Count Redmond OHanlon was the original Irish bandit.
He gave Bandit Country its name and his ghost
still rides those dangerous highways of South Armagh ...
or so they say.
Crossmaglen, the small village that is known globally, a
village in Ireland that is known as much for the prowess
and success of its footballers as for any other reason.
But it is also known as the village in Bandit Country, the
name given to the rough terrain that surrounds this border
For many people, this name is only associated with that
area in recent times but that is far from the truth, that
area of South Armagh that borders on Monaghan has been known
as Bandit Country for centuries as the following tale of
one of the most famous highwaymen of all time will show.
All counties have their famous place names so too they all
had famous highwaymen, rapparees or Tories as they were
also known. These are names that ring with romance and danger
and the stories abound of these dashing heroes willingly
risking life and limb to help the poor and the downtrodden.
Often they had slightly more mundane reasons for their activities
but ultimately they grew out of a need, a need that the
country had at that time, in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,
for heroes. Life for the native Irish at that time in our
history was miserable, often brutal and the introduction
of the penal laws spelled the end for a whole way of life.
All counties had their own adventurers and depending on
your point of view they were either brave highwaymen or
blackguards, Dudley Costello was known as The Scourge of
Mayo, The three Brennans, Patrick, Tall James and Little
James and another Brennan, Willie, probably no relation,
whose deeds are remembered in that famous Irish ditty, Brennan
on the Moor, Captain Power, the Genteel Robber who operated
in Munster, Daniel Galloping Hogan from Tipperary,
Edmund ORyan, Ned of the Hill, Big Charlie
Carragher, from South Armagh, Captain McNamara of Cong in
County Mayo, Shane Crossagh, the Derry outlaw, William Crotty,
the Comeragh Highwayman, Captain Jeremiah Grant and one
of the most famous of them all and a man who helped earn
the Bandit Country title for South Armagh, Count Redmond
OHanlon, the Irish Scanderbag.
COUNT REDMOND OHANLON
The story of Count Redmond 0Hanlon is one that has
been handed down over the generations and no doubt some
of his activities in the 1660s have been embellished
a little but he was by any standards Ireland's most celebrated
The title was no affectation as up until the plantation
of 1609 his family had ruled large tracts of land in what
are present day Armagh and part of North Louth. His date
of birth is given as both 1640 and 1620 but there is no
doubt that he was born at Pontzpass in County Armagh midway
between Newry and Portadown. The fortunes of the family
had changed over the years and when Redmond was born his
parents had been reduced to living on a very small portion
of the land once ruled by his ancestors.
Despite their state of near penury they still found sufficient
money to have Redmond sent to England for what was then
a classical education and he became fluent in French but
more importantly in English as that language was not generally
spoken by the native Irish and that knowledge of the English
language was to serve him well in future years.
When his education was complete he returned to Armagh and
was employed as foreman by the Acheson family of Markethill
but later had to leave their service as a result of a misdemeanour,
attempting to sell a stolen horse.
When he judged it safe to return home he then took up a
position as a collector of poll taxes, an occupation that,
at that time, could be very dangerous, but it was an experience
that was to later prompt him to offer protection services
to people in the South Armagh area.
Having joined a uniform religious organisation, Redmond
went on to become a minister of that church and later married
a very rich lady although shortly afterwards he lost both
his wife and his fortune too, his wife dying and the fortune
lost on gambling.
Around this time in the early 1640s the Irish chieftains
in Ulster, Connaught and Leinster were beginning to form
into an organised group to try and recover lands which had
been taken from them in the plantation so Redmond joined
the forces of this new Confederation and fought in the battle
of Benburb in 1646 under the command of Owen Roe ONeill.
Even after the death of O'Neill, Redmond continued to campaign
but when the insurrection petered out in the mid 1660s
he joined the mass exodus to the continent where he joined
the French army and so distinguished himself that he was
awarded the title Count of the French Empire, one of the
highest honours that could be bestowed at that time.
At this time, around 1653, while Redmond was winning accolades
in European wars the remainder of the O Hanlon lands
was being confiscated by Cromwell and settled by his parliamentarians
as a result of the familys open support for the Confederation,
something that was to lead directly to OHanlon's later
life of crime. No evidence exists as to the exact date when
OHanlon returned to Ireland but it is possible that
it was around 1660, and discovering, as did many others,
that there was no general restitution of confiscated lands
he felt he was left was no alternative but to take to the
hills and highways in order to right the wrong.
At first the outlaw operated around Slieve Gullion and the
hills of South Armagh near Forkhill, Mullaghbawn and Lislea
and extended his operations to running a protection
racket where he demanded of the settlers that they
each paid him half a crown per annum and for
this sum his contributors lived in perfect security
requiring neither bolt nor bar.
