Collier the Robber
The Life and Times of Collier the Robber
This description of the life of "Collier the Robber" was copied by Enda O' Boyle, Endevere, Duleek, from an account given to him by Patrick L. Cooney, Solicitor, Lawrence Street, Drogheda, 20th February 1970. Patrick Cooney was born about 1900 and died in the late 1970s. Collier spent some time in Navan at Tubberorum the lane off Ludlow Street between O'Reilly, Solicitors and McGrane, Butchers.
The subject of these memoirs, who in his day attained to the unenviable celebrity as the most determined and successful highwayman produced for centuries in Ireland and the only one of his species who escaped the executioner of the law, was according to his own account born at the Hill of Bellewstown in the year 1780. His father was a small farmer, and Michael, his eldest son was sent out as a farm servant at an age when he ought to have been at school, namely at the age of thirteen years. His first master was a Mr. Murtagh who resided on land adjoining Pilltown.How long he continued in this employment is uncertain. As the disposition of the boy generally shadows forth the character of the man,
it is stated that Collier, in his youth showed a desire to be a leader of his juvenile associates in all their rural sports, such as football, wakes, patterns and hurling matches. Indeed his strength and activity particularly suited him to excel at these amusements.
After leaving Murtagh's employment, he travelled in the capacity of a carman to and from Dublin and Drogheda. It is stated that when thus engaged, he discovered an early prediliction for other person's property by appropriating sundry duck, geese and other fowl to his own use. He afterward came to reside in Drogheda and obtained employment with a Mr. Farrell, who at that period carried on an extensive foundrey and iron works. Collier, being inclined for company indulged in dissapation and soon became acquainted with the numerous dishonest characters who then abounded in Drogheda ( as well as all the large towns and cities of the Empire ) carrying on in a systematic mode of plunder, which rendered it unsafe for persons of property to travel the highways.
Introduced into the society of such characters, Collier soon became acquainted with a mode of procuring supplies of money, which in amount far surpassed what could otherwise be obtained by honest labour. Whether he joined in any of their petty robberies is not certain. He affirmed himself that he did not take part in their plundering acts. Had he done so he would not have denied it.
Patrick Cooney who gave this account was indebted to a solicitor in Drogheda for the following account of Collier's first serious offence against the laws of his country.
Michael Collier, the once notorious highwayman, came to my office in 1849, for professional advice respecting a charge of bigamy to which he feared he was liable. His first wife, whom he married about thirty five or thirty eight years previously, was at the time in the Drogheda Poor House; and it seems notwithstanding, he had married a widow in the town of Navan, who kept a public house. Whether the whiskey afforded too strong a temptation for Collier or his drafts on her resources were too often repeated, I cannot recollect, but a quarrel arose between them, and Collier came to Drogheda to get some documents signed by his first wife, that would tend to shield him from any proceedings that might be instituted against him by his " new love ".
Collier was then a dauntless and powerful man, exhibiting all the marks of great muscular powers. Though it was evident that his best days had passed away, he seemed like an oak tree that braved the storm and stood the shock of time, defiant as ever. He was upwards of six feet high and nearly fourteen stone weight, extremely broad in shoulders and made proportionately. It was the first time that I had spoken to him, and I found him of a communicatice disposition, relating his adventures as if they were matters of history, for which he could by no reason be now made amenable to justice.
He was desirous to find out what was the first step he made into that series of crimes which tended to make his name so great a terror; he informed me that it was a woman caused all his trouble and led him first to violate the law. He was taken up with a young woman of whom he was extremely fond. She had however very bad connections, her father and three brothers being professional theives. Having stolen a horse and being arrested for the felony, they sent her to Collier in order to obtain his assistance in regaining their liberty. Urged by her entreaties, he could not refuse; having accompanied her to a public house where the parties, and their escorts were resting on their way to Trim Jail, Collier liberally treated the Constables to drink.
Having conveyed files to the prisoners, in order that they might free themselves from their hand cuffs, and the Constables having become intoxicated, they were easily overcome and the prisoners rescued. He had after this to take to the hills, and in a short time he stated that he was enabled, by the booty taken by him to live like a prince. He related with great bitterness how this very woman afterwards deceived him by going off with another.
