Burgh, Walter de (c.1230–1271) 1st earl of Ulster , lord of Connacht , was the second son of Richard de Burgh (qv) (d. 1243), lord of Connacht, and Egidia, daughter of Walter de Lacy (qv), lord of Meath. Before October 1249 he was taken to England as a ward of Henry III, his elder brother, Richard, having died a year earlier. On 22 May 1250, for a fine of £200, though still a minor, he entered into his inheritance though he was ordered not to marry without royal permission. He remained as part of the king's household and benefited from Henry's largesse. In August 1253 he was probably in Gascony and received a general remission of his debts in return for the payment of a nominal sum. By 1255 he had returned to Ireland, and after a short campaign agreed a truce with Fedlimid O'Connor (qv), king of Connacht. The following years were spent on seasonal campaigns into Connacht: 1256 saw his lordship extended over all the territory around Lough Corrib, 1257 another raid against O'Connor, and 1260 an expedition that ended with the sack of the episcopal centre of Elphin. This excursion prompted some interesting correspondence between O'Connor and Henry III. In a letter dated August 1261 Fedlimid demanded reparations for the destruction of Elphin and requested that Walter be censured, though his entreaties were ignored. In 1262 de Burgh accompanied the justiciar, Richard de la Rochelle (qv), to mark out the site of Roscommon castle; yet another truce was agreed with O'Connor and in order to seal the compact O'Connor's son, Áed (qv), and Walter ‘slept in the same bed'. Soon afterwards he was part of a successful expedition sent into Munster against the Mac Carthaig to revenge their famous victory the previous year at Callan.
In July 1263 de Burgh was in the company of the king's son Edward at Bristol, probably negotiating the terms on which he would provide support in the looming civil war. Two days later, in an extraordinary display of generosity, Edward, who was lord of Ireland, granted de Burgh the earldom of Ulster, vacant since the death of Hugh de Lacy (qv) in 1242. This grant has to be seen in the context of English vulnerability, internal and external, in the north of Ireland in the late 1250s and early 1260s. With the earldom of Ulster Walter was thus propelled into the position of the most powerful magnate in Ireland. In return he handed over some of his lands in south Tipperary which were subsequently bestowed on Otho de Grandison. Late in the same year he returned to Ireland to stamp his authority on his new acquisitions and once more conducted a relatively fruitless campaign against the O'Connor. A large expedition took the field again the following year, including the justiciar and Maurice fitz Maurice FitzGerald (qv) (d. 1286); apparently when they saw the Irish forces ranged against them they retreated and sued for peace.
Later that year there was an outbreak of civil strife in Ireland between de Burgh and the Geraldines, mirroring to some extent the baronial war in England. Rivalry between the two families for influence in Connacht had existed for some time, but the grant of the earldom of Ulster placed Walter as nominal overlord over the Geraldines, and his decision to build a castle near their traditional stronghold of Carbury probably sparked the fighting. The devastation this conflict wrought is difficult to assess. Maurice fitz Maurice FitzGerald imprisoned the justiciar and others of the king's Irish council, and Walter de Burgh, tacitly aided by the O'Connors, raided Geraldine territory in Connacht and destroyed a number of their castles. The annals state that ‘a great part of Ireland was ruined between them'. The intervention of Geoffrey de Geneville (qv) brought peace however (15 April 1265), and the two sides were able to resolve their differences and fight on the royalist side at the battle of Evesham. Walter spent a number of months in England assisting the king and in the following years was well rewarded for his loyalty.
He returned to Ireland before the end of 1265 and in the company of Áed Buide O'Neill (qv) moved against the O'Donnell in Tír Conaill. The annual round of campaigns was once again resumed against O'Connor in 1266; that of 1269 resulted in the construction of the royal castle at Roscommon. In 1270 the decisive encounter took place at Áth in Chip, near Carrick-on-Shannon. Walter's younger brother, William, handed over to Áed O'Connor as a hostage, was murdered, and de Burgh's large army was utterly destroyed, though Walter himself killed Tadg O'Brien. On 28 July the next year de Burgh died at Galway after a week's illness and was buried in the monastery at Athassel in Co. Tipperary.
Walter's career, though ultimately unsuccessful in restraining O'Connor aggrandisement in Connacht, displayed the opportunism and vigour characteristic of a leading Anglo-Irish magnate. He was frequently at odds with the hierarchy of the church in Ireland because of his blatant disregard for the proprieties of episcopal and abbatial investitures. His consistent loyalty to the crown led to significant rewards: the grant of Ulster combined with his inheritance of Connacht amounted to the largest potential lordship in Britain and Ireland. About 1257 he married Avelina, daughter of John FitzGeoffrey (qv), one-time justiciar of Ireland, with whom he had two sons and one daughter. From 1263 the earldom was at peace and Walter's friendship with the O'Neill bore fruit for his heir, Richard de Burgh (qv) (d. 1326).