STATUE OF WILLIAM BURKE
On the grounds of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam in North Galway, you can find the statue of William Burke, a Dubliner who made his fortune in business and left a generous legacy to the town of Tuam.
William Burke was born in Dublin in 1765 and became a successful merchant and banker. He moved to Tuam in 1809 and bought a property called Currylea, where he lived until his death in 1834. He was a devout Catholic and a supporter of Archbishop John MacHale, who was known as the Lion of the West for his defence of Catholic rights and Irish nationalism.
Burke was concerned about the lack of education for girls in Tuam, especially for the poor. He decided to use his wealth to establish and endow a convent of the Presentation Order in Tuam, which would provide free schooling for girls. He also donated money to other charitable causes, such as an almshouse for aged women and a soup kitchen during the famine.
Burke died on 10 May 1834 and left a will that bequeathed £30,000 (a huge sum at the time) to Archbishop McHale for the foundation of the Presentation Convent and other similar institutes in Tuam. He also left his property Currylea to the convent. His will stated:
“I give, devise and bequeath unto His Grace Dr. John McHale, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, all my real estate situate in or near Tuam or elsewhere in Ireland … upon trust that he will apply the rents thereof … towards founding or endowing convents or monasteries for religious women or men respectively in or near Tuam.”
The Presentation Sisters arrived in Tuam on 10 May 1835, exactly one year after Burke’s death, and opened their convent and school in Currylea. The school began with over 300 pupils and soon increased to 500. The sisters taught reading, writing, arithmetic, spinning, needlework, Christian doctrine, cookery, laundry, music, drawing, French and Irish. They also operated a soup kitchen and erected sheds in their yard to feed the starving during the famine.
The statue of William Burke was erected on the terrace of the Cathedral of the Assumption in 1846, twelve years after his death. It was sculpted by Thomas Farrell, a Dublin-born artist who was one of the most prominent Irish sculptors of the 19th century. Farrell also sculpted the statue of Archbishop McHale that stands on the opposite side of the terrace.
The statue is made of Portland stone and depicts Burke with a roll in his hands, which could be his will or a document related to his legacy. There is also Latin text inscribed on the statue that reads:
“PIETATIS ET GRATI ANIMI MONUMENTUM
QUI TESTAMENTO LEGAVIT
UT CONVENTUS SORORUM PRÆSENTATIONIS
ANNO DOMINI MDCCCXXXIV”
This translates as:
“A monument of piety and grateful spirit
to William Burke
who by his will bequeathed
that convents of sisters of the Presentation
should be established and endowed
in the year of our Lord 1834″
The statue is a fitting tribute to a man who used his fortune to benefit others and to promote education and religion in Tuam. It is also a reminder of the history and heritage of the town and its people.
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