When the final disaster of the Cromwellian wars overtook
the Catholic landowners the most active young men did not
all go into exile but some remained and formed themselves
into groups under the leadership of some local chieftain
and waged guerrilla war on those who had dispossessed them.
This was the perfect platform for Redmond OHanlon
and his operations in this regard led to him being described
as the scourge of the military. He got ready
support and formed his men into military style companies
and widened his theatre of violence and terrorism
to include the English and Scottish settlers in counties
Down, Monaghan and Tyrone.
He gained the increasing support of the population and as
his fame and notoriety spread throughout the land tales
of his exploits were even recounted in a French Gazette
as he became a truly romantic figure. He thumbed his nose
at the authorities and continued to attack British troops
that were stationed in a series of outposts between the
borders of Armagh and Monaghan.
It is said that history repeats itself and Bandit Country
can really attest to this as the British army barracks of
recent times, indeed some still exist, that marred much
of South Armagh's beautiful scenery can be interpreted as
eerie echoes of the military outposts erected in Redmond's
time. Folklore records that there were more than a dozen
of them thrown up at remote sites throughout the country
and from these daily patrols went out to scour the countryside
in search of the outlaw but to little avail.
By this time the plantation landlords of Ulster had had
a belly full of the outlaw and in 1675 they came together
and employed a group of 40 hand-picked mercenaries who were
to each receive the then princely sum of nine pence
per day for a period of three months in the hope that
they would rid the country of the O Hanlon gang but
by the end of the summer of 1675 their tour of duty
was over and they left without their prize.
Further efforts were made to secure his arrest by the offer
of generous rewards with one such proclamation in 1676 offering
a 100 pounds bounty for his head but even that
or the proclamation that four men from the locality
would be transported to the plantations in America should
the outlaws guilty of outrages not be apprehended within
28 days had no effect. Nevertheless a massive military
operation was now in place in Ulster and it was proving
ever more difficult for the outlaw to remain one step ahead
of the law. The net however was closing and one incident
which led to the death of Henry St. John was to eventually
lead to OHanlon's downfall.
By this time the outlaws family had been forced to
leave the Armagh of their ancestors and flee to County Donegal
where they purchased a house and business premises
in the town of Letterkenny, which Redmond visited
in the summer of 1680. In the spring of 1681 the plot that
was to eventually lead to his capture was put in place when
the Viceroy of Ireland selected one of his Dublin spies
and ordered him to find an army man in the Armagh
area with the credentials to carry out a dangerous undercover
task. The chosen man was Lieutenant William Lucas
of Drumintine near Newry and by buying the loyalty of one
of Redmond's personal bodyguards the plan was put in place
and it came to fruition on April 25th when Redmond OHanlon,
accompanied by Art OHanlon and William Shiels, his
bodyguards, set out for Hilltown in the Mourne mountains.
The purpose of their journey was to ambush the local landowners
and gentry as they returned home from the fair in Banbridge
laden with money and purchases and escorting their prize
animals. The outlaws arrived early in the afternoon and
decided to snatch a few hours sleep and when Art, who had
accepted the bribe, saw Redmond OHanlon asleep he
simply shot him dead. Hearing the shot William Shiels rushed
inside but was knocked unconscious. Lieutenant Lucas, who
had been hiding nearby then appeared with a body of men
as the sound of the gunshot had been the signal he was waiting
for. Lucas drew his sabre, deciding that the head alone
would be sufficient proof that the outlaw was dead and that
the Viceroy's orders had been carried out.
Art OHanlon, despite his treachery, showed that he
had some humanity left as he buried his foster brothers
headless corpse in the little Catholic graveyard in Ballynabeck
on the road from Tandragee to Scarva. Lucas took the head
of Redmond OHanlon to Downpatrick and had it spiked
on the gates of the jail, the traitor Art OHanlon
collected his 200 reward and a pardon for his part in the
murder while Lucas was rewarded with a promotion.
Tradition has it that when news of the killing reached him
Sir John Coynyngham dispatched an escort of troops from
Letterkenny to accompany the OHanlon family as they
went to exhume the body and bring it back to Donegal for
burial in the Conwall parish Church. In the 1930s
a worn and weather beaten tombstone was discovered at Conwall
parish church bearing the OHanlon Coat of Arms indicating
that this could be the final resting place of the outlaw,
Count Redmond OHanlon who banked his treasure
in the hearts of the people and whose ghost, local
folklore claims, is still seen riding the highways
of Armagh and south Monaghan.
Taken from Monaghan's Match