Bourke, Dermot Robert Wyndham- (1851–1927), 7th earl of Mayo , landowner, politician, and patron of the arts, was born 2 July 1851, the son of Richard Southwell Bourke (qv), 6th earl of Mayo in the peerage of Ireland, and his wife, Blanche Julia (née Wyndham), daughter of the 1st Baron Leconfield. He was educated at Eton, joined the 10th Hussars as a cornet in 1870, and transferred to the Grenadier Guards before retiring as a lieutenant in 1876, having succeeded his father as earl of Mayo in 1872. Palmerstown House, Straffan, Co. Kildare, was rebuilt by public subscription for him (at a cost of £21,300) as an expression of public sympathy for the assassination of his father. In 1878 he owned 7,834 acres in the counties of Kildare, Meath, and Mayo which in the previous year had produced an income of £9,605.
In 1874 Mayo went big-game hunting in Abyssinia (he described his experiences in Sport in Abyssinia (1876)). In the next few years he travelled widely, studying political, social, and economic conditions in the lands he visited; he came to be regarded as an authority on such matters and was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1883 he published De rebus Africanis: the claims of Portugal to the Congo and adjacent littoral, with remarks on the French annexation.
Mayo was a leading member of the Irish Unionist Alliance. In 1882 he carried out evictions on his Kildare estates, leading to calls to stop the Kildare hunt, of which he was a prominent member. He was active in the house of lords on Irish issues after his election as an Irish representative peer in 1890. In 1894 he published a novel, The war cruise of the Aries (illustrated by W. B. Boulton), describing a near-future war between Britain and France caused by the discovery of French support for an Egyptian nationalist conspiracy. Although the novel has some political resonances (Britain's situation is described as having been complicated by defence cutbacks made by ‘the Radical Government’; Irish fishermen are described as sympathising with the French and attempting to supply them with information), its primary theme is the activities of a new type of ship – essentially a low-lying floating battering ram which sinks enemy vessels by ramming them. This vessel, partly built by Harland and Wolff and commanded by an Anglo-Irish officer, is described as having been inspired by the 1893 collision between the battleships Victoria and Camperdown and built by a syndicate organised by an Irish peer, ‘Lord Mainland’; it is described in such detail as to suggest Mayo thought the actual construction of such a ship should receive serious consideration.
Travel sharpened Mayo's interest in Irish social and industrial development; his Who's who entry listed as a recreation ‘the promotion of the agricultural and industrial welfare of Ireland’. In April 1894 he founded the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland. Inspired by William Morris, Mayo wished ‘to improve the [Irish] craftsman and attempt to raise the artistic level of his work . . . to make the workman less of a machine producing many objects from one pattern’ (Larmour, 56). He displayed considerable organisational ability in raising the standard and marketing of Irish design. The society mounted an exhibition in 1895 which attracted widespread interest, and another in 1899 which was considerably less successful – possibly inspiring Mayo's later complaints that Dublin had become ‘narrow, provincial and even parochial . . . people who have money there do not care one jot about art . . . they want peerages or baronetcies’ (O'Byrne, 61). For over thirty years Mayo, regarded as kindly but rather fey, was the leading promoter of Irish craft industries and the principal link between Irish arts and crafts promoters and the ‘Morris movement’ in England; he regularly complained that English officialdom and craftworkers ignored and overshadowed their Irish counterparts. The society remained in existence until the late 1920s, holding exhibitions at intervals and working closely with Horace Plunkett (qv) and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.
Mayo was closely associated with Hugh Lane (qv), who advised Lady Mayo on the redecoration of Palmerstown. He admired Lane's professionalism: ‘You work hard and do something which many Irishmen do not, they talk’ (O'Byrne, 35). He also helped Lane to organise exhibitions of paintings held by Irish aristocrats, and was vice-chairman of the Mansion House committee for the provision of a permanent gallery to house the Lane collection of modern paintings; he wrote numerous letters to the Dublin papers in support of Lane's proposals for a purpose-built municipal gallery.
