By Ita Marguet
A wealth of historical and other literature abounds about the life and daring exploits of highwaymen through the earlier centuries who are immortalised as gentlemen, brigands, robbers.
They rode on horseback across hills and valleys, or hid in thick heath and woodland, with the protection of sympathisers rich or poor. Most would eventually be captured and die a brutal death by bayonet, pistol or execution, many of whom are long forgotten.
The more famous have become the subject of legend in stories, films, theatrical and other forms of entertainment that include music and ballads from their local and far off lands where the ‘good men’ lived and died. Their common cause was … a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against oppression.
Famous and lasting poems and ballads about the highwaymen were written and said to be sold on the occasion of a famous robber’s execution. ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ and ‘The Newry Highwayman’ are among many within the oral tradition of England and Ireland that continue to be rendered in original or in re-arranged form.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, Ireland’s acts of robbery were part of a tradition of Irish resistance to British authority and the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. From mid-seventeenth century they were known as ‘tories’, translated from an Irish word for raider.