Burrowes, Peter (1753?–1841), barrister and politician, was born at Portarlington, Queen's Co., the first son of Thomas Burrowes, whose family was long established there. He entered TCD (1772), graduated BA (1777), and was auditor of the College Historical Society (1779). As a young man he took part in the Volunteer movement. In an anonymous pamphlet, published while he was a law student, Plain arguments in defence of the people's absolute dominion over the constitution in which the question of Roman Catholic enfranchisement is fully considered (1784), he expressed democratic views and put a case for the complete emancipation of catholics, though he was no admirer of ‘popery’. According to his friend Laurence Parsons (qv), 2nd earl of Rosse, writing privately (1822), Burrowes's mother was a catholic.
Having been called to the Irish bar (1785), Burrowes practised with great success on the Leinster circuit, acquiring a reputation for independence, and was appointed KC (1797). Among his friends were two fellow barristers who later became United Irishmen, Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) and Thomas Addis Emmet (qv). Burrowes was a member of Tone's political club (1790–91); his name appeared in a confidential and potentially incriminating letter written by Tone (July 1791), a copy of which fell into the hands of the lord chancellor, John Fitzgibbon (qv); he persuaded his friend Marcus Beresford (qv) to intercede with Fitzgibbon in 1794 to allow Tone to avoid prosecution for association with the French spy William Jackson (qv); and he agreed to defend Tone on a charge of high treason in 1798 (though he regarded the case as ‘totally hopeless’). Generously he paid a small annuity to Tone's impoverished mother until her death (1817). He was (1803) one of the three defence counsel of Thomas Emmet's brother Robert Emmet (qv) and he corresponded (illicitly) with Thomas in his American exile.
Although he never approved of the activities of the United Irishmen or shared their extreme opinions, his association with them went against him in his legal career and he did not get preferment until March 1806, when he was appointed, owing probably to his friendship with the new attorney general, William Conyngham Plunket (qv), to the post of first counsel to the commissioners of revenue (which he lost in April 1807 after the fall of Lord Grenville's ministry). The murder of his brother, Robert, rector of Kilmuckridge, by United Irish insurgents in Co. Wexford (27 May 1798) did not diminish his ardour for catholic emancipation. He was a firm opponent of Orangeism and of the union between Ireland and Great Britain, briefly entering parliament (in a by-election at Enniscorthy) at the end of 1799 expressly to voice his opposition. Writing to his friend Parsons on 23 October 1800, shortly after the union bills received royal assent, he asked: ‘is it possible that the Catholics of Ireland can be permanently alienated and the two countries permanently united?’ (Bartlett). In 1811 and 1812 he was prominent as the counsel of Dr Edward Sheridan and Thomas Kirwan (qv), members of the Catholic Committee tried under the convention act. Thanks to Plunket's becoming attorney general again, he reached the height of his career in 1821 by being appointed chief commissioner of the insolvent debtors’ court, a post he retained until 1835.
Peter Burrowes died on 8 November 1841 when on a visit to London, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He married twice. His first wife, Hannah, died on 1 December 1811. His second marriage was to Anne Drake of Newport, Isle of Wight; their son Peter (1816–1892) was called to the Irish bar in 1839; their daughter Mary (1814–49) married the executor of her father's will, Samuel Hutchins (1786–1862) of Ballylickey, Co. Cork. A descendant of Mary and Samuel deposited Burrowes's papers with the RIA. It is stated in King's Inns admission papers that Waldron Burrowes (d. 1891?), the barrister who edited a selection of Burrowes's speeches and wrote an introductory memoir (1850), was admitted in 1842 and was a son of Peter Burrowes of ‘Richmond, Co. Dublin’ and Alice Kelly. If Peter Burrowes of Richmond was Peter Burrowes the subject of this article, Alice Kelly must have been his third wife or a mistress.