Inquest in 158 Church Street After Unexpected Courtship Tragedy, 1858

From the Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 25 December 1858:


On Sunday night last one of the most distressing melancholy accidents that could well occur took place by which a respectable young man of the name of Michael Murphy, son of Mr Laurence Murphy, Ironmonger, of Church Street lost his life.  The deceased, who bore a very high character, was betrothed to a young lady named Mary Lawler, residing at Buckingham Street, and was to have been married within a month.  

Yesterday evening the deceased called to the house of Miss Lawler, where he took tea in company with his intended wife, her grandmother, uncle and aunt, with whom she resided.  After tea Miss Lawler, seeing the night so bright and fine, proposed a walk, to which the deceased consented, and the happy pair left Buckingham street at a quarter to seven.  It was agreed that they should walk to Sandymount, but they changed their mind and turned down the right side of the canal leading to the railway.  

They had not proceeded far when Mr Murphy observed that the passage was very muddy, and for the purpose of preventing Miss Lawler’s dress being spoiled he led her over to a portion of the road near the edge of the quay where the mud was not so deep.  In doing so his foot slipped and he was precipitated into the water.  On his rising to the surface, Miss Lawler threw him an end of the jacket which she wore, and called out loudly for assistance, but before a helping hand could be extended to the drowning man he perished in the presence of the distracted woman on the quay.  

Fortunately, a man came up in time or Miss Lawler would have thrown herself into the water, as she appeared almost entirely bereft of reason on hearing that her lover was drowned.  She was taken by force from the scene of the sad calamity to the station house, where she remained until the arrival of her relatives and those of the deceased, and when they came nothing could exceed the distressing character of the scene which ensued.   Miss Lawler, who was elegantly dressed, was an extremely prepossessing young person.”

The business carried on by the deceased’s father at 158 Church Street was known as the Eagle Ironworks, not to be confused with the Eagle Foundry located close by.  Specialising in highly ornamental gates and garden furniture, the Ironworks had been located in Church Street since the 1830s, on a site now occupied by Law Library premises.

The Murphy family lived on the premises, with the subsequent inquest into Michael’s death also taking place on what is now the Law Library site.  A bereaved Miss Lawler, too upset to give evidence, waited in an adjacent room as Mr Richard Eden, bookbinder, told the jury that on the night in question he had heard screams from the edge of the Ringsend Basin and saw Ms Lawler on the bank, she had to be kept by the wrist and held fast to stop her from throwing herself in; she told him that Mr Murphy had tripped on a stone and fallen in while showing her the way to follow him along the brink.   A hat was floating in the water but there was no sign of the deceased.

Mr Connolly, uncle of Miss Lawlor, gave evidence that, when he heard of the accident, he went immediately to the Basin, and saw a woman there, who said that she had been on the footpath at the corner of the Basin with two sailors, when she heard a scream; she had not seen Mr Murphy falling into the water.  Mr Connolly judged this woman to be improper, and suggested that it might have been to avoid his betrothed coming in contact with such a person that Mr Murphy had selected the mode of walking within the margin of the Basin.   

Following further evidence from Surgeon G Porter, who had examined the body of the deceased, that death had been due to simple drowning, the jury returned a verdict confirming this and expressing the opinion that the large quantity of loose stones recently left on the edge of the Basin was the immediate cause of the melancholy accident. 

It appears from the description above that Mr Murphy met his tragic end in the southern half of what is now known as the Grand Canal Basin (first image above).

A bereaved Laurence Murphy continued to carry on business in 158 Church Street until his death in the late 1870s, with the business being sold not long after.  Possibly if Michael Murphy had survived, things might be different for the Eagle Ironworks – and indeed for poor Miss Lawler, for whom the Christmas of 1858 must have been a sorry one.  I hope things improved for her in 1859!

If something like this this were to happen today, I suspect that the current denizens of 158/9 Church Street would have plenty of advice to give regarding the negligent maintenance of the Basin!

Image Credits: (1)(2)(3)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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