Burke (de Burgo), Roland (d. 1580), catholic and protestant bishop, was the son of Redmond Burke of Tynagh, Co. Galway, and the grandson of Uilleag Burke (qv) (d. 1509), lord of the MacWilliam Uachtar. He joined the Dominican order and became dean of Clonfert. On 18 May 1534 the pope, having broken with Henry VIII over the king's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, provided Burke to the see of Clonfert. The king responded in spring 1536 by nominating to this see Richard Nangle (qv), the prior provincial of the Augustinian friars in Ireland, this being the first occasion where the king nominated a bishop in opposition to a papal candidate. Burke was then out of Ireland, allowing Nangle to possess Clonfert. Having been consecrated as bishop, probably in Rome during summer 1537, Burke returned to Ireland later that year. Armed with papal indulgences and dispensations, and being a member of the area's ruling Gaelic dynasty, he easily displaced Nangle as de facto bishop of Clonfert. The royal government reluctantly concluded that it could do little about it. In 1541 royal forces installed Burke's cousin Ulick Burke (qv) as the MacWilliam Uachtar, which considerably eased Roland's gradual rapprochement with the king. Upon promising to accept the royal supremacy, he was pardoned on 20 October and received a royal confirmation of his status as bishop of Clonfert on 24 October.
In summer 1543 Roland accompanied Ulick (who was to be created earl of Clanricard) to London to meet the king. There, Roland formally surrendered his papal appointment and almost certainly took the oath of supremacy. He also petitioned unsuccessfully for the bishopric of Elphin. In recompense, on 24 November 1543 he was granted the Augustinian monastery of de Portu Puro at Clonfert, Co. Galway. However, the abbots, supported by the local O'Madden dynasty, were able to prevent Burke from making good this grant. In 1568 the abbot agreed to share the profits of the abbey with him. Only in 1571 did Burke finally gain possession of the monastery. Following the death of his cousin the earl in 1544, the lordship of Clanricard (which broadly encompassed Burke's diocese) descended into anarchy. In October of that year he and other clergymen complained that they could not collect the revenues of their posts because of the ongoing disorder. The accession of the first earl's son Richard Burke (qv), the second earl of Clanricard, to power in the lordship in 1550 restored stability somewhat. Both Burke and Clanricard closely aligned themselves with the royal government. In November 1551 he was appointed to the see of Elphin, which he held along with Clonfert.
Burke's acceptance of the royal supremacy in 1543 occasioned his formal break with Rome. Nonetheless, his political influence was such that he was pardoned during the reign of the catholic Queen Mary (1553–8) and continued as bishop of Clonfert, although he may have been forced to resign the see of Elphin. If so, he regained this diocese shortly after the accession of the protestant Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and accepted the consequent reimposition of the royal supremacy with alacrity. In autumn 1561 he met with a papal envoy, David Wolfe (qv), but failed to convince the authorities in Rome that he remained a true catholic. Accordingly, rival papal bishops were provided to Clonfert and Elphin, but they had no more success than Nangle three decades previously. At the time of his death Burke was regarded in Rome as a schismatic, but not a heretic, because he continued to say the catholic mass. Indeed, he could not speak English, technically a prerequisite for a Church of Ireland bishop. Whatever Rome might think, most of his Gaelic flock regarded him as their legitimate bishop.
Far more controversial than his nominal protestantism was Burke's increasing conspicuousness as a representative of the royal bureaucracy. The establishment of a quasi-military provincial government of Connacht in 1569 prefigured a decade of conflict between the expanding state and the Burkes of Clanricard. His role as a member of the provincial council of Connacht and of many government commissions undoubtedly estranged him from his kinsmen. In April 1571, with the earl of Clanricard on the point of rebellion, the president of Munster, Sir Edward Fitton (qv), sent Burke as part of a delegation to reassure Clanricard. He then accompanied the earl to Dublin in May, where the latter and Fitton aired their respective grievances. When Clanricard's sons rebelled in 1572, both Roland and his son implicated their erstwhile patron the earl in this act. In 1574 he was unable to meet Fitton at Athlone for fear of being attacked en route by partisans of Clanricard's sons. However, during the second half of the 1570s royal forces gained a stranglehold on south Connacht, causing Roland's fortunes to rise correspondingly. At his death, on 20 June 1580, the Gaelic annalists lauded him as the foremost clergyman in Connacht. He was buried in the church at Tynagh. At Tynagh, he had held in his own right a castle and the surrounding property, which was successfully claimed in 1584 by Ulick Burke (qv), 3rd earl of Clanricard, as Roland's closest legitimate relative.
Although he never married, Burke had a son, Redmond, who received a moiety of the profits of the monastery of de Portu Puro from his father's successor as bishop of Clonfert. In November 1583 Redmond was involved in the murder of John Burke (qv), baron of Leitrim. He was killed in reprisal by Leitrim's supporters in 1584.