Arrest and Escape from Jail
Returning to Bellewstown, he gave some of the spoil to a man named Murphy, who shortly afterwards purchased some blood horses from a Mr. Barry ( one of which Collier appropriated to his own use ), giving that gentleman a cheque on Messrs. Lateuche's Bank. On Mr. Barry's arrival in Dublin, he presented the cheques at the firm's office; they were detained as a portion of the money was robbed from the mail a few nights previously. The station of Mr. Barry in society being so well known, that gentleman was requested to tell from whom he received them (the cheques ). He immediately replied, from one Murphy. Murphy, who in his turn being interrogated, stated that he had got them from Collier, whom he did not know at the time, in order to purchases horses for it. Thus was the robbery traced to Collier, who deeming from Murphy's representations that Mr. Barry had betrayed him, vowed vengeance against that gentleman. In some time after, Mr. Barry was proceeding to the Fair of Drogheda, to purchase cattle, as was his wont, when Collier, who knew of his destination, determined to lie in wait for him.That gentleman soon passed where Collier lay concealed, and stepping forth upbraided him for having informed, asserting that it had been Murphy who had been the direct means of bringing the robbery home to him. Collier, ( who as we stated before was an ignorant, headstrong man ), got into a violent passion, and with many threats compelled Mr. Barry to deliver up a very large sum of money. Mr. Barry rode into Drogheda, considerably lightened in pocket; but rather burdened in mind, as his loss was very heavy. However, he deemed himself fortunate having escaped without experiencing personal violence.
We now come to an epoch in our hero's life, which had well nigh cut short his career, and left his destiny to be decided by the Trim hangman. Having been engaged with his father in law and some others in stealing cattle, and the theft having been traced to him, the authorities were on the alert. He took refuge in the house of a man named Byrne (a publican ) at Greenhills near Gormanstown. Information was given, it is asserted by Byrne, to one of the most active of his pursuers, Lord Gormanstown, when that nobleman with the yoemanry and constabulary surrounded the house, and the man who had so often escaped was at length caught in the toils of the law. He was heavily ironed and sent under strong escort to Trim Jail.The intelligence of his capture spread with rapidity. The monied classes who suffered materially from his depredations were exceedingly rejoiced, while the peasantry and poorer classes lamented his fate, so generally was he respected by them for his forebearance and generosity, as he disdained to rob the poor or industrious man.
His trial shortly after took place, and the facts of the robbery having been clearly proven, the jury, without hesitation, found him guilty. Sentence of death was passed upon him, and from the number and enormity of his crimes,there seemed to be no hope that his life might be spared. Indeed in those days cattle stealing was visited with capital punishment. Judge and jurors appeared to be perfectly unconcerned about the lives of the wretched creatures who were tried before them. Crimes arising out of poverty or ignorance were as cruelly punished as those committed from depravity. There was no line of demarcation drawn, no attempt at reformation, transportation and hanging being the order of the day.
Collier together with other unfortunates doomed to death, was conducted back to jail heavily ironed.In order to further secure so noted an offender, he was placed in a strong cell in the old Trim Jail. As the day of his execution approached Collier appeared resigned to his fate as to lull all suspicions of his attempt to escape. Having obtained a file on the night previous to the day appointed for his execution, he freed himself from his bolts, tearing up bed clothes into strips, he joined them together so as to form a strong coil of rope capable of sustaining his weight. Having tested them, he next proceeded to remove the bars from the windows of his cell, which having been accomplished, he secured the rope to one of them, which he had allowed to remain for that purpose, and commenced his perilous descent, which he most successfully accomplished. He then plunged into the River Boyne, which was contigous to the jail, and swam across to the other side.
The sentry having been alerted, hearing the plunge into the water, fired in that direction, but without effect, as Collier succeeded in gaining the oposite shore. Here he was met by some friends with a change of clothing and he sought a place of safety from that pursuit which was sure to be instituted. The daring manner in which the bandit had broken open his prison filled the minds of the people with wonder and astonishment, and the peasantry now looked upon him as a prodigy.
