresting Clanricard, prompting the brothers to rebel on 1 April. At this time the government was distracted by another rebellion in Munster and could spare no troops for Connacht. This gave the Mac an Iarlas' 2,000-strong army, composed of their own followers, the Mayo Burkes, and Scottish mercenaries, free rein. After demolishing most of the castles in Clanricard and burning Athenry, they plundered much of south Galway, Roscommon, and Westmeath, burning Mullingar, Meelick, and Athlone. They then turned west, attacking Galway city and plundering Connemara. This campaign of retribution lasted into the autumn, with supporters of the English being the main target.
The government released Clanricard in August, hoping he would use his influence to pacify his sons. However, while Ulick was willing to submit, John refused to do so, forcing his brother to remain in rebellion. Throughout these tumults, John distinguished himself in his use of bloodcurdling anti-English rhetoric, which made him popular among the swordsmen of Clanricard. In September the brothers crossed the Shannon in support of the first Desmond rebellion in Munster, but soon withdrew. In November they offered to submit, but the government refused to pardon them. Still unopposed in Connacht, by autumn 1573 the brothers had turned on each other, and many were killed as they feuded into 1574. On 15 August 1574 John submitted to the government at Clonmel and was pardoned. Ulick did likewise soon after.
Nonetheless, the Burkes remained estranged from the government, which demanded restitution for the destruction of Athenry. Even when formally at peace with the English, John continued to attack his Irish rivals in Clanricard and beyond. In April 1576, as Sidney attended a church service at Galway city, the Mac an Iarlas entered dramatically and offered their submission. Unappeased, Sidney sent them as prisoners to Dublin, before releasing them on condition that they did not return to Clanricard. However, in late June they crossed the Shannon, symbolising their rebellion by dressing themselves in the Irish fashion. They burnt Athenry again and unsuccessfully besieged Loughrea.
Thereafter, the ruthless scorched-earth tactics of the new president of Connacht, Sir Nicholas Malby (qv), drove the brothers into the wilds of Clanricard, from where they prosecuted a desperate guerrilla war until their submission in April 1579. During this period the brothers remained at odds and fought each other as well as the English. John's prospects were dealt a serious blow on 9 December 1577 when the government formally decreed that Ulick was Clanricard's legitimate son and heir. Clanricard, a prisoner in England from 1576 to 1582, wanted John to succeed him, but in 1580 admitted Ulick's legitimacy. The English favoured Ulick, mainly because of John's incorrigible rebelliousness. Throughout the 1570s he engaged in conspiracies against the crown with the Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the O'Mores of Leix, among others. However, John's power in Clanricard was such that in August 1579 the government recognised him as captain of Clanricard.
Much to John's anger, the government held a number of the leading nobles of Clanricard at Loughrea as prisoners. In October 1580 he captured Loughrea through a surprise night attack, killing all but one of the garrison. He then persuaded Ulick to join him yet again in rebellion. As part of this agreement John also released a son of Ulick's who had probably been one of the prisoners at Loughrea. Ulick was proclaimed the MacWilliam Uachtar, with John as his tanist. As well as making their usual appeals to Gaelic cultural identity, the brothers claimed to be catholic crusaders. The rebels destroyed many castles in Clanricard, but Malby once more had the measure of them, compelling them to submit in summer 1581.
The death of their father in August 1582 threatened to reignite the rivalry between John and Ulick, who went before the privy council in Dublin to argue their respective cases. In September, Malby brokered a compromise deal whereby the lordship would be partitioned between the brothers, with Ulick succeeding as earl. This agreement was formalized on 17 November, when John received the barony of Leitrim in the south-east of Co. Galway. He became baron of Leitrim on 30 April 1583 and was knighted in Dublin on 5 May. John and Ulick continued to manoeuvre against each other but, painfully aware of the government's reach, did so in a more circumspect fashion – that is, until 11 November 1583, when John was lured to Bel-Atha-Fintainn (Ballyfontan), where he was surprised and killed by Ulick's men. He was buried at Athenry.
John Burke was married twice, first to a Barnewall and then to Johana O'Carroll, daughter of Sir William O'Carroll, with whom he had four sons. The eldest, Redmond, became one of the most important commanders in the rebel confederacy during the Nine Years’ War of 1594–1603.