Dr. Patrick Martin Austin Bourke was born in Dungarvan on 10 May 1913. His father was Station master for the Great Southern and Western Railway. He was educated at Ballyduff National School. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Ferrybank in Waterford and went to Mount Sion. He went on a scholarship to U.C.C. and graduated in 1933 with first class honours in Mathematical Science. He also obtained a gold medal and the Peel Memorial Prize.
He joined the Irish meteorological service at its inception in 1939 and became Assistant Director in 1948 and Director in 1964, a position he held until he retired in 1978. In 1967 he was awarded a Ph.D. by the National University of Ireland for his thesis on the epidemiology of the potato blight during the Famine. Dr. Bourke specialised in the study of the origin and effects of potato blight and was an agricultural meteorologist of world repute. He developed a method for forecasting the occurrence of potato blight.
When the N.U.I. presented an Honorary Degree to Ronald Reagan in 1984 Bourke handed back his N.U.I. honour in protest at U.S. policies in Latin America. In 1975 he was awarded the William F. Peterson gold medal for his work in the field of plant biometeorology. In 1993 a collection of his essays were published : 'The Visitation of God? - The Potato & the Great Irish Famine.' In the same year Dr. Bourke was entered on the Roll of Eminent Past Pupils at a ceremony at Mount Sion.
Author: William Fraher