He directed his steps towards the metropolis where he concealed himself for a while, but being pressed for cash he could not remain idle. On the Kingstown Road (now Dun Laoghaire) he met a wealthy and respectable member of the Society of Friends, and demanded his money from him. This gentleman remonstrated with him on the sinful course of life he was leading, offered him a few pounds to relieve his necessities. This he refused, and drawing forth his pistol ordered him to desist from preaching and to hand out his purse. Then he robbed him of a considerable sum of money in bank notes, which he exchanged for gold with one of those receivers of stolen property, who abound in all large cities. He determined to proceed to Belfast and attired as a comfortable farmer, took his seat on the night mail, and arrived in that town without hindrance or molestation. It is stated that he robbed the bank of that town of a considerable amount. Having sent a lad into the office to see if there were any persons in it, and then being informed that there were not, he entered, placed a pistol to the cashiers head, demanding a certain sum of money. The cashier being taken by surprise, complied while the other clerks were so dumfounded at the daring act, that they remained as they were, spellbound. Collier then departed, swearing that he would turn back and shoot the first man who attempted to give any alarm. From Belfast he proceeded to Scotland where he entered on a wild and dissipated career, forming a connection, some say a marriage, with a woman in Glasgow. He also enlisted in an infantry regiment, and having obtained the bounty, deserted. After some months spent roving about Scotland, he again revisited Ireland and resided in the neighbourhood of Newry. Whilst there he evinced his cunning and ingenuity by outwitting the Excise Officer in the following manner.
Dressed as a mountaineer he entered the house of the Excise Officer, and informed that worthy that illicit distillation was being carried on in the Mountains of Mourne.The heart of the guardian of the Revenue bounded with joy. A prize, a veritable prize was within his reach and a good sum was already, in imagination, the reward of his activity. He treated the welcome informant to an excellent dinner, and some punch manufactured out of that contraband spirits which he so eagerly prohibited as ruinous to the Revenue. Having by sundry cross questions convinced himself of the truth of Collier's information, he called out a party of horse, then stationed in the town, and preceded by the " informer " directed his course to the mountains. As they neared their destination Collier informed the Excise Man that on arrival at the mountains he would furnish him with another guide and proceed himself to the place where the still was at work, in order that his absence might not create suspicion, adding " the ruffians will never threaten me again ", and clenching his hands with seeming passion exclaimed " I'll now have my revenge."
A lad came up to the party whom Collier told the Excise Officer was to be their guide, and it becoming necessary for the soldiers to dismount in order to proceed up the mountains, they left their horses in the care of one of their number until their return. In the meantime Collier separated from them, taking what seemed a circuitous route he had pointed out. However no sooner were they out of sight than by a detour route he returned to where the horses were stationed, and having been joined by another freebooter, who lay concealed for that purpose, they steathily approached the unsuspecting sentry, and easily disarmed him, afterwards binding his arms and gagging him. They then removed the military accoutrements, tied the horses together with halters, and mounting one each they rode towards County Monaghan, where they disposed of them to horse dealers.
The Excise Officer and soldiers wandered through the mountains without discovering either horseor still. The boy whom Collier had left as a guide, being an idiot, strutted before his military followers, elated that for once in his life he was a "Captain " ( the soubriquet he was known by ) of real soldiers. Weary and disappointed the party returned to the place where they had left their horses. Their consternation and rage was unbounded, when they found the sentry tied and their horses gone, and with a heavy heart the Excise Officer returned to Newry. For many years the rumour of this robbery afforded his friends a fund of merriment, and frequently he hoped that Collier might get his deserts; the gallows.
Robs the Derry Mail
Again forced to replenish his purse, he planned the robbery of the Derry mail on its way northward. For this purpose he summoned his gang about him, who were scattered about the country doing an extensive business to their own account. The summons was obeyed with alacrity. The appointed night having arrived, his gang as on former occasions, barricaded the road with carts, cars, barrels, ladders, so as to render the road impassible to the coach. he stationed his gang on either side of the barricades. There were no lady passengers on the coach that night. The guards and gentlemen aware of the cause of the obstruction prepared for defence. Collier and his gang fired over the coach in order to intimidate the guard and passengers, but without effect. Collier then sent two of his gang forward to demand the passenger's money. One of them was shot dead by the guard and the other severly wounded. This enraged Collier, who ordered his gang to fire. The coach was immediately riddled with balls but fortunately no lives were lost.
Collier and his gang then sallied forth and surrounded the coach dragging the guards and driver from their seats. They then proceded to rifle the mail bags and passengers, which they had scarcely accomplished when the sound of approaching wheels startled them, and imagining that they had been betrayed, they made a precipitate retreat, leaving the body of the robber behind them.
