Walter Hussey Burgh, Irish statesman, barrister, and judge, is born in Kildare on August 23, 1742. Burgh sits in the Irish House of Commons and is considered to be one of its outstanding orators. He serves briefly as Chief Baron of the Exchequer at the end of his life.
Burgh is the son of Ignatius Hussey of Donore House, near Naas, and his wife Elizabeth Burgh. Elizabeth is the daughter of the leading statesman and architect Colonel Thomas de Burgh, who designs some of the most notable Irish buildings of his era, including Trinity College Library. Walter adopts the surname Burgh as a condition for inheriting the Burgh estate at Drumkeen, County Limerick, from his uncle Richard Burgh.
Burgh is educated at Mr. Young’s school at Abbey Street in Dublin, and then at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1762. He is an accomplished classical scholar and has some reputation a poet. After studying at the Temple, he is called to the Bar in 1769 and within a few years becomes one of its leaders. He enters the Irish House of Commons in the same year, sitting first for Athy, later for the University of Dublin.
In Parliament he is a close associate of Henry Grattan and a supporter of his “free trade” programme. He becomes legendary for his oratory in support of the Irish Patriot Party. At the same time he prides himself on his independence of mind, preferring not to pledge support for any particular policy until he has examined its merits. He acquires as his patron Philip Tisdall, the immensely influential Attorney-General for Ireland, who calls him “the most promising of the rising young men.” At Tisdall’s request Burgh is appointed Prime Serjeant in 1776. He resigns the office in 1779, in protest at the continuing restrictions on free trade, after making the celebrated “England has sown her laws as dragon’s teeth” speech. After the removal of the restrictions, he agrees to accept office again and is re-appointed Prime Serjeant in 1782. A month later he is appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, but he dies the following year at the assizes in Armagh, reportedly from gaol fever.