Old Drogheda Society
Community Historian Brendan Matthews with another in a run of his stories that bring local history to life.
Throughout the summer months of 1796, the following notice was posted up within the town of Drogheda, along with appearing in the Drogheda Journal newspaper.
I have received information on oath, that John Bynge, alias George Mortimer was one of the persons concerned in robbing his majesty’s mail and that he is lurking in the suburbs of this town. Bynge, alias Mortimer is about 5ft 6in tall, with sandy hair, fair complexion and lightly built. When last seen, he was wearing a brown overcoat, blue body coat, red waistcoat, corduroy breeches and white stockings.
The notice was signed by the Mayor of Drogheda, George Evans and it carried a reward of 30 guineas. At the time this highwayman was, `lurking in the suburbs of Drogheda`, a young 16 year old lad, by the name of Michael Collier was about to embark on a similar conquest of highway robbery.
Michael Collier was born at Lisdornan, Co. Meath, less than 5 miles south west of Drogheda in 1780 and he became the last of the great highwaymen of Ireland in the later 18th and early 19th century. Loved, feared and respected, Collier was a man of the poor and stories of his exploits abound. He died of the dreaded cholera disease in 1849 and was laid to rest in the Cord burial ground in Drogheda.
Michael Collier however, was not the only member of his family to take to the highways in such a daring fashion. His younger brother, Richard, was also charged with the highway robbery of a farmer named Patrick Downey, just outside Drogheda in January 1834. In an attempt to protect his property, Patrick Downey used a pitchfork, which he reportedly thrust into the hat of Richard Collier.
Collier was eventually arrested on the Platten road and the hat he was wearing when he was apprehended was perforated with holes, such as Downey previously described he had made. On Tuesday 25th February, 1834, Richard Collier was found guilty of highway robbery and received a sentence of `transportation for life`.
The original Collier homestead at Lisdornan was situated overlooking beautiful green pastures that now forms part of the M1 motorway and within sight of an area that is now known as the Drogheda Toll Booth.
In the days of Michael and Richard Collier and indeed John Bynge, alias George Mortimer, a similar toll was paid on major highways that were known as `Turnpike` or toll roads, which were in use from 1729 until 1856. Often when the `Gentry had paid the road toll they would be met with yet another tax, in the form of a highwayman, who would gladly relieve them of more booty, thus making the rest of their journey a little lighter; although perhaps with a heavy heart.
The majority of motorists who pay through the Drogheda toll booths today would be unaware that they are travelling through the ancient townland of Lisdornan, home of the Collier brothers. And a commemorative statue of Michael Collier would perhaps have been a more suitable piece of Art along the M1, than the, “disappearing lights” at nearby Kilsharvan!
Stop and deliver to the Drogheda toll booth doesn’t have the same appeal or romanticism as, “Stand and deliver to Collier” either, but at least if you were to encounter the latter, in his day, he had the decency to wear a mask.
Welcome to Collier Country.