The noise which thus affrighted them was occasioned by a market cart returning to Dublin. The next day the body of the dead robber was conveyed on a cart to Drogheda, and left lying in the Tholsel, in order if possible, that it might be identified. It was afterwards buried by a man named Murphy on the Rampart and lime slaked thereon.
Bills offering a large reward were posted on the Tholsel for Collier's apprehension, or for information of him or his gang. Yet such was the daring of the man that in a few nights afterwards he came into Drogheda and remained for several nights in the house of a man named Daly, who resided near St. Mary's Church, and although seen by many persons, he was not apprehended.
In a few mornings after, under the influence of ardent spirits, mounted on an excellent hunter, carrying in his hands a pole to which he fastened a handkerchief, and rode through the Town of Drogheda, crying out to the nightly watch who were on their stand " Where is the man who dare arrest Collier".
So rapid his flight, and so fleet the animal that he rode, that in a few minutes he rode over the bridge, through Shop Street, West Street and on by the Northern Road, without experiencing the slightest molestation, causing the watchmen to stare with astonishment at the strange apparition as they had barely time to recognise the bold outlaw ere he passed from their view.
In less than a fortnight after the robbery of the Derry Mail, and as the authorities were anxiously awaiting his apprehension, and the reward increased to stimulate the exertions of the Constabulary, he had the daring hardihood to rob the Belfast up mail in the vicinity of Dunleer, of a considerable sum. This daring act roused even the government to adopt means to have him arrested and orders arrived in Drogheda to have Mr. Armstrong and the regiment of Black Belts stationed there to scour the adjoining counties in pusuit of him.
Collier who was still lying in close quarters in the neighbourhood of Dunleer,finding one morning that Mr. Armstrong had traced him to his hiding place, and that in a few minutes more he would be surrounded like an old fox, broke cover and made towards Drogheda followed by his pursuers.
Collier was too old a stager to take the road, and he accordingly crossed the country making towards the River Boyne. Mr. Armstrong who was mounted kept him in view. However through the instrumentality of a long ash pole which Collier carried, he was enabled to clear hedges, drains and double ditches impossible for any horse to go.
In consequence of this manoeuvre on the part of Collier, Mr. Armstrong who was the foremost of his pursuers, was compelled to take a devious course, and seek out for gates and gaps in order to follow his route. Onward in this manner bounded the active outlaw, increasing at every stride the distance he had obtained at first starting, and after a hard run of an hour and a half, he arrived greatly fatigued in a field near Oldbridge, where several persons were employed in a field digging potatoes. He addressed them and said " Boys will you save me from the soldiers, they are hard on my track and I am nearly exhausted." They cheerfully complied when with that presence of mind which saved him on this as on so many other occasions, he called for one of the potato sacks, which having entered he desired them to place him in one of the furrows.
"Never " said Collier, relating this escape, " did I experience such sensations of fear. I heard the sound of approaching men, and the regular tramp of soldiers caused me to tremble. My fate was in the hands of ten or twelve persons, a large reward was offered for my apprehension, a reward that would have made them all rich for life. A nod, even a motion of the hand to indicate the place I lay concealed would have been enough to have ensured my capture by the crafty man who led the pusuit."
Shortly after Collier had been concealed in this hiding place Mr. Armstrong arrived in the field, followed at a distance by his detachment, and demanded of the labourers " Have you seen a man running in that direction". One of them answered that a man such as Mr. Armstrong had described, had half an hour before passed down towards Townley Hall at a rapid rate and was now a good way ahead.
On, in the direction pointed out Mr. Armstrong led his men, and so immenent was Collier's danger that the party as they were leaving the field actually walked past where he lay concealed. No sooner had the danger passed away than Collier sent into Drogheda for whiskey and other refreshments, treating them most generously. He after divided money amongst them, making it the best days work they had ever performed.
Such an act, although we cannot sympathise with the crimes of the outlaw, or support the doctrine of shielding criminals from the authorities, reflects credit on their generous and disinterested feelings, which is so distinguished a trait of the national character. To those in distress or who appeal to them for protection, the Irish peasantry are for ever true.
In Collier they did not recognise either a murderer or a great criminal. They thought only of his daring on many occasions. They remembered his generosity to hundreds whom he had saved from destitution and beggary, and despising gold, they offered him that safety which he had sought from then.
