Month: October 2020

Halloween Special: Crotty The Highway Robber

When you walk in an unfamiliar place in twilight hours and see a laminated sheet of paper pinned to the tree trunk, stop and read it – not just take a photo of it to read at home like I did on my first visit to Crough Wood. This might save you from trouble or perhaps unwanted ghost-sighting 😉 

After carelessly taking the picture, I walked out of the wood with intention to follow the loop trail and return to the same spot. The view was familiar – I have never been in the Crough Wood before but walking along the Mahon River I knew that I saw the towering rocky walls of Coummahon filling the skyline. I reckoned it would take me less than an hour to return. As it was getting darker, I had to adjust my camera settings. No one was around as far as I could see, but it was hard to tell was it a good or a bad thing. I couldn’t help feeling a little wary, for no reason. Probably it was the mist that began to form in the valley…

Everything went well, though. I hiked to the Magic Road, then to the Crough road and finally returned to the tree from which I started the hike. A little matter of walking to the car park through the dark woods along the loud river had to be addressed… 

The river distracted me, and I took a few photos of the ghostly looking waterfalls. When I returned to the car park, there was no other car but mine. 

At home, I downloaded my photographs and finally read the laminated message. No way… I should have stayed on the trail longer! I did some research, compared the information, checked out the maps. I got hooked on the legend and decided to visit the eastern slopes of the Comeraghs again to write my own version of the story. First I went on a hike to Kilclooney Wood and Coumshingaun Lake. 

Then I hiked to Lough Coumgaurha. It is what the map says. I was there many years ago, and I sure knew the name by which the lake goes in these parts of the world. The Crotty’s Lake. Here is the

                Story  of  Crotty  The  Robber

Waterford Quay was busy with the crowds heading to the gallows – near to where the present days Clock Tower is situated. This kind of entertainment stopped 30 years later when the executions were relocated to behind the prison walls, but in March 1742 the hanging and beheading of the notorious bandit William Crotty was a must to attend and discuss over a pint later.

His pregnant wife stood there and watched him die.

As if it wasn’t already enough to bear, she had to witness his head being displayed over the gateway of the county jail in Ballybricken as a warning to those wishing to follow in his footsteps.

“Crotty was decapitated, according to his sentence, and his head was placed on a spike over the gate of the county gaol, which was at a great thoroughfare, and often a resting-place for those who brought milk to the markets. In a few days the head became in a state of putrid solution, and began to distill drops of gore into the milk-cans, for some time before it was discovered, to the inexpressible disgust and horror of all who had been drinking the milk. The hair did not decay with the flesh – it grew on the bony cranium; and there for a long time the ghastly skull of this miscreant excited as much horror after his death as his cruel actions had during his life.”

Ireland Sixty Years Ago, by John Edward Walsh. Dublin, 1851

Crotty’s loyal wife Mary was refused a funeral, and his body was taken away to the City Infirmary and given for dissection. Thus ended the earthly life of a “most desperate and indefatigable” robber, whose name was a “word of terror” to such extent that he was even suspected of cannibalism by some. The name survived though – in legends and landmarks.

                                                                   

William Crotty was born in Russelstown, on the Western side of the Comeraghs, to a poor family evicted from their holding.  Becoming an outlaw was not a surprising career choice for a young man in his situation. As it came out, he was well suited for the job – his operations extended to Kilkenny and Tipperary over the years. He skillfully avoided capture by shoeing his horses backward, and his knowledge of the mountains helped him disappear in thin air right in front of his pursuers. 

 Crotty had a safe retreat – a deep underground cave near the foot of the rocky pinnacle at the Coumgaurha lake that could be accessed only by the means of a rope dropped down.  He used another cave at Coumshingaun lake for the stolen livestock. His observation point – the Crotty’s Rock –  commands the most expansive views of high roads from Dungarvan to Carrick and Tramore – no one would come close unnoticed. By 1739, Crotty had formed a small gang of accomplices. His operations flourished.

The legend says “he was the leader of a gang of highwaymen who stole from the rich to give to the poor, much in the same manner as Robin Hood”. It breaks my heart to tell you that it wasn’t the case.

I can picture that sad country and immensely poor people suffering consequences of British colonialism and religious defeat. My heart goes out to them. I can see how a daring young lad like William Crotty could have easily become a hero and brighten their day by sharing a shilling or a pint; mingling with them on a dance floor or a hurling field; hurting those who wronged them.

The gang was active for at least four years breaking in, murdering, stealing property.  After they murdered  George Williams, things went south very fast. Crotty’s most trusted companion and the mastermind behind most of their crimes Davey Norris realised that he would be better off giving evidence against his boss to authorities (who had already known about Crotty’s operations long ago). Then he would visit the cave and steal whatever was stashed there. Norris was illiterate and signed with a cross, but he sang like a canary selling Crotty and his other companions, and perhaps obtained pardon for his crimes as he was never arrested and eventually died in his bed. Some of his companions were hanged, like Crotty. Poor Thomas Mara was hanged after nine attempts. The rope got stuck. 

Norris and his wife continued to inform authorities about Crotty’s activities and whereabouts. There are different versions of his capture, but the only fact matters: Crotty The Robber was betrayed by the man he trusted most. 

They say Crotty’s wife, Mary, wrote this caoine after he was executed:

William Crotty I have often tould you,

That David Norris would come round you,

In your bed, when you lay sleeping,

And leave me here in sorrow weeping.

Och-hone, oh! 

Oh, the judge but he was cruel,

Refused a long day to my jewel;

Sure I thought that you would, may be, 

See the face of your poor baby, 

Och-hone, oh! 

Norris was afraid for his life. He filed sworn affidavit against Mary Crotty, and a large reward was offered for her apprehension. Determined not to be taken alive, the unfortunate woman threw herself down the Crotty’s Rock.

