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Redline Festival

Death on Ireland's Eye: The Victorian Murder Trial that Scandalised a Nation

L: Dean Ruxton R: Liz Gillis
DateSunday October 16th
Time3:00 pm
VenueCasement Aerodrome (Baldonnel)
Admission€8 / €5

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A tragic death, a murder trial and a 170-year-old mystery – but what really happened?  Shortly after Maria Kirwan died in a lonely inlet on Ireland’s Eye, it was decided that she had drowned accidentally during a day spent with her husband on the picturesque island. This inquest verdict appeared to conclude the melancholy events that consumed the fishing village of Howth, Co Dublin, in September 1852. But not long afterwards, suspicion fell upon Maria’s husband, William Burke Kirwan, as whispers of unspeakable cruelty, an evil character and a secret life rattled through the streets of Dublin. Investigations led to William’s arrest and trial for murder. The story swelled into one of the most bitterly divisive chapters in the dark annals of Irish criminal history. Yet questions remain: does the evidence stand up? What role did the heavy hand of Victorian moral outrage play? Was William really guilty of murder, or did the ever present ‘moral facts’ fill in gaps where hard proof was absent? Now, this compelling modern analysis revisits the key evidence, asking sober questions about the facts, half-facts and fantasies buried within the yellowed pages of the Ireland’s Eye case files.

Dean Ruxton is a writer and journalist from Dublin. He worked with Hot Press magazine before joining The Irish Times as a digital journalist in 2014. Since then, his by-line has appeared in nearly every section of the site, but his name is mostly associated with the ‘Lost Leads’ archive series – a retelling of some of the lesser-known stories that have appeared in the paper since 1859. He published his first book When The Hangman Came To Galway in 2018.

Historian and author Liz Gillis is from the Liberties. She is the author of six books about the Irish Revolution  including, The Fall of Dublin, Women of the Irish Revolution and The Hales Brothers and the Irish Revolution and May 25: The Burning of the Custom House 1921. Liz has worked as a researcher on numerous publications, television and radio documentaries covering the period. Liz is the Historian in Residence for Dublin South County Council for the Decade of Centenaries. She also works as a Researcher for the History Show on RTE Radio and lectures at Champlain College Dublin.  Liz was a Historical Consultant for the new Custom House Visitor Centre and was a Curatorial Assistant in RTE, specialising in researching the Easter Rising and a tour guide for many years in Kilmainham Gaol. In 2018 Liz was a recipient of the Lord Mayor’s Award for her contribution to history.