He afterwards crossed the Boyne in a curragh, a small boat made of rods and skins, and entered into County Meath. From thence to Byrne's at Greenhills, and notwithstanding his former capture, it is affirmed from the treachery of Byrne, he still continued to make it a place of rendevous. A few days after that he stated that being in a state of total innocency he was lying in a meadow on the roadside when a party of dragoons who were scouring the country in search of him, were riding down the road, headed by a magistrate whom Collier had robbed, and who on that account was very much interested in his capture.
An old beggar woman who was often indebted to Collier's charity for her own and childrens support, seeing the danger, aroused him demanding " if he wished him to be taken by the solgers." Aroused to a sense of his danger he sprang forward followed by the Dragoons. But so sudden was his disappearance that they lost all track of him, as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up. The country was familiar to him, every winding turn, quarry or dry well was mapped down in his brain with remarkable precision, so that in the darkest night he never made a mistake in even a bridal path he once trod, and this it was that rendered his escape so certain, at the time asthonishing and confounding his pursuers.
We again find him located at Bellewstown where on a December day, the hill covered with snow, and a cold piercing wind, accompanied by the falling drift sweeping over the surface, he was disturbed by the intelligence that Mr. Armstrong was on his track with a large party of soldiers and several mounted constables.
Nothing daunted at the intelligence, he cooly laid aside his pipe, secured his trusty pistols, and aware that his safety lay in crossing the country, he made for the seaside. Mr. Armstrong seeing that in the direction the bandit had taken, a horse would be useless in his pursuit, dismounted and being a man of vigorous frame, possessed of enduring courage, a most exciting race ensued. Onwards sped the competitors, each straining their verve to the utmost, one striving for liberty, life, the other for a large reward and the fame of having captured the most daring outlaw in the country.
The direction, as we stated before, taken by Collier was towards the sea, and nobly did he sustain his reputation for swiftness and endurance as he maintained his distance, notwithstanding several falls occasioned by the slippery state of the ground.
The village of Mornington was gained, and Mr. Armstrong's horse having been brought up fresh and vigorous, he deemed his capture certain. But little he calculated on the daring of the man he pursued, for Collier, breathless, after so long a race, the perspiration pouring down his body, boldly plunged into the almost frozen river, and swam across, the waters bubbling, boiling and foaming, storm lashed by the bitter gale which continued blowing. His pusuers astonished at the boldness of the act, remained gazing at the bold outlaw as he breasted the waves, now appearing on the surface and anon sinking under them as they rolled over him.
However he landed safely on the opposite shore, and proceeded to a public house, where having drank plentifully of ardent spirits as a specific against the cold, he wended his way to Briarly Hill, and arriving at Drogheda about twelve o' clock that night, sleeping in a house in Moore's Lane. Ere morning dawned he was on his way to Dunleer, from thence to Belfast.
Collier's career on the highway was now nearly ended. Having robbed a gentleman in the County Meath of his purse and watch, and having taken up his quarters at The Cock public house near Gormanstown, Mr. Armstrong and a party of Drogheda Constabulary proceded to arrest him.
Collier attempted to escape, when one of the party fired at and wounded him. He was then secured and placed on a jaunting car, between Mr. Armstrong and Stephen Strange, one of the two sergeants in the Constabulary of Drogheda. He was committed in custody to Trim Gaol, wher he was closely imprisoned.
At the ensuing Assizes, being found guilty, he was sentenced to seven years transportation, which on application to the Government, was commuted to allow him to enlist in one of the African or Indian Corps. This offer was gladly embraced by the outlaw.
It is affirmed by several that he gave private information of importance to the Government, which occasioned their not carrying out the sentence passed on him. But we are inclined to doubt this statement, as from the character of the man we are sure he would not betray others, even suppose he had become acquainted with information valuable to the Government.
However it is put forward by the gentleman from whose sketch, published in the Argus( a Drogheda newspaper ) we have already quoted a passage from, and no doubt he must have some authority for it. Yet we are at a loss to conjecture what information Collier could afford the Government of the day.
But his numerous and daring adventures became known to the men of the regiment, and he was looked upon with that kind of respect which courage and daring, no matter in what cause employed, is sure to command. In every company therefore, where joviality was the order of the day, was Collier to be found, the most joyous of the set, and the last as he affirmed, to flinch from the glass.
