On a fine calm morning in September 1852, a strikingly handsome man and his beautiful wife stepped onto a hired boat in Howth Harbour, Dublin, to set out on a day trip. The destination was Ireland’s Eye, a small uninhabited island less than a mile to the north of the harbour.
He was an artist, she a keen and adventurous swimmer.
By sunset, when the boat returned to fetch them, she would be dead.
Despite certain gruesome features, the inquest ruled that it was a drowning, and Maria Kirwan was laid to rest. Then a startling secret emerged about the private life of her husband, the artist William Burke Kirwan. After an exhumation, he was arrested for her murder.
The case caused a sensation, the public fascinated by its extraordinary elements. Added to this and almost eclipsing the murder was the scandal: a sexual triangle that aroused the full force of Victorian moral outrage.
The trial was destined to become steeped in controversy and a veil of mystery has hung over the death of Maria Kirwan for the last 160 years. But now, at last, a forgotten medical paper has thrown light on what really happened on that fateful day.