With its variant spellings BIRKES, BIRK, BURKE, BURKES and BOURKE, this surname, which now ranks as one of the twenty commonest in Ireland, was brought to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman conquest of the country. It is now distributed through all four provinces but is least numerous in Ulster and most numerous in Connacht where the family, then known by the Latin form of their name, de Burgo, obtained vast estates at the end of the 12th Century. Burgh also survives as a version of this surname while some of the family reverted to de Burgh when it was fashionable to boast Norman ancestry. William de Burga went to Ireland with Henry II in 1171, and later became Earl of Ulster. In England the name was locational meaning the dweller by the birch-trees, from residence nearby. Early records of the name mention Richard del Birkes, 1275, Wakefield, Yorkshire. Johannes del Byrkes of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. Many factors contributed to the establishment of a surname system. For generations after the Norman Conquest of 1066 a very few dynasts and magnates passed on hereditary surnames, but the main of the population, with a wide choice of first-names out of Celtic, Old English, Norman and Latin, avoided ambiguity without the need for a second name. As society became more stabilized, there was property to leave in wills, the towns and villages grew and the labels that had served to distinguish a handful of folk in a friendly village were not adequate for a teeming slum where perhaps most of the householders were engaged in the same monotonous trade, so not even their occupations could distinguish them, and some first names were gaining a tiresome popularity, especially Thomas after 1170. The hereditary principle in surnames gained currency first in the South, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it. By the 14th century however, most of the population had acquired a second name. Richard Birkes of Oxford, registered at Oxford University in the year 1607. Edward Burkes married Susanna Selby at St. George's, Hanover Square, London in 1741. Benjamin Birks and Mary Slater, were married at the same church in 1753. The associated coat of arms is recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. (Earl of Clanricarde, Viscount Burke, chief of the House of Burke, anciently de Burgh).
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