While stationed in one of the West Indian Islands, St. Domingo, we believe, his adventures on the highways of Ireland became the subject at the mess table between the officers. In consequence a bet was made between the captain of the company and a Lieutenant C..., so the story runs, that before a month would have elapsed Collier would have robbed the latter. The captain maintained that he would and the lieutenant that he would not accomplish it.
After the bet Lieutenant C... never went out of the barracks unless armed and seldom unattended. Days passed over and still the wager had not been won. On the contrary, Collier shunned every opportunity of meeting or recognising the officer.
The month had nearly expired and the bet seemed to have been forgotten or forfeited as no attempt was made to win it, yet did not the vigilance of the officer sleep. One evening a planter, one of those who out of hard toil of slaves, slavery then existed, had amassed a princely fortune, gave an entertainment to which as a matter of course the officers of the garrison were invited, and amongst the rest of the gentlemen who had made the bet.
The enjoyment of the evening, the bright eyes of the fair, with sweet sound of thrilling music,and the hospitality of the host banished all thought of Collier and the bet out of his head. Not so with Collier, his long wished for hour of action had arrived, and he determined to rob the gentleman as he returned from the party. For this purpose he stationed himself under the verandah of one of the houses leading to the officer's quarters, awaiting Lieutenant C...'s return.
One by one the officers sought their dwellings, either as satiety of pleasure or their own inclinations directed. Circumstances favoured Collier on this as on many other occasions. Lieutenant C... was engaged that evening in a very interesting flirtation with a beautiful Mulasstto whose dark eyes flashed forth a hundred attractions for the gallant son of Mars and caused him to remain after his brother officers had departed.
The light was just dawning in the east, with the glorious brilliancy of an Indian sky when he left the mansion, full of thoughts of his fair companion, and humming to himself an opera air, when he felt himself grasped as if in a vice, and heard the word " Deliver " sounded in his ear. In vain he endeavoured to free himself, the grasp was that of a giant and he was forced after an effectual struggle to allow Collier to take his purse.
Scarcely had Collier turned round a corner of the building when Lieutenant C... fired after him, but the bullet flew wide of the mark. In the morning Collier proceded to the headquarters of the captain who had made the bet and deposited the purse with him, in order that it might be returned to its owner.
This affair originating in a bet and not undertaken for dishonest motives, caused him to obtain a celebrity on the regiment without subjecting him to any punishment. As a matter of course he got a portion of the money thus won, and being ever of a prodigal disposition spent it freely with his companions.
Often he did deserve punishment and in those days the lash was applied for trivial offences, but with the exception of confinment, he was ever a privileged man, yet he was always attended punctually by his guards. He still however sighed for home, for the green fields of Erin and for his native place where he spent his early days and the prime of his manhood.
The peace of 1815 which pervaded Europe led to a reduction in the army and Collier obtained his discharge. Being forbidden to return to Ireland, he proceeded to America where he visited many cities, leading a roving kind of life. At length he arrived in South Carolina, where he became the manager and overseer of a plantation, in which situation he conducted himself with great humanity.
He alleged that he had purchased a farm of land in that state, and often received subscriptions in after life to proceed to America, but he always squandered the money thus collected. But to return to our immediate narative, he determined to return to Ireland, the object of his most ardent desires, and having taken shipping, he arrived in Dublin. From thence he came to Drogheda, but not to return to his former occupation, if that were ever possible, but to become a quiet member of society.
He opened a public house within a few miles of Ashbourne, in a house which he rented at a moderate sum from a man named McNally. From this step his friends endeavoured to persuade him, as from his love of company, they argued that it would lead him into habits of intoxication, and end in ruin. In this they were right. Collier's house was never empty, not a wayfayer tavelling on that road but made it a point to drink with the once bold outlaw, and his house was sought after
by the curious and lovers of celebrities.
The first year after his return home he had a tent on the hill of Bellewstown, during the races, with this inscription on it " Welcome home, Collier, from America". It was thronged to suffication, and an eye witness states that the amount of money received during these sports and the Patron of Oldbridge would have laid the foundation of any mans fortune.
But all was useless, his extravagence and an unfortunate attachment to a servant girl, involving him in embarrassements and he was once more driven on the world. Again did he endeavour to retrieve his affairs by dealing in horses. But his old habits returning to him in full force, he was compelled to give up this side of living also.
