On hearing from all witnesses it was clear to the judge, Baron Lefroy, that the evidence against Rev Burke was weak. It was clear that it all steamed from the hate campaign against William John Burke for changing his religion. The witnesses were local people, who bore a grudge against him and would go to lengths to see his downfall. It came out in the court that the apothecary rented land from a one of the men, who reported the ‘felony’ to the police.
According to the apothecary “There was a report that something unfair had taken place, and I believe there was a with on the part of the people to have the matter investigated.” He said a lot more besides that could have carried a fate worse than transportation if the authorities had decided to investigate it. But they did not even consider it even if the press reported upon it in a callous manner.
His representative rested his case: “Now, my lord, that [the apothecary did not take an oath to keep the birth a secret] being the case I respectfully call upon your lordship to direct an acquittal. there has been no oath, much less evidence, of its having been tendered.”
According to the judge” As the prisoner did not actually tender the oath after producing the book, the offense, in law, cannot be sustained, and I must direct a verdict of acquittal”
The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”
Even though he walked away from the Assizes acquitted of his crime he was far from freeman. The story reached a wider audience and was reported on nationally and in England too. The press made a sensation of the case and some of the headlines printed about it are best not mentioned.
Rev Burke and his family had no choice but to leave his hometown and take refuge in the church missions, one of these was at Dugort on Achill Island where he and his family arrived following year.
The Rev. William J. Burke, an ex-priest of the Church of Rome, and for some months under the care of the Priests’ Protection Society for Ireland, has entered on the important duties of his appointment in the church at Achill Island.
Rev Burke did not live on Achill for long but it was enough to create the link that would draw his daughter Emily there six decades later…
Freeman’s Journal 03 August 1844. p3
20 December 1845 – Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent – Dublin