Mary has found peace, but William’s ghost now haunts the Comeragh Mountains. His ghost is known as Dark Stranger who “comes out of the mist, tall, dark clothed, moving purposefully, his footsteps making no sound.” The ghost can also be seen on a white horse. He would cross the Crough road and ride towards the Crotty’s Rock, Rathgormack and Carrignagower where his treasures lie hidden somewhere beneath a rock with a hoof mark. 

Happy Halloween, my dear friends! Stay safe and enjoy this mysterious season. Because of the lockdown we won’t have a chance to visit the Crotty’s land at night, as I hoped we would. 

Each location featured in this post will be presented as a separate hike in the nearest future. Have your boots and backpacks ready, my dear walking companions.

Meanwhile, you might also reread some of my previous Halloween stories:

Petticoat Loose,  Beresford Ghost,  Ghosts from the 1970’s and a grim Loftus Hall story.

  Have a fun weekend! 

Blue Way of County Tipperary V

The last leg of our walk begins. The season is early spring. Some old, pre-Blueway pictures from the other seasons are added just because I have hundreds of them 😉

I stop and look both directions down the winding path.

That’s how it looked only a few years ago. It was a refuge for the stressed-out humans and nesting place for birds. I loved it.

Fragrant Meadow Sweet used to grow waist-high at the water edge. It probably was there for millennium. A sacred herb to the Celts, it was used in potions to treat skin problems, and as a floor covering for warmth and hygiene.

And there are birds, of course. Chaffinches, robins and starlings are year-round residents in Ireland. Chaffinch is a long-living bird, and raises one brood each year.

Robin and starling live only 2-3 years, often even less, and raise three broods a year. I have seen robin fledglings in early October.

Halfway to our destination, there is a ruined church and graveyard we will visit some other day. The graveyard is the resting place of Catherine Isabella Osborne, an Irish artist and patron. She was interested in photography and supported William Despard Hemphill’s photography projects. He dedicated his collection of photographs of Clonmel to her in 1860.

Killaloan church looks timeless with majestic Slievenamon in background.

At the opposite side of the river, heather-clad slopes of the Comeraghs come into view. River Suir runs all the way along the Comeraghs and turns north near the village of Newcastle at the foot of the Knockmealdowns.

We walk past a memorial stela and stone bench. The memorial was erected by the family of Peter Britton who along with his climbing partner Colm Ennis died in a fall in the French Alps in 2014. Mr. Britton was the Senior Roads Engineer with Tipperary County Council remembered for his role in the Blueway project.

River Anner, a tributary, slips under the bridge into River Suir.

It is not unusual to see Clonmel Riding Club members on the towpath…

…but the galloping ponies on the opposite bank came as a surprise.

We are approaching another beautiful landmark – Sir Thomas’s Bridge. This six-arch humpback bridge was built in 1690 by Sir Thomas Osborne who had lands on both sides of the river. He resided in the three-story Tudor style house built almost a century earlier by Alexander Power.

This is a closer look at the house. It is often called Tickincor Castle and has been in ruin since the 19th century.

A view of Sir Thomas’s bridge from the opposite bank. The same as Kilsheelan bridge, it has a dry arch for pedestrian use. The bridge has never been widened or altered in any way.

Another interesting fact about Sir Thomas’s bridge is that in the times of horse-towing, the whole team had to enter the river to pass underneath the arch. Accidents happened and the boats got wrecked there.

Another view from the opposite bank. You can appreciate the height of the arches.

Clonmel river walk existed way before the Blueway was launched.

There is a set of weirs on this stretch of the river, some of them overgrown. They used to supply the water wheels for the number of mills. Here is a poem about the Gwendoline boat accident at the long Dudley’s weir.

A heron took off, slipped on landing but regained his balance. Funny bird, I never get bored watching them.

Hotel Minella is another landmark. The central building (1863) was built for Thomas Malcolmson of the famous Malcolmson family I mentioned in my blog before. The Malcolmsons represented the finest example of capitalism in action. As per The Irish Times, August 18, 1865, Mr. David Malcolmson shared his thoughts about the self reliance and welfare: ‘The best mode of preventing emigration would be to provide proper dwellings for the peasantry, and to give every labourer a savings’ bank outside his own door in the shape of an acre or half an acre of land.’ 

This is the flooded Clonmel in 2009. The five-arch Gashouse bridge (1825) has two already familiar pedestrian dry arches – one on each side of the river, but there is also a dry path for the horse-towing under the navigation arch. Very interesting features are the bollards I have circled in red in the picture. They are made of cement, and have deep rope marks.

The towpath ends here. We will walk a little further.

This is where our walk ends – the Old Bridge, Clonmel. Actually the Old Bridge is a group of bridges spanning two existing branches of River Suir and one former branch which is dry now.

A view from the bridge during the 2009 flood.

After that flood the wall was built. No, it doesn’t stay this way all the time, thankfully.

Beautiful River Suir – walled, paved, but not tamed.

I am sharing a link to one of my favorite blogs. Here you can watch a slideshow to find out what the river looks like from a boat. Thank you Brian for all your fantastic articles!

Here is an article about a person who doesn’t support the development of the Blueways, and I clearly see her point. It is about River Barrow, one of the ‘Three Sisters’ – Barrow, Suir and Nore. What happens next is still uncertain. The owners of the local businesses are the strongest supporters, but in my opinion, South-East doesn’t need more Blueways. River Barrow in its natural beauty will attract even more visitors in the future. Maintaining the grassy towpath and leaving all the mature trees be is the best investment one can make. Mr. Malcolmson would approve 😉

Thank you for being such wonderful walking companions!

Have a happy weekend!