Mayo was the founding secretary of the County Kildare Archaeological Society (whose inaugural meeting was held at Palmerstown House on 25 April 1891) and contributed many articles to its journal; in 1893 he succeeded the 5th duke of Leinster as president of the society, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Mayo, who stood over 6 feet tall and as straight as a ramrod, was also an enthusiastic hunter, shooter, and fisher, and took a keen interest in Punchestown races; in the latter years of his life he served as president of the Kildare hunt, with which his family had a longstanding connection. In 1913 he published a History of the Kildare hunt (co-authored with W. B. Boulton); although he drew on the recollections of older members of the hunt as well as on documentary sources, he brought the history only up to the 1870s on the grounds that the events of his own lifetime should be described by a later and more impartial generation.
Mayo stood in the first elections for Wicklow county council, but won only nineteen votes. In 1900 he was appointed to the Irish privy council; he was lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum for Co. Kildare in 1904, and in 1905 became a knight of the Order of St Patrick after playing a prominent role during the visit of the future King George V to Dublin. He was one of the landlord representatives at the 1903 land conference which led to the passage of the Wyndham Land Act, publishing (with Lane's brother Ambrose) The outlook in Ireland, a tabulated comparison of the land purchase terms suggested by the land conference, the landowners' convention, and the UIL national convention. (In 1909 he published an annotated text of the Birrell Land Act of that year.) Mayo was one of the small group of devolutionists (led by his kinsman Lord Dunraven (qv)) who cooperated with the All-for-Ireland League of William O'Brien (qv). In 1914 he responded to the support of John Redmond (qv) for the British war effort by offering to help equip and maintain the Irish National Volunteers. In 1918 he joined the Unionist Anti-Partition League of Lord Midleton (qv). He was nominated to the Free State senate in 1922 and was active in its proceedings until his death. His home at Palmerstown was burnt down by anti-treaty forces on 29 January 1923 as part of an arson campaign against oireachtas members in reprisal for the execution of anti-treatyite prisoners. Most of his collection of books, prints, miniatures, and other memorabilia perished; only three Reynolds paintings and the family plate were rescued. Mayo temporarily moved into the servants’ wing (largely undamaged) and announced his intention to rebuild the house and resume residence: ‘I will not be driven from my own country’ (O'Sullivan, 104). While thereafter he spent much of his time in London, he remained an active member of the Free State senate, though Terence Dooley comments that he spent a disproportionate amount of effort on demanding more comfortable travel arrangements between Britain and Ireland. Mayo eventually received £51,831 compensation, widely believed to be less than his total losses. He continued to attend Kildare Archaeological Society meetings and art exhibition functions; at the Arts and Crafts Society's 1925 exhibition he declared himself ‘glad to be back in “dear Dublin” . . . art had no politics and no parties, and artists were true workmen, concentrating their minds on the work before them’ (Larmour, 203).
On 3 November 1885 Mayo married Geraldine Sarah, daughter of the Hon. Gerald Ponsonby and the granddaughter of the 4th earl of Bessborough (qv); she was also active in the arts and crafts movement, and in 1894 she raised funds for and completely reorganised the semi-defunct Royal Irish School of Art Needlework, whose committee she subsequently chaired. They had no children, and at Mayo's death, on 31 December 1927 in a London nursing home after an operation, his brother Algernon Henry Bourke succeeded to the title. Palmerstown House was bequeathed to the second son of the new earl.
Although Mayo has received considerably less attention from historians than from contemporaries, and although his version of the arts and crafts ethos may be seen as downplaying the radical element of Morris's worldview, he should not be dismissed as a mere Lord Bountiful. His work for Irish art and design displayed considerable organisational ability; his publications exhibit this professionalism as well as an impersonal quality which lends credence to William O'Brien's tribute that ‘Lord Mayo was not a man anxious of praise’ (Kildare Observer, 7 Jan. 1928).