An Irish Highwayman who held Sway near the Bog of Allen and, after numerous Murders, was executed On 24th of April, 1650
PATRICK FLEMMING was a native of Ireland, and born at Athlone, which is remarkably situated in the counties of East and West Meath, as well as in the provinces of Leinster and Connaught. His parents rented a potato garden of about fifteen shillings per annum, upon the produce of which, and the increase of their geese, hens, pigs, etc., they wholly depended for the subsistence of themselves and nine children. They, and their whole family of swine, poultry and progeny, all took up their lodging at night not only under the same roof, but in the same room; according to the practice of abundance of their country-people, who build only for necessity, without any idea of what we call beauty and order. One may guess from the circumstances of the father that the son had small share of liberal education, though he had the most claim to it of any one of the children, as he was the eldest. But what he wanted in acquirements was made up with impudence, a quality which in most ignorant people happily fills up their void of knowledge.
When he was about thirteen years of age the Countess of Kildare took him into her service, in the capacity of foot-boy; and finding him so utterly destitute of learning, she was so indulgent as to put him to school. But instead of being grateful to her ladyship in improving his time to the best advantage, he was entirely negligent, and discovered no inclination to his book. His lady admonished him frequently, but to no purpose; for he grew not only careless but insolent, till at last, being found incorrigible, he was discharged from the family.
It was not long, however, before he was so fortunate as to get to be a domestic of the Earl of Antrim's; but here his behaviour was worse than before. He was a scandal to the whole family, for the little wit he had was altogether turned on mischief. His Lord bore it a pretty while, notwithstanding the repeated complaints of his fellow servants, and took no notice so long as he could avoid it; but at last this nobleman also was obliged to turn him out of doors; and this was the occasion. The Earl of Antrim was a Roman Catholic, and kept a priest in the house as his chaplain and confessor, to whom every one of the servants was required to pay great respect. Patrick, on account of his disorderliness, was often reproved by this gentleman, and he received it very well, till one day he happened to find the holy father asleep in some private part of the house in a very indecent pose, whereupon he went and got all the family to that place, and showed them what he had discovered as a revenge upon the parson, who at that instant awoke. With respect to the servants this had the desired effect, and exposed the priest to ridicule. But the earl, when he heard it, took the part of his chaplain, believed the story a slander, and immediately gave Flemming a discharge, as desired. Patrick found means, however, before he entirely left the neighbourhood, to rob his lordship of money and plate to the value of about two hundred pounds, with which he fled to Athenrea, in the province of Connaught.
He hid himself here in a little hut that he found for ten or twelve days, till he imagined the hue and cry after him might be over, and then made the best of his way to Dublin, where he soon entered into a gang of housebreakers, and during the space of six years was concerned in more robberies than had ever before been committed in that city in the memory of man.
While he continued in Dublin he was twice in danger of being hanged for his offences, which were so great as to make him the subject of public conversation all over the city. He now perceived he began to be too well known to stay there any longer in safety, and so he retired into the country and turned highwayman. The chief place of his haunt was about the Bog of Allen, where he attacked almost all who passed that way, of whatever quality; telling them that he was absolute lord of that road, and had a right to demand contribution of all that travelled it, and to punish those with death who refused to comply; therefore, if they had any regard for their lives, he advised them to deliver what they had peaceably, and not put him to the trouble of exerting his prerogative. By these means he became more dreaded in the counties where he robbed than any thief of his time, for he not only threatened those with death who disputed with him, but actually murdered several, and used many others with abundance of barbarity.
It is reported that in a few days he robbed one hundred and twenty five men and women upon the mountain of Barnsmoor, near which is a wood which they call Colorockedie, where he had assembled a numerous gang, out of which not a few at several times were taken and executed. Persons of quality he usually addressed in their own style, and told them he was as well bred as they, and therefore they must subscribe towards maintaining him according to his rank and dignity.
Among the principal persons whom he stopped and robbed were the Archbishop of Armagh and the Bishop of Rapho, both in one coach; the Archbishop of Tuam; and the Lady Baltimore, with her young son, a child of four years old, whom he took from her, and obliged her to send him a ransom within twenty four hours, or else, he told her, he would cut the young puppy's throat and make a pie of him. From the Archbishop of Tuam he got a thousand pounds. After this he fled into Munster, and continued the same trade there, till he was apprehended for robbing a nobleman of two hundred and fifty pounds, or which fact he was carried to Cork and committed to prison.
But even now they were far from having him so safe as they imagined; for the county jail was not strong enough to hold him. He was no sooner confined than his eyes were about him, and his head plotting an escape. At last he found means to get up a chimney and, by removing some few obstacles, to get out at the top, and so avoid hanging for that offence.
He followed his villainies for some years after his breaking out of prison, during which time he murdered five men, two women and a boy of fourteen years old. Besides which he mangled and wounded a great many others; in particular, Sir Donagh O'Brien, whose nose, lips and ears he cut off, for making some small resistance while he robbed him. At last he was apprehended by the landlord of a house where he used to drink, near Mancoth. The landlord sent advice to the sheriff of the county when he would be there with several of his associates, and the sheriff, according to the instruction, came one evening with a strong guard, and beset the house. Patrick and his company would have defended themselves, but the landlord had taken care to wet all their fire arms and prevent their going off, by which means they became useless; and our desperado, with fourteen more, was taken, carried to Dublin, and there executed, on Wednesday, the 24th of April, in the year 1650. After which Patrick Flemming was hanged in chains on the high road a little without the city.