de Búrca, Séamus (1912–2002), writer and costumier, was born James Bourke on 16 March 1912 in Dublin, one of the ten children of the writer-actor-manager P. J. Bourke (qv) and Margaret Bourke (née Kearney), a Dublin seamstress. The family was literary and theatrical on both sides: his father wrote plays and managed the Queen's Royal Theatre on Pearse Street, which showed mostly musicals and melodramas, and his mother was a sister of Peadar Kearney (qv), author of the Irish national anthem, and of Kathleen Kearney (qv) (as ‘Behan, Kathleen’), mother of Brendan Behan (qv), to whom Séamus was very close. His parents established a costume business in the early 1900s, supplying costumes to the theatre and film industry, and Séamus took this over after schooling at the Sisters of Charity, King's Inns St., and St Peter's, Phibsborough. However, his ambitions were literary and from an early age he began writing plays. His first success was ‘Knocknagow, or the homes of Tipperary’ which he adapted from the novel by Charles Kickham (qv). Reminiscent of the works of Dion Boucicault (qv), it is melodrama in the manner of the Queen's Theatre plays on which de Búrca was raised. It was a popular success and was frequently staged in Dublin, often by the comedian Jack Cruise (qv), and in the provinces during the 1950s. De Búrca himself took the part of a dying man in early productions. This play was printed, like all his books, at his own expense. The imprint bears the address of his costume business, 64 Dame St. His home address was 66 Comeragh Road, Drimnagh.
Another early play, ‘New York sojourn’, about a playwright in New York, was performed in the Peacock and termed by the Irish Times critic (22 April 1940) ‘dreadfully serious and therefore unintentionally hilarious’. De Búrca wrote at least fifteen published plays, of which the best are ‘Limpid river’ (first performed 11 June 1956), a realistic and affectionate portrait of a lower-middle-class Dublin family in 1919, and ‘Mrs Howard's husband’ (The Gate, 16 February 1959). ‘The end of Mrs Oblong’ (1968), about ‘the last of the Dublin madams’, is a comic and rambling imitation of Brendan Behan. Robert Hogan (1930–99) terms de Búrca's work uneven and ‘slovenly, long-winded and even amateurish [on paper], but on stage it can be splendidly theatrical’ (Hogan, 335). He credits him with creating exceptionally strong character roles.
De Búrca was a keen amateur historian, a member of the Old Dublin Society and the Military History Society of Ireland, and wrote two biographies of his famous relatives. The soldier's song (1957) is the life of Peadar Kearney, who apparently suggested the gaelicisation of his nephew's name to ‘Séamus de Búrca’, which became his professional name (though he was always called ‘Jimmy Bourke’ in Dublin). Brendan Behan: a memoir was published in 1971 and reprinted in 1991. His one novel, Limpid river (1962), based on his successful play of that name, received little critical notice, though he was encouraged in his work generally by Christine Pakenham (qv), Lady Longford, manager with her husband, Lord Longford (qv), of the theatre company Longford Productions.
He died in Dublin 1 August 2002 and was predeceased by his wife, Christine O'Neill (m. 1935), who had been a child star in the Queen's Theatre, and survived by two daughters and four sons. He published his daughter Fionnuala's charming letters home from a French convent as Fionnuala in France (1959).
His elder brother, (Patrick) Lorcan Bourke (1906–84), theatre manager and deputy lord mayor of Dublin, was born 12 January 1906 in Dublin, and was also part of what Robert Hogan has termed the Bourkes’ ‘small theatrical empire’ (Hogan, Seven Irish plays, 16). After attending St Mary's CBS, Strand St., he began his career as a member of the stage crew with the Old Majestic Theatre, Dublin. He became stage manager at the Tivoli and assistant stage manager at the Capital Theatre (cinema), Prince's St., before following his father as managing director of the Queen's Theatre and later, of the Olympia and the Gaiety. An energetic man, he was something of a theatre impresario – bringing the Bolshoi Ballet to Dublin in 1966 – and was a director of his brother's company, Bourke Costumiers, and of Bourke Strand Electrics and C. J. Ryder Electrical. In 1967 he undertook a tour to London, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Leningrad, and Moscow to promote his theatre lighting design. A member of the Dublin city council, he was deputy lord mayor of the city 1956–7. A guest lecturer at the Catholic University, Washington, and a contributor to various trade journals on management and theatre production, he was honoured by being given the keys to Washington, DC, and the freedom of Kingstown, Jamaica, in 1959. In 1972 he received the Variety Artists Trust Society award. He lived at 251 Collins Avenue, Whitehall, and died in Dublin 31 July 1984. He married (April 1927) Kathleen Harding; he had six children, including Jack Bourke, who served as mayor of Limerick; a daughter, Grainne, married broadcaster Eamonn Andrews (qv).