Published in Cavan, county Cavan

December 16, 1852



The Hon. Mr. Justice CRAMPTON and the Right Hon. Baron GREENE, took their seats on the bench at ten o'clock, when William Burke KIRWAN was placed at the bar, charged with having on the 6th September last, at Ireland's Eye, maliciously murdered his wife, Sarah Maria Louisa KIRWAN. The court was densely crowded, and all eyes were of course directed to the prisoner, who was very respectably attired, and did not betray any nervousness on the occasion.

Messrs. SMYLY, Q.C., E. HAYES, Q.C.; an PENNEFATHER, appeared for the crown to prosecute.

Mr. BUTT, Q.C., M.P., Mr. Walter BURKE, Q.C., Mr. BRERETON, Q.C., and Mr. John A. CURRAN, defended the prisoner. Agent--Mr. Charles FITZGERALD.

The following jury were sworn to try the case, after two or three challenges on behalf of the prisoner; John DENNIS (foreman); David DRUMMON, Edward EVANS, Maurice FLANAGAN, Edmund J. FITTS, Christopher FLANAGAN, Charles GODWIN, James HALPIN, Charles B. JOHNSTON, Richard JOHNSTON, James KERR, and Patrick LANIGAN.

Mr. Smyly, Q.C., opened the case. He said that up to the last hour he had expected the presence of the Attorney-General; but in the absence of that right hon. and learned gentleman, it was his duty to state the facts. The jury had learned that the prisoner, who was an artist and draughtsman, stood charged with the murder of his wife, to whom he had been married for a period of twelve years. Mr. and Mrs. KIRWAN had no children, and sometime previous to the lady's death the parties lived at No. 11, Upper Merrion-street. The evidence to be adduced was circumstancial; but as the jury would hear from the court, that kind of evidence, when strong, was the most satisfactory of all evidence. The murder in this case was committed on the person of one whom above all others, the prisoner was bound to cherish and respect; but he (the learned counsel) believed that affection had not existed on the part of the husband, for during the whole period that he was married he lived with a person named Maria Teresa KENNY, neither Mrs. KIRWAN nor Maria Teresa KENNY having known, till six months before the occurrence the subject of the present investigation, that the prisoner shared his affections with another--each female believing that she possessed all his affection. Last summer, Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan went to reside in Howth. They were in the habit of going across to Ireland's Eye and Mr. Kirwan used to make sketches on these occasions. On the 6th of September they went over and another family named BREW were also on the island that day, and offered Mrs. Kirwan a seat in their boat at four o'clock in the evening, but she said the boat was to return for them at eight o'clock. There was a Mr. HAMILTON on the island that day also; but it would be shown that, after four o;clock, there was no one on the island but Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan; and it would be proved by a man named Hugh CAMPBELL that, leaning on the Howth harbour wall, at about seven o'clock, he heard cries on the island. Cries were heard by other persons also, including a person named Alice ABERNETHY, who was standing at the ladies' bathing place. Catherine FLOOD and Julia FARREL also heard cries. A boat returning from fishing passed near the island, and a man named LARKIN, who was steering, would depose to having heard cries at the same hour as that stated by the other witnesses. Counsel proceeded to detail the evidence that would be produced and concluded by calling on

Mr. Alfred JONES, who proved a map that had been made of Ireland's Eye.

Margret CAMPBELL, widow, who lives in Howth, proved that Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan lodged in her house in September last; they had but one room which they used as a sitting room and bed-room; observed quarrels between them; heard the prisoner call her a _____; heard him also say he would finish her; this was when they were about a month in the house; heard her say "let me alone;" next morning she was black after the usage she got; never heard anything but this except a word; the prisoner and his wife slept at home of the night of the 5th September, the 6th was on Monday, and they went out about ten o'clock; knew they were going to Ireland's Eye, that was the fourth time they went there; they had a travelling bag with them; knows that Mrs. Kirwan had a bathing cap; Joseph SHERWOOD had that cap after her death; they were at Ireland's Eye on Thursday and Friday before they were at home on Saturday and Sunday......The witness was cross-examined by Mr. W. BURKE, and said she did not see the prisoner beat deceased, and only heard a rush through the room.

