"The Irish Highwayman"
as told in
"Tales from the West of Ireland"
by Sean Henry
The Irish highwaymen who lived mostly over the later half of the
eighteenth century may be regarded as a more commercialised version of the
Irish Rapparees. The Rapparees were mainly dispossessed landowners who had
to make way for a newer set of Crown favourites and adventurers. This
forced the dispossessed landowners to take to the woods and hills with as
many followers as they could muster and wreak vengeance on the new set of
landlords and other landowners. The Rapparees in their campaign against
the new set of Planters and the English Crown flourished mainly from the
collapse of the 1641 rebellion to the middle of the eighteenth century.
The highwaymen who followed them could be called more proletarian in
origin and outlook. Many of them had gained a knowledge of firearms
through membership at one time or association with English military or
militia units. Some highwaymen carried out raids and holdups of mail
coaches singly while other operated with a small band of followers rarely
exceeding half a dozen. To the latter category belonged Captain Gallagher,
the famous highwayman. He was a native of Bonniconlon but spent part of
his youthful days with an aunt in the townland of Derryronane, Swinford,
near the wood of Barnalyra.
When he decided on a freebooting career he picked three or four
companions. Equipped with fast horses and the erratic blunderbusses of the
period, they ranged over all east Mayo and parts of south Sligo and west
Roscommon. In addition to the holding up and robbing of the mail coaches,
they raided the houses of landlords and other wealthy people.
On one occasion, they raided the home of a particularly hated landlord in
Killasser, and in addition to seizing all his silver and other valuables,
they compelled him to chew up and swallow eviction notices he had prepared
for half a dozen of his tenants. After some narrow escapes from the
English soldiers, Captain Gallagherís luck finally ran out. He was
spending a quiet Christmas recovering from illness in a friendís house
in the parish of Coolcarney or Attymass among the foothills of the Ox
Mountains. A jealous neighbour of his host, a man whom Captain Gallagher
had formerly helped, sent a message to the commanding officer of the
Redcoats in Foxford that Captain Gallagher was staying in a house beside
his in Attymass.
The officer sent messages to the military stationed in Ballina, Castlebar
and Swinford for assistance before attempting the capture. With a force of
nearly two hundred men, the Redcoats surrounded the house. Being ill and
in order to save his host and his family, the highwayman surrendered with
out resistance. He was rushed to Foxford and after a hasty sham trial was
sentenced to be hanged and taken to Castlebar to have the sentence carried
out. Questioned before mounting the scaffold, the Captain asserted that
all his treasure was hidden under a rock in Barnalyra. Hearing this, the
officer in charge hastily carried out the execution and then dashed
towards the wood of Barnalyra with a hand-picked squad of cavalry.
Doubtless, visions of new-found wealth or rewards from the Crown helped to
hurry them on. When they reached Barnalyra they found to their dismay not
the few rocks they had visioned but countless thousands of rocks of all
shapes and sizes. After some daysí search, all they found was a
Possibly the puzzle about the location of Captain Gallagherís treasure
may never be solved. Some people believe that his confession was made in
the hope that he would be taken to Barnalyra to point out the rock in
question. He knew that his companions were staying in a hideout on the
Derryronane-Curryane border close to the wood and he may have had hopes of
a rescue attempt by them.