Burke, John (1789–1845), priest and political activist, was born in January 1789 at Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath, and was educated at St Finian's College, Navan; nothing is known of his parents. He began his final theological training at Maynooth in August 1808 and was ordained on 23 May 1812. After working as a curate in Eniskeen and Turin, he became parish priest of Summerhill, Co. Kildare (1824–6). He later worked as parish priest at Athboy (1826–30) and Castlepollard (1830–45) in Co. Westmeath. An associate of Daniel O'Connell (qv), he was a vigorous supporter of catholic emancipation and was active in the repeal movement. He denounced the conduct of the constabulary after the ‘affray at Caslepollard’ (23 May 1831) in which eleven people died after police opened fire on an unruly crowd. In the aftermath of this event he was approached by O'Connell, who asked him to gather information for the inquest. Although the police involved were charged, they never came to trial. It was with great indignation, therefore, that he replied to a request for information on Castlepollard for the 1831 census. He wrote to the census official at Dublin Castle: ‘All the information I can give you is that its population was reduced on the last shooting day, eleven in number.’ Impressed by this response, the radical journalist William Cobbett contacted him and they maintained a correspondence until Cobbett's death. Involved with the anti-tithe movement and the campaign for tenant right, he was so vocal in his denunciation of landlords that he was called before a house of commons committee in 1836.
He suffered a serious deterioration in health during the last year of his life. He died 25 November 1845 and was buried in the old cemetery at Castlepollard.