The following is the editors’ introduction and the first few paragraphs to the case “The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story” in volume 1 of Murder Most Criminous.
William Burke Kirwan and his wife Maria, residents of Dublin, left their home in Upper Marion Street one beautiful September day in 1852 on an outing to the nearby island known as Ireland’s Eye. Kirwan returned that evening, but Maria did not, and what happened on that island and the subsequent events that it provoked have been eternally controversial.
Kirwan was an artist of some note, and the trip for him was partly professional. He took his sketchbook and drawing materials with him. For Maria, it promised to be a day in a place with which she was well familiar. She would walk along the coast, sun herself, take in the scenery, and even enter the water for a swim. She would, indeed, enter the water, but she wouldn’t come out alive.
When time came that evening for the couple to leave the island, Kirwan was at the dock, but his wife was not. A short search revealed her body in the water near a place called Long Hole. The whole incident might have passed as simply a tragic accident except for subsequent revelations about their marriage and the fact that Kirwan was leading a double life. Kirwan had a second wife and family. The woman’s name was Theresa Kenny, and she lived with her children (by Kirwan) in Lower Dorset Street. Six months before Maria’s death, the two women had met and arguments had ensued.
When this double life became public shortly after Maria’s death, suspicion fell on Kirwan. Maria’s body was exhumed, and the circumstances of her death were re-examined.
William Roughead, as only he can, walks the readers through the entire case, taking great care that he “safeguarded myself from pronouncing upon Mr. Kirwan’s guilt.” The reader is left to come to his or her own conclusions.
PEOPLE who like legal mysteries and the arts of the literary detective – the phrase is Andrew Lang’s– can hardly fail to appreciate the Kirwan case. It presents a puzzle sufficiently perplexing to intrigue even a blasé taste, and to stimulate the Sherlockian spirit that sleeps in the bosom of the most blameless of Watsons.
It is, in the first place, a trial for murder quite out of the common run. The circumstances of the crime, if crime in fact there was, were at the time unprecedented: the drowning of a wife by her husband; and they remained unparallelled in our annals until the revelations made upon a trial in 1915, when one Mr. Smith was found to have eclipsed the achievement of his forerunner of the fifties by drowning no less than three wives in succession. But the quantitative element apart, the earlier case is much more interesting and instructive. Smith was a mere mechanic, ingenious if you will, and clever at his job; a capable craftsman enough, but lacking imagination and the sense of style. Instead of making his first success a stepping stone to higher things, he was so stupid as to stereotype his method.
Further, none but his counsel, ex officio, was ever known to doubt his guilt, whereas many have maintained the innocence of his predecessor. The staging, too, of the respective tragedies differed markedly in scenic effectiveness. Smith’s theatre was the domestic bathroom of drab lodgings in mean streets; Kirwan’s, a desolate island of the sea. As to motive, Smith was but a footpad, murdering for money; Kirwan’s act, if he indeed committed it, was of the passionate cast so tenderly regarded by the law-courts of France.
The astute reader will notice
During March and April 2022, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
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