Bourke the Bibliographer

Dr F.S. Bourke, (1895-1959) medical doctor, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Physicians and bibliographer assembled a private library of some 9,000 items reflecting his interests in Irish history, literature, culture and society over his lifetime until his death in 1959. Francis Stephen Bourke was born on the 14/15th July 1895 in High Street, Kilkenny city, the son of James Bourke, merchant tailor and draper.


On completion of his secondary education at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, he began his medical studies in 1918 in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In 1924 he began work as a pathologist with the special treatment clinic in Dr Steeven’s Hospital where he was to spend forty years, holding the position of Director during his last years there. One of his colleagues in Dr Steeven’s Hospital was Dr Thomas Percy Claude Kirkpatrick (1869-1924), also a noted bibliophile and medical historian, and the two men became life-long friends. Both men shared an interest in books, both were members of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland and both amassed significant private libraries in their respective lifetimes.

Dr Steevens' Hospital staff 1924

Dr Steeven’s Hospital staff 1924. Courtesy of Edward Worth Library.

The inaugural meeting of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland was held on 1st March 1918 and reflected an increasing interest in bibliography in the preceding years coinciding with the Irish literary revival. In 1884 the joint conference of Library Associations of Great Britain and Ireland was held in Dublin. Henry Bradshaw, (1831-1886) University Librarian, Cambridge and father of modern bibliography, compiled a catalogue of Irish books in Cambridge University Library which was published in a three-volume edition in 1916. E.R. McClintock Dix, (1857 -1936) in particular was aware of the importance of bibliographies of local publications, pamphlets, Irish language material and newspaper collecting and in 1905, with Séamus Ó Casaide, he published a bibliography of Irish language material which had appeared originally in An Claidheamh Solais a newspaper which played a prominent role in the Irish literary revival, under the editorships of Eoin Mac Neill serving 1899-1901 and Pádraig Pearse, 1903-1909. Reflecting the active role of the library profession, an article in An Leabharlann also published in 1905 focused on the work of Irish librarians and Irish bibliography.

A copy of 'Bibliotheca Osleriana'

A copy of ‘Bibliotheca Osleriana’, a gift from Dr Kirkpatrick to Dr Bourke containing a note in Kirkpatrick’s hand.

E.R. McClintock Dix, as one the founders of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland and its first president, in the inaugural address stated:

‘Every book is like a human being. It has two distinct parts, body and soul. The Bibliographer has to do with the body of the book, so to speak; the author, readers and critics have to do with its soul. The Librarian has to do with both…. [and] …few, if any of our libraries are taking the trouble to store from year to year volumes of the local papers, and yet these will be invaluable, even twenty years hence, to students of Irish affairs.’

The stated objects of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland were as follows: (i) the promotion and encouragement of Irish Bibliographical studies and researchers; (ii) the printing of works connected with Irish Bibliography; (iii) the formation of an Irish bibliographical library.


Dr F.S. Bourke was an active member of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland throughout his life, he presented a number of papers at the society’s meetings and published articles on the subject of Irish bibliography in various publications including the society’s journal. He became noted authority on print culture and sources of Irish history and held the position Chairman of the society at the time of his death in 1959. His publications include: ‘The Rebellion of 1803: an essay in bibliography’, Bibliographical Society of Ireland, Vol. V, No. 1, 1933;  ‘Dublin chapbooks’, Béaloideas: the journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, 1941; ‘Patrick O’Kelly – an historian of the Rebellion of 1798’, The Irish Book Lover, Vol. XXVIII, 1941; ‘Derivation of the name of Ringsend, with note by George A. Little’, Dublin historical record, 1944; ‘A Hand-List of Books on Killarney’, Bibliographical Society of Ireland Vol. VI, No. 2, 1953;  ‘Note on Musgrave’s Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland’, The Irish sword: the journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, 1956; ‘The French invasion of 1798, a forgotten witness (Rev. E. Mangin)’, The Irish sword: the journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, 1956; ‘Bibliographical Notes. Manuscript catalogue of the library of Rev. Henry Ware. A note by the late Dr. F. S. Bourke’, The Irish book, 1960.

Correspondence with NFC

Correspondence with National Folklore Commission (NFC)

He was particularly interested in Irish history and topography: tour guides relating to Ireland and the lives of Irish patriots, and in recognition of his work on Irish biography and bibliography, on 15th March 1958, Dr Bourke was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Prior to his death in 1959, Dr Bourke donated to the Irish Folklore Commission a set of Irish newspapers, sixty-nine titles in all, dating from the early part of the 20th century. At the request of Prof. Séamus Ó Duilearga, Director of the Irish Folklore Commission, Dr Bourke’s personal library of some 9,000 items was assessed by Dr Richard Hayes of the National Library of Ireland in late 1959 who valued it at £5,000. In a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Education dated 25th January 1960, Prof. Ó Duilearga stated that it was of ‘great importance to secure the collection for Ireland‘.

On the recommendation of the office of the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, Dr Bourke’s library was purchased by the Irish Folklore Commission on 18th March 1960 for the sum of £5,000 with the help of extra financial assistance from the government. The books were transferred to the Commission’s offices in 82 St Stephen’s Green on 21st and 24th March 1960 and were later moved, together with the other holdings of the Irish Folklore Commission, to their present home in the National Folklore Collection, Newman Building, University College Dublin, upon opening of the Department of Irish Folklore on 28th September 1971. Dr Bourke’s personal papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.



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