He now sought aid from those with whom he had deposited money, when on the road, but found that like the generality of mankind, they repulsed him with scorn. He divided his time between Drogheda and Navan, and to the last he was well received by the peasantry, who delighted to minister to his wants, and listen to his hair breath escapes. To a certain class of farmers also, he was a welcome guest, and he was often seen seated at their firesides with an anxious group of old and young around him, as the greatest man of his time.
Thus his life passed away, not however unchequered by the vicissitudes of time, as he was twice an inmate of Drogheda jail for debt. Still he was the same heedless, generous creature. Whenever he obtained money he squandered it with reckless indifference, as it appeared that either he did not know its value or else he could not conquer his former habits of dissipation.
The longest life will have an end, and the strongest constitution fail under the accumulated ills attendant on old age, and so it was with Collier, his herculean frame began to decline, and he seemed to all appearance to be fast verging on that bourne from whence no traveller returns. As was his constant habit for many years, in the month of August he came into Drogheda to attend the Bellewstown Races, where his popularity was so great that he was a welcome guest at all parties who felt proud to be drinking with the bold outlaw, and he was treated to plenty of the " native ".
His attachment to Bellewstown may have been fostered and kept alive in his breast in remembrance of his former days when he trod the soil with his band of trusty followers.A remarkable instance of the turn of fortune's wheel occured to him at those sports. Being somewhat intoxicated, he entered the tent of a man whom in the days of his power he had befriended, and was immediately ordered out. On his hesitation to do so, he was rudely pushed forth. This insult, inebriated as he was, called forth the indignation of the veteran highwayman, and he exclaimed that such was the treatment he deserved for his former kindness and generosity to the man. This was not the only instance in which Collier found the instability of human friendship and the want of that aid which he had extended to others in the time of their need. It is useless to moralise on this as every man has either in a greater or less degree experienced similar ingratitude.
However the end of his fitful career was at hand. Death, that power before whom all must bow had sent forth his fiat, and although to all appearances he enjoyed vigorous health, yet the poison of that fell and unrelenting plague, cholera, which was desolating the town of Drogheda at the time, was circulating through his veins, and in a few short hours consigned him to an early grave.
On the 13th August 1849 he entered the house of Edward Reilly of West Street, and after some time complained of being unwell. Mr. Reilly, although a perfect stranger to him, notwithstanding the dangerous character of the disease, with great humanity put him to bed, and Doctors Ellis and Darbey were called in. Both these gentlemen pronounced it a case of Asiatic Cholera. Every remedy was applied, and Mr. Reilly supplied brandy and all the necessaries ordered by the medical attendants. However, it soon became apparent that the disease was fast gaining ground, and that unruly spirit would soon be at rest. Still did not his undaunted courage quail before the dreaded approach of the grim tyrant, death, but with manly fortitude be bore its fangs.
Having received the consolation of religion, he appeared resigned to his fate, and after several struggles he breathed his last at half past ten o'clock on the evening of the 13th of August 1849, without either friend or kindred to close his eyes or smooth his passage to eternity.
He, who during his life had been so prominently before the public, for whose apprehension large rewards were offered, even by the Government, whose generous sympathies and bounteous hands were ever open to reveive the poor and oppressed, yes, the the man whose life of romantic adventures rendered him so popular, now lay a senseless clod,
neglected and forsaken.
On the morning of the 14th the mortal remains of this man, who in his day attracted so much attention, and was considered one of the most bold outlaws that lived during the last century ( the nineteenth century) was conveyed to its last resting place, not by crowds of his admirers nor by a multitude brought together by curiosity. No hearse contained it, no mounting adorned his coffin. Alas for human fame. It was deposited on an ass's cart followed only by six individuals, B. Reilly, Thomas Rowe, -- Johnson, Hugh O'Neill, William Reynolds and James Fitzpatrick, and conducted thus to the Chord burial ground.
By the dim light of a candle his grave was dug, whilst the fitful blaze as it fell on the figure of the men, and the hoarse mourning of the ebbing tide of the Boyne, added to the desolateness of the dreary character of the mournful scene.The solemn sound emitted by the clay as it fell on the coffin evoked a spirit of terror and awe in the minds of those engaged in this midnight burial.