Patrick NANGLE, examined by Mr. Smiley--Is a fisherman and sailor; lives at Howth; there is about a couple or three minutes difference between the time of the tide at Dublin bar and at Ireland's Eye; it is in earlier at Dublin bar a couple of minutes; knows every inch of Ireland's Eye; knew Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan; Mrs. Kirwan was a stout well-looking woman, and appeared to be about 28 or 29 years of age; rowed Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan to Ireland's Eye on Monday, September the 6th and twice before that; They came to witness on the night of Sunday the 5th and engaged him; they came to the boat a little before and 10 in the morning; they had a bag and two bottles of water with them, and Mrs. Kirwan had a small redicule bag; Mr. Kirwan had a cane-sword and a sketch-book; the island is a mile and a quarter from Howth; it takes about a quarter of an hour to go over, landed Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan near the Martello tower, which is uninhabited; brought Mr. BREW and his family over at twelve o'clock, and brought them back at four o'clock; saw Mrs. Kirwan on the island then. Mr. Brew asked her did she want to come over, and she said 'no'; she told witness to come over at eight o'clock; the boat of a man named DOYLE went over that day; there was no one but Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan on the island at four, when witness's boat left; left the harbour for the island at twenty minutes before eight; on nearing the island, called Mr. Kirwan, who answered; it was getting very dark then; brought the boat to the landing place, near the tower then; witness got out of the boat first; Mr. Kirwan was then near the landing place; he had the bag in one hand, and the stick in the other, and also his sketch-book; Mick NANGLE asked Mr. Kirwan where was Mrs. Kirwan; the prisoner said--'I did not see her this last hour and a half;' one of the boatmen asked what direction she went in; Mr. Kirwan and the other men went away to look for her, and witness examined Mr. Kirwan's sketch-book; they were half an hour away; witness then went towards the tower, and called for the searching party; Mick Nangle asked had witness not found Mrs. Kirwan, and witness said no, and asked had they not found her; Mr. Kirwan then said --'let us go back the same way;' witness went towards the Long Hole with Mr. Kirwan; witness kept singing out "Mrs. Kirwan,' and Mr. Kirwan kept crying 'oh, Maria, oh, Maria,,' in a low voice; Mick Nangle kept up toward them in another direction, and Mr. Kirwan then slipped; witness went to stop, but Mr. Kirwan said, 'don't let me be the cause of delaying you;' witness went on and found the lady in the hole; her bathing chemise was up under her arms, and a sheet was under her; her head was lying back in a hole, and her feet were in a pool of water--about the full of a hat of water, about half a gallon; saw cuts on the forehead and under the eye; there was blood coming down by her ears, from her side, her breast and other places (great sensation in court.) Witness then described the position in which the body was found; witness covered the body; after Mr. Kirwan came up he threw himself on the body and cried, 'Oh, Maria!' he sent witness for the clothes; witness looked where Mr. Kirwan bid him, and they were not there; Mr. Kirwan himself then went to look for them; remained away three or four minutes, and when he came back told witness to go to the rock which he pointed, and that he would find them there; witness did so and found the clothes in the place where he swears positively he searched before, and where they were not when he searched; they then made preparations to move the body; the tide was then on the turn coming in; there was nothing to wet Mr. Kirwan's feet that witness saw--he got no wet in their time. Witness pointed out the various parts of the island, with accuracy, to Dr. HATCHELL and to Mr. Jones who made the plan; assisted Mr. Jones to take the levels and pointed him out everything with accuracy.

Cross-examined by Mr. Brereton--There was no difference between Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan about the time the boat was to come; the body was not stiff when witness saw it; there were scratches over and under the eye.

Michael NANGLE was next examined and gave similar testimony.

Cross-examined by Mr. Butt--Half an hour elapsed between witness's first and second visit to the hole, on the second occasion; Patt Nangle went in first; Mr. Kirwan was at least three yards from him; had himself left gentlemen to bathe in that hole.

Thomas GILES, another of the boatmen deposed that he remained in the boat with his comrade, KAVANAGH, when the search was being made.

The witness was not cross-examined.

KAVANAGH, the fourth boatman, was not produced. Counsel for the crown told Mr. Kirwan's counsel that this man would be produced if they desired it, but his production was not asked for.

Mr. Arthur BREW was then examined by Mr. Smyley, and deposed to having offered Mrs. Kirwan a seat in his boat, and her having declined it.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran--had seen Mr. Kirwan sketching on the island part of that day; it was the ruin he was sketching, and Mrs. Kirwan was walking and reading.

