Burnell family

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The Burnell family were a Dublin family who were prominent in Irish affairs from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. They acquired substantial estates and eventually married into the aristocracy. They produced several noted judges and politicians, a famous playwright, and a poet. They were staunch Roman Catholics and supported the Irish Confederacy in the 1640s.

Family History[edit]

The first Irish Burnell of note was Robert, who was Lord of the Manor of Balgriffin in c.1388.[1] He married Matilda Tyrrell, heiress of the Irish feudal barony of Castleknock. Castleknock later became the principal Burnell residence. He was a Baron of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) and began a long family association with the judiciary, particularly the Court of Exchequer. His descendant John Burnell was Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer in the 1490s and another Burnell, Patrick, was also a Baron of the Exchequer.[2]

Another John Burnell of Casleknock took part in the Rebellion of Silken Thomas and was executed for treason at Tyburn in 1537; but his cousin, yet another John, managed to retain the family estates, which later passed by inheritance to the Bathe family.[3]

In the second half of the sixteenth century Henry Burnell, son of the third John Burnell, was one of Ireland's foremost advocates, serving briefly as Recorder of Dublin and a judge of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland). He was a passionate supporter of the rights of Roman Catholics and was frequently in trouble with the Crown as a result.[4]

His grandson, also Henry, was a well-known playwright: his play Landgartha (1640) was one of the first Irish plays to be published and the last play performed in Werburgh Street Theatre, Dublin's first theatre.[5] He was wealthy or influential enough to marry a daughter of James Dillon, 1st Earl of Roscommon. Of his nine children, most is known of Eleanor, one of the very few Irish women poets of her age.[6] Later he became a leading member of the Irish Confederacy; [7]though little is known of his later years, it is likely that the Burnell estates were forfeited for rebellion. [8]

Through the marriage of Alice Burnell to Richard Talbot of Templeogue in about 1550 the Burnells were ancestors of the prominent Talbot family of Mount Talbot.[9]

Notable family members[edit]

  • Robert Burnell (died after 1414) Baron of the Exchequer
  • John Burnell (died c.1492) Chief Baron of the Exchequer
  • Patrick Burnell (died 1491) Baron of the Exchequer
  • John Burnell ( died 1537) rebel
  • Henry Burnell (c.1540-1614) Recorder of Dublin
  • Henry Burnell, grandson of the previous ( died after 1642) playwright and politician
  • Eleanor Burnell (living 1640), daughter of the younger Henry, poet.
  • Raymond Burnell (lithographer/graphic designer/educator)(1949-)

Places associated with Burnell family[edit]

  • Balgriffin
  • Castleknock

Notable works[edit]

  • Landgartha, a tragicomedy by Henry Burnell (1640)


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p.167
  2. ^ Ball p.185
  3. ^ Ball, F. Elrington History of Dublin Alexander Thom and Co Dublin 1920 Vol. 6 p.17
  4. ^ Crawford, Jon G. A Star Chamber Court in Ireland-the Court of Castle Chamber 1571-1641 Four Courts Press Dublin 2005 p.129
  5. ^ Laughton, J.K. "Henry Burnell" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol.7 (1886) p.386
  6. ^ Stevenson, Jane Women Latin Poets; Language, Gender and Authority from Ancient Times to the Eighteenth Century Oxford University Press 2005 p.384
  7. ^ Laughton p.386
  8. ^ Ball History of Dublin p.21
  9. ^ Burke's Irish Family Records London 1976 p.303