Death of Wolfe Tone

Justin McCarthy
Chapter IX | Start of Chapter

A curious question of law arose out of Tone's trial. John Philpot Curran, the great Irish advocate and orator, made a motion in the Court of King's Bench to the effect that Tone had been illegally tried by a court-martial; that as he was not in the English army, and as the Civil Courts of Law were then all sitting in Ireland and free to do their work, the interference of martial law was absolutely illegal. Curran's motion was made before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, a man of the highest legal position, and absolutely devoted to a just interpretation of the law. Lord Kilwarden ruled in favour of Curran's motion, and ordered that Tone should be removed from the custody of the military tribunal and put on trial before the ordinary criminal court. While the contention between the civil and military authorities was still going on, the life of Wolfe Tone came to an end. Tone could not make up his mind to endure the disgrace of execution on the gallows as if he were a thief or a murderer. He found means to open a vein in his arm, and before a surgeon could be called in he had lost so much blood that he was beyond the help of surgical skill. The legal question had not yet been settled, and the sentence of the court-martial could not, therefore, be executed on the dying man. Tone lingered for a few days and then died. Edward Fitzgerald was already dead. He had been captured in Dublin, where he was seeking a refuge after the failure of some of the risings on Irish soil, and he fought hard for his life, wounding some of his captors and receiving a bullet wound, from which he died a few days after in the prison to which he had been carried.