Nowadays a Tory is someone who sits on the government benches at Westminster. But three hundred years ago, before the term acquired its political connotation a Tory was a very different class of bandit entirely.
There was a man lived in the north, a hero brave and bold
Who robbed the wealthy landlords of their silver and their gold
He gave the money to the poor, to pay their rent and fee
For Count Redmond O’Hanlon was a gallant rapparee.
Thus begins Tommy Makem’s account of one of the most illustrious and iconic thieves in 17th century Ireland, Redmond O’Hanlon, the infamous Tory, highwayman, raparree or highway robber. Over the years O’Hanlon has acquired the characteristics of a Robin Hood and a Michael Dwyer – a fervent nationalist who believed in the re-distribution of wealth, other peoples. He was, of course, neither a nationalist or a socialist – the concepts being entirely unknown when he was in his pomp.
O’Hanlon, whose family had been wealthy Gaelic landowners before the intervention of Oliver Cromwell and others, was probably born in the vicinity of Slieve Gullion in South Armagh, and probably in the vicinity of 1640. Like so many members of the old Irish Catholic nobility he saw service in the armies of the King of France and returned to Ireland at the time of the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne. The resumption of the monarchy led to no similar improvement in the fortunes of the O’Hanlon clan so Redmond took to the hills to earn his living off the fortunes of those he saw as having dispossessed his family, the Anglo-Irish nobility.
His operation was rather more sophisticated than simply standing in the middle of what passed for 17th century roads and hollering ‘Stand and deliver, your money or your life’ in the style of Adam Ant. He made quite a good living from a primitive protection racket. Those who paid him off were to be immune from the depredations of any of the raparees in his north Louth-south Armagh bailiwick. Should the local tories baulk at Redmond’s racket there was a simple ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. Anyone caught robbing one of O’Hanlon’s protectees was first warned off, thereafter they were fined for a second offence, and finally, if they did it again, they were murdered.
Naturally enough the authorities disapproved of this primitive pax Redmondica or perhaps tax Redmondica is more appropriate, and sent troops after him to pierce his protective mantle. O’Hanlon used a number of wily evasion techniques to elude capture, the most celebrated being the practice of reversing his horse’s shoes to send pursuers in the wrong direction. He was also known to reverse his and his accomplices clothing, revealing on the inside a red-coat lining that was good enough to confuse the gullible.
An inability to track Redmond resulted in the price on his head being raised consistently and repeatedly, leading to open season for a new breed of opportunist, the ‘Tory hunter’. This was a class of Wild West bounty hunter except six thousand miles to the east, two centuries earlier and with an Irish accent. When not pursuing Redmond with a view to claiming the considerable reward on his head planter families like the Cootes, of Cootehill in Co.Cavan kept their hands in by hunting and killing Catholic priests for pocket money.
Predictably the death of Redmond was an inside job. He was betrayed and shot by a kinsman Art McCall O’Hanlon who was in it for the reward. Pour encourager les autres Redmond’s head was placed on a spike outside Downpatrick jail after Art imitated nature and succumbed to the blandishment of piles of money.
Redmond O’Hanlon, Tory, raparee, extortionist and folk hero died 333 years ago on this day.