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The Palmerstown Murder Execution

On the morning of Saturday 10 June 1865, 40 year old farm labourer Patrick Kilkenny arrived at the police station at Beresford Place...

Death warrant in the case of the Queen against Patrick Kilkenny, County of Dublin, 1865.

The case of Patrick Kilkenny, who was publicly hanged in the front yard of Kilmainham Gaol on 20 July 1865, is a real life crime of passion that received a Victorian punishment.

On the morning of Saturday 10 June 1865, 40 year old farm labourer Patrick Kilkenny arrived at the police station at Beresford Place, Dublin City to confess to the murder of 26 year old Margaret Farquhar from County Meath the previous evening at Palmerstown in the city. After a short search, the police found Margaret’s body in a ditch, face down in the water and covered with grass and weeds. It appears Patrick and Margaret had had a courtship of sorts over a number of years. Just days previously Margaret had received a letter from an ex-suitor, an Englishman who had emigrated to America for a new life and was now offering her marriage. Patrick, on hearing the news, strangled and drowned her in a roadside ditch, then sat by her body before handing himself in to the police the next day.

On 19 June, coming up to Kilkenny’s trial, The Irish Times expressed its suspicion that it was insanity, rather than jealousy, that caused Kilkenny to commit murder. It urged careful consideration of the case to avoid the execution of a man for a murder similar to two recent incidents where the accused, both of a higher social class than Kilkenny, did not receive the death penalty.

The jury found Kilkenny guilty of murder, but despite their call for mercy, Judge Baron Deasy passed the death penalty with the statement ‘Actuated apparently by the passion of jealousy, you struck down to death that unfortunate young girl that was the object of your love. For that, through that passion, two lives are sacrificed’. On 20 July 1865, Kilkenny became the first man to be hanged in Dublin since 1842. The 1842 execution reportedly drew a crowd of 20,000 people and Kilkenny’s execution, which took place on the drop-platform balcony over the main entrance to the gaol, also attracted a large crowd of spectators. The Freemans Journal reported ‘vast crowds continued to pour from all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs from an early hour this morning and take up their positions in front of the jail or wherever a good view could be obtained of the place where the dread sentence of the outraged law would be carried out’.

The paper questioned the practice of public hanging by asking what comfort it could give the family of Margaret Farquhar. The novelty of an execution, it continued, provided ‘an unusual interest for numbers of that idle and degraded class’. One hour after the hanging, Patrick Kilkenny’s body was cut down and interred in the grounds of Kilmainham Gaol.

Three years later the Capital Punishment Amendment Act was passed, which required all executions to be carried out within the walls of the prison in which the prisoner was interned. This Act ended public executions in the United Kingdom. Capital punishment continued, although now within the walls of the prison. Capital punishment remained common even after the formation of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland. The last hanging in the Republic took place in 1954 and in Northern Ireland in 1961.