No stone, cross or other memorial marks the resting place of the man who filled so large a space in the history of the province of Leinster during the past generation. The man whose generosity raised many from indigence to wealth, who lavished his money on all who applied to him for succour or relief, now lies in his humble grave until the last trumpet shall sound, when, with all his errors, we trust he will raise to immortality.
The mystery that surrounds the last years of Collier has never been satisfactorily cleared, but it seems certain that some influence must have been used to save him from execution, a fate that overtook a large number of members of his gang. A number of Collier's companions were hanged in Trim and parts of Meath. Some were shot by the Constabulary. A man named Flynn was hanged at the Tholsel at Drogheda. A man was shot dead by the guard of the Mail Coach when it was robbed at The Cock of Gormanstown. It is stated that his body was buried in the Market Square of Drogheda. A man named Ludlow was shot dead robbing a barn. His companions got the body and had it waked on The Commons of Duleek. It was the practice in those days to flock in crowds to the wakes where song, stories, pipes, tobacco and a drop of the " Craytur ". Hence the well known song " The Night Before Larry was Stretched". It is affirmed that there was constantly kept grazing near the Obelisk a blind horse, on which Collier on many occasions crossed the Boyne, and the animal would return to its pasture again for the sole use of Collier.
Michael Collier 1780 - 1849 Collier the Robber
Michael Collier was born in Bellewstown, County Meath in 1780. His father as a small farmer and the boy was sent out to work as a farm servant at an age when he should still have been at school. Before reaching manhood he had already left the fields to cart goods daily from Dublin to Drogheda. In this capacity he made the acquaintance of tramps, tinkers and gipsies on the highway, from whom he first learned the tricks of the trade as a robber. Finding that the life of a robber would be more congenial than the life of honest toil, he gave up the occupation of cartman for that of a common highwayman. Collier was the last of the Irish highwaymen of the old romantic stand and deliver school.
When he was at the height of his fame as a gentleman of the road, roaming the highways of Louth, Meath, Cavan and North County Dublin, he held up and robbed every well to do wayfarer that fortune chanced to send across his path. His method was to frighten his victims into surrender by a clever bluff rather than brute force. It should be recalled to the credit of his memory that in his long career as a highway robber he was never guilty of the crime of murder. That he had many friends among the people is well known. If a number of stories told of him be true he appears to have been a real Robin Hood, ever ready to assist the weak at the expense of the strong. The story is told of Collier's meeting with a woman who had just been served with an eviction notice for failing to pay her rent. Collier gave her the necessary sum and when she had received a receipt of payment from the agent, he duly robbed the agent of the money.
Collier's most famous exploit on the highway was his hold up and robbery of the Dublin Belfast mailcoach at Bloody Hollow on the great road between Drumcondra and Swords.
The guards were armed with swords and blunderbusses and some of the passengers could be expected to carry pistols. The odds were all against him but he needed money badly and he was as resourceful as he was daring. He collected a number of old hats and tattered coats which he arranged in a hedge by the side of the road. When the coach approached Collier leaped into the middle of the road and calling to his men and the collection of hats and coats - not to fire unless provoked, brought the coach to a standstill. The terrified passengers could do nothing in the circumstances except deliver up their money andvaluables to the highwayman. The next morning a flying squad of dragoons, sent out from Dublin to scour the countryside, came upon the " dummies ". By this time Collier was already many miles away from his successful coup.
Traditional stories survive of his many narrow escapes. He is said to have broken from Trim jail and swam the Boyne to escape his pursuers. In a field near the Boyne Obelisk, on another occasion, he was placed in a potato pit and covered with the potatoes by some friends while being hotly chased by some troops.
At last, however, the wily fox was trapped, tried, convicted and condemed to transportation for life to penal settlements in Australia. Soon after his arrival as a convict in Australia he was mysteriously released on the understanding that he would join the British Army. It was not long before he had taken the Saxon shilling and entered a colonial regiment that Private Michael Collier was promoted, discharged and given a free passage back to Ireland.
The country at that time was in political unrest. He settled down in Navan where he had kept open house for men on the run. It is said in some accounts of him that he was the owner of a pub in County Meath and it has been verified that in the later days he became strongly addicted to the bottle.
After his death while attending Bellewstown Races in 1849, it was discovered that in his later years he had been a spy in the Secret Service of Dublin Castle. Entries which cited Collier as having received £1 for " Secret Information " were found in an old account book which belonged to the County Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Meath.