Hugh CAMPBELL, a fish driver, examined by Mr. Hayes--Was leaning on the quay wall of Howth on the 6th September opposite the Howth lighthouse, and heard a voice coming from the eastward of the lighthouse; it was a weak voice, calling for assistance; could not hear the words; heard more than three cries; the second cry was about three minutes after the first, and the third was very soon after; the cries were still weak.

Mr. Hayes--Were the cries growing weaker and weaker?

Mr. Butt objected to this question.

Mr. Justice Crampton--Was there any difference between the cries?

Witness--No; they were all weak; they were like the cries of assistance, or a boat to come; often before heard people cry from the island.

Cross-examined by Mr. Burke--It was between day and dark when witness heard those cries; it was about half-past seven o'clock; he thought that perhaps some one had been left on the island and was calling for assistance or a boat; he thought some one might have fallen asleep, and who, on awaking, was calling for a boat.

Thomas LARKIN, Alice ABERNETHY, and Catherine FLOOD deposed that they lived at Howth, and hear cries from the island as if for help; some of the cries were very faint.

Anne LACY , examined by Mr. Smyley--Lived at Howth, saw Mrs. Kirwan's body at Mrs. CAMPBELL's; was there when BARRETT brought it on his dray; there was a sailcloth about the body; saw a bloodstain on the sail; there was a bathing sheet tied round the chest, knees and feet; a shawl was tied round the head; took off the sheet; the hair contained bits of seaweed, and there was blood on the face; blood came from the inside of the ears; there was a scratch on the face; the blood continued to flow from the ears after she sponged them; there was a cut on the right breast, which bled freely; is a nursetender; the cut on the breast was a clean one; her right side from the arm to the knee was black; another woman washed the other side; her mouth was swollen the under lip especially; there was blood from another part; the discharge from that was not natural; the blood was clotted; the blood flowed so freely from the ear that she could not take out the ear ring; the belly was flat into the backbone, and contained no water; one of the eyes was closed, and the white of it was a red as blood; the body was clean and white, a beautiful creature; saw Mr. Kirwan; his trousers were turned up.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran--Has been forty years a nursetender; is certain from the appearance that the discharge she alluded to was not natural; has seen the bite of crabs.

To Mr. Smyly--There was nothing like the bite of a crab on the body.

Catherine M'GAR examined by Mr. Hayes--Lives at Howth; was engaged with the last witness in washing Mrs. Kirwan's body; there were wounds under and over each eye, as if torn and a scratch on the temple; the mouth was swelled and the nose was crooked on the face; there was white slime on the mouth, blood was flowing from the inside of the left ear; she saw Mr. Kirwan there that day; would not allow the body to be touched till after the inquest, to which he replied that he did not car a d___n for the police, or any one else, the body should be washed; saw him sitting at the fire with his trousers turned up; he was drying his drawers.

Cross-examined by Mr. Butt, Q.C.--she washed the left side of the body; there was no cut on the right; there was a bruise or scratch on it.

Mary ROBINSON examined by Mr. Smyley--Held the candle for the women who washed the body; did not observe what state the mouth was in; one of her eyes was shut; cannot say that either of them was bloodshot; saw Mr. Kirwan sitting at the fire; the place was wet where he was sitting.

At this stage of the proceedings the court decided upon adjourning.

Bailiffs were then sworn to keep the jury from communicating with others, &c., and the court was adjourned till next morning at ten o'clock.


The judges took their seats at ten o'clock, and the court was very crowded.

Joseph SHERWOOD, head constable at Howth, was the first witness examined, and he proved that he saw the body that was brought in the boat; he saw the prisoner sitting at the fire in Mrs. Campbell's; his trousers were wet to the knees, and he changed his socks.

James A. HAMILTON, a medical student, proved that he examined the body of the deceased, and he described the appearance it presented.

Dr. HATCHELL deposed that he examined the body, and was of opinion that simple drowning would not cause the appearance it presented.

