Bourke (Burke, De Burgo), John (c.1590–1667), catholic archbishop of Tuam, was born in Co. Galway, the son of a country gentleman and a relative of the earls of Clanricarde. He had at least three brothers, including Oliver, a Dominican friar, and Bishop Hugh Bourke (qv), both of whom were probably younger. Aged twenty, he travelled to Lisbon, where he studied philosophy. He then became a distinguished student of theology at Evora, and was awarded a doctorate in theology by the University of Salamanca. Ordained a priest, he returned to his native diocese of Clonfert in 1624 and was appointed vicar apostolic, probably by brief dated 3/13 October 1629. By 1632 he was also acting as vicar general of Kilmacduagh. Consistently recommended by members of the Irish hierarchy as a suitable candidate for a bishopric, he was appointed to the see of Clonfert on 6/16 September 1641 and was consecrated on 28 May 1642.
Prominent from the outset in the affairs of the confederate government, Bourke was elected to the first supreme council on 11 November 1642. In early 1643 he insisted on the compulsory nature of the confederate oath for catholics, in correspondence with the neutralist fifth earl of Clanricarde (qv). He continued to serve on the supreme council until 1644 and on 30 August 1644 he was named one of a five-member ‘judicatory’ set up by the confederate assembly, and assumed the role of confederate lord chancellor. Following the death in 1645 of Malachy O'Queely (qv), archbishop of Tuam, the supreme council recommended Burke as his successor; he was translated to Tuam on 1/11 March 1647. Like the other Irish bishops, he supported the rejection of the first Ormond peace of 12 August 1646, under the leadership of the nuncio Rinuccini (qv), and was appointed to the Rinuccini-dominated supreme council on 17 September 1646, remaining a member until November 1647, when he was named as an ‘alternate’ or ‘supernumerary’ member. He also served on the Connacht provincial council.
By 1647 differences of opinion were emerging between Rinuccini and Bourke, the latter more ready to accommodate the views of the peace party among the confederates, and an open breach emerged between the two over Rinuccini's excommunication of the supporters of a confederate truce with Lord Inchiquin (qv) in May 1648. Bourke was to prove the nuncio's ‘most important episcopal opponent’ (Ó hAnnracháin, 271). In June 1648 Galway city divided over proclaiming the truce, which was backed by Clanricarde, and Bourke was one of three bishops who declared against Rinuccini's censures. He encouraged the mayor to proclaim the truce and defied the interdict imposed by Rinuccini upon the city in September. In October he was one of twelve confederate representatives appointed to negotiate a new peace settlement with Ormond, and under the treaty of January 1649 he appears to have been given an advisory role in relation to the commissioners of trust set up to replace the last confederate supreme council. In April 1650 he attempted to quell disputes between Ormond and the authorities in Limerick city and was a noted, though not uncritical, supporter of Clanricarde as lord deputy following Ormond's departure in December 1650.
After the April 1652 fall of Galway he remained in hiding in Co. Galway for two years, was arrested and imprisoned in Galway city in 1654–5, and was deported to France in August 1655, residing at Nantes between 1655 and 1660 and thereafter at Dinant. By 1656 he had secured papal absolution for himself from the effects of Rinuccini's censures of 1648. He returned to his Irish archdiocese in late 1662 or early 1663. Though called upon to participate in the 1666 Dublin synod, he was unable to leave his diocese because of ill health; he does not appear to have countenanced the remonstrance launched by Peter Walsh (qv) at this time. He died 4 April 1667 and was buried in Tuam.