Monthly Archives: March 2018


Dr Burke cut a sorrowful figure when he appeared in the dock for his trial. As the newspaper article below states he had suffered terribly since the horrific death of his daughter. Emily’s brother stood accused of the murder of his daughter, Aileen aged only eight and his own attempted suicide, a crime at the time and remained so until 1961.

“From the middle of the 18th Century to the mid-20th Century there was growing tolerance and a softening of public attitudes towards suicide which was a reflection of, among other things, the secularisation of society and the emergence of the medical profession,” says Dr Wright, co-author of Histories of suicide: International perspectives on self-destruction in the modern world.

The Judge Mr. Williams who precised over the trial took the above more sympathetic attitude. It was bad enough that Dr. Burke delivered the shot that would leave his young daughter dead. From a modern point of view the man was not in his right mind, further evidence would prove so, but at that time it was not fully understood, although it was perceived to a degree.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 26 March 1888

The Trial of Dr. Burke commences

A view of the town of Barnsley in the time of Dr. Burke

On March 27th 1888 the trial of Emily’s brother William, for the murder of his daughter  commences. Dr. Burke who was deemed medically fit for trial is taken to court in Barnsley. Far from fit he really was. Recovered from danger he may have been but mentally he was not really in any state to stand trial, but it was Victorian times and mental health was not considered then. Nonetheless he was brought to the the courthouse where outside a less than supportive crowd had gathered….

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 26 March 1888
Western Daily Press 27 March 1888
Illustrated London News 07 March 1857

Dr. Burke’s College Days in Galway

William Henry Emeris Burke attended Queen’s College, Galway as a medical student from 1863 to 65. At the time the College was less than 20 years in existence and medical studies had just been introduced.


William excelled  academically, was a talented musician and played cricket too. He had one disadvantage his father, Rev. Burke had not the means to finance his education. The Reverend had just married his second wife, Emily’s mother. She was financially independent after inheriting  from her late mother and brother, but that was tied up in land in Canada. She was also expecting her first child and in a poor position to help with her stepsons education. Luckily there were scholarships to help students that had a promising future, of which William Burke was one.

The Evening Freeman. 03 October 1863
The Evening Freeman. 22 September 1863
Tuam Herald 10 September 1864

St. Patrick’s Day 100 Years Ago

St. Patrick’s day 1918 fell on a Sunday, it was still war time, so the celebrations were kept to a minimum. The official holiday was only fifteen years in existence, since it started in 1903. Drinking alcohol was allowed on St. Patrick’s Day in 1918, it was banned in 1927 till the 1970’s when the population was again free to indulge in “the drowning of the shamrock”.

Some prominent people were against drinking on the holiday, including Countess Markievicz who was opposed to drinking, as she put it:

“I do not see why rich people should not be kept off their drink as well as poor”.

James O’Mara the Irish MP, in Westminster, who introduced the bill later opposed any drunken revelry, citing that it was “a direct insult to the Saint”. The Gaelic League were pro preserving the day as a dry holiday too.

The holiday went ahead on Achill, where it was celebrated since 1882:

“When the local clergy called for a special effort to be made on Saint Patrick’s Day 1882 to celebrate fourteen and a half centuries of the arrival in Ireland of Saint Patrick 432 A. D. the Dooagh musicians and their members from Keel decided to parade to Mass at Dookinella, the only church in Lower Achill. The people who normally walked to Dookinella anyway, paraded behind the Band. The first Parade was such a success that the custom has continued ever since.”

More fact about St. Patrick’s Day

Weekly Freeman’s Journal 16 March 1918
As Time Marches On; A Brief History of Dooagh Pipe Band 1882-1982, J.J. McNamara & J. McNamara N. T.

Richard Burke’s health declines

!2 March 1888 was the last meeting attended by Richard McArthur Burke at Lodge 44, the Clonmel branch of the Freemasons. He was at the level of an officer, only having joined the organisation over a year before in January 1887. He was only twenty one years old at the time.

Emily elder brother Richard, diligently attended meetings at the Lodge on a regular basis, but over the previous months. His health had began to decline. He was in the early stages of Kidney failure. At the time it was called Bright’s Disease. Historically it was a difficult disease to cure, the table below displays the many ways that the illness was treated, one remedy more harsh than the next. Many succumbed to the disease, one famous victim was the poet Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886, just two years before Richard Burke.

Bright’s Disease (Bright s disease/ Bright’s) – Any of several forms of disease of the kidney attended with albumin in the urine, including especially acute and chronic non-suppurative nephritis. See chronic nephritis.

The treatment for Bright’s at the time was primitive, sometimes harsh and mostly unpleasant consisting of the methods below:

  • Warm baths
  • Dietary changes (e.g. avoidance of alcohol, cheese and red meat)
  • Herbs with diuretic properties
  • Blood-letting
  • Squill
  • Digitalis
  • Mercury
  • Opium
  • Laxatives


Diagram of a kidney with Bright’s Disease. Wellcome Museum

“Bright’s disease is a historical term that is not currently in use. It referred to a group of kidney diseases – in modern medicine, the condition is described as acute or chronic nephritis.” ()

Emily’s brother Richard, may have inherited the disease from their mother, who died of similar illness five years earlier. She was only 56, relatively young even for the times. His grandfather, whom he was called after Richard McArthur also died  young, perhaps of the same disease. It was in the 1820’s long before civil registration, and  still in the days that people just died of death. There was one indication in his death announcement in the papers;

“At Rathmines, where he had removed for the benefit of his health, Mr. Richard M’Arthur, of Ardglass, formerly of Dublin.”

The sad business with their half-brother William Henry Burke, who was still in hospital in Barnsley, until his health improved sufficiently, till he could stand trial for the murder of his daughter. The trauma of the sad situation could not have been easy for his brothers and sisters in Ireland.


Freemasons Archives, Dublin’s_disease;_the_kidney_Wellcome_L0019826.jpg
Thanks to Dublin Freemason