Dr. DAVIES, the coroner who held the inquest on the deceased, was next examined, after which,

Mr. Butt, Q.C., then proceeded to address the jury on behalf of the prisoner. He reminded them of the magnitude of the responsibility which devolved on them, and called upon them to dismiss from their minds the various rumours prejudicial to the prisoner which had been circulated respecting him. He had no desire whatever to deceive the jury on the facts of the case. It must occur to them that the fact of the prisoner and Mrs. Kirwan being on the island alone rendered it more difficult for him to prove his innocence than otherwise would be the case; but even on the evidence brought forward by the crown it was perfectly manifest that no murder had been committed. He contended that death had ensued from a fit taken in water. Every particle of the case was consistent with that idea. If the prisoner wanted to murder his wife it was not by scratching her eyelids or cutting her breast he would attempt the deed. The learned counsel referred to the evidence with respect to cries, and said that those which LARKAN (sic) deposed to having heard were in all probability, the exclamation and voices of Mr. Kirwan and the boatmen when searching for Mrs. Kirwan on the island. As for the evidence of the woman who stated that she heard screams from the wall, he did not think the jury would rely much on it, the woman being too far away to have heard so distinctly that, on her oath, she would undertake to say that the cries were those of a woman. Evidence would be produced on the part of the prisoner, which would establish beyond all doubt that Mrs. Kirwan's death was not caused by violence, and that the scratches and marks on her body were not of that description which would warrant such a presumption. After commenting at considerable length on the evidence in detail, the learned counsel concluded an able and forcible address by calling on the jury to vindicate the innocence of his client, and acquit him of the unnatural and unfounded charge which had been brought against him.

Surgeon RYND (sic) was produced and deposed that persons attacked with epilepsy often screamed loudly; an epileptic fit, in his opinion, would cause the appearance mentioned.

Surgeon ADAMS examined by Mr. Brereton--Is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons; congestion of the lungs might arise from a variety of causes--from drowning or epilepsy; general conjestion would cause general exudation of blood; cannot say whether it causes blood from the nipples of the breast; going into water suddenly after a full meal, would be more likely to cause oxudation(sic); the seizure of a person in epilepsy is announced by a scream; has known persons seized with epileptic fits to scream violently more than once; the first scream is the most violent.

Mr. Brereton--If a wet sheet were placed over the mouth or nostrils, would it produce three loud screams. That is the question?

Dr. ADAMS--That is not a medical question. Pressure on the chest that would produce the effects in question would leave some external mark.

To the Court--It would be impossible by the appearances described to distinguish between accidental and forcible drowning.

Mr. Hayes, Q.C., addressed the jury on the part of the crown, after which,

Mr. Justice Crampton charged them at great length, and went over the entire evidence.

The jury retired about seven o'clock, and when called into court at eight o'clock they said it was impossible they could agree; but at 12 o'clock they came to an agreement and found the prisoner guilty.

The prisoner, who seemed to have up to this period entertained the hope, if not of an acquittal, at least that there would be no verdict, appeared sensibly surprised and overcome by the announcement of a verdict of g guilty.

The verdict was received by the dense assemblage present with a subdued expression of feeling, which was certainly not one of disapprobation.

The Clerk of the Crown having recorded the verdict, Mr. Justice Crampton directed the prisoner to be removed till morning.

The Court then adjourned.



The Court and every avenue leading to were densely crowded on this morning, when Kirwan was brought up for sentence. To the astonishment of all present the unhappy man appeared altogether unmoved by his awful situation; and on being asked the usual question, why sentence of death should not be pronounced against him? he stood forward, and defended himself from the charge of murder, for a considerable time, in a clear and unhesitating voice.

Judge Crampton preceded the solemn sentence of the law by an eloquent and effecting address, assuring the prisoner that 'he could not hold out one ray of hope of pardon for him on this side of the grave,' and exhorting him to spend the short remaining term of his existence in endeavouring to be reconciled with his outraged Maker. In conclusion his lordship assumed the fatal Black Cap, and proceeded to say, William Burke Kirwan, it now remains for me to pronounce upon you the last awful and solemn words of the sentence of the law--namely, that you, William Burke Kirwan, be taken from the place where you now stand, to the place from which you came--the prison--and that from thence you be taken to the place of execution--the gallows--and that you be there hanged by the neck until you be dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the gaol, and oh, may the Lord have mercy on your soul (great sensation in court).

Mr. Kirwan, who appeared to be affected by the concluding words of the learned Judge, then leaned forward over the front of the dock, and said, My Lord--Convinced, as I am, that all my hopes in this world are at an end, I do most solemnly declare, in the presence of this court and that God before whom I shortly expect to stand that I had neither hand, act, or part, or knowledge of the death of my late wife, Maria Kirwan; and I may further state, that I never treated her unkindly in my life, as her own mother can testify.

The prisoner then retired from the dock. The 18th of January is fixed for the execution.

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