Daoiri Farrell’s latest CD includes the ballad, Valentine O’Hara, sung here in 1978 by Frank Harte. While doing some research before making a recording I came across this Mudcat.org thread linking the song to Allan Tyne of Harrow. To me this sounded like a mystery to be solved, involving highwaymen and possible appropriation of Irish culture by the English. The game is afoot!
Highwaymen are by no means a novel subject of poems, songs and stories. With the antics of Jack Sheppard (1702-1724) and Dick Turpin (1705-1739) immortalised in penny dreadful and broadsides and even the great bard himself includes Falstaff as a highwayman in Henry IV Part 1. And of course one cannot forget the Blackadder episode Amy and Amiability.
So to the task at hand, there are at least three different incarnations of this ballad, with different sets of victims and protagonists.
I’ll include the text of one of the ballads for reference, from the Bodleian library:
Daring Highwayman I am a daring highwayman likewise a gallant rover, From London town I surely came since I became a rover, For a maid who proved with child for England I sailed over, I left my parents almost wild since I became a rover. How many battles I’ve been in thro’ France and Spain and Flanders, And always fought with courage bold under my brave commanders, But thro’ the usage I received no one shall e’er control me, Resolved for my liberty strong wall ne’er should hold me. Back to England’s shores I came as fast as wind could blow me, Resolved for my liberty, no one should e’er control me, Back to England’s shores I came and found my name deserted, My parent’s heart was almost broke and I was much more frightened. For want of money and a friend, then poverty came on me, For want of money and a friend it brought destruction on me, The very first man I ever robbed it was a lord of honour, The nobleman I did insult all in a roguish manner. Give me your gold my lord and make no more denial, If you resist it is my design with powder and ball to fire, I put my pistol to his breast which made him for to shiver, Two hundred pounds in bright gold to me he did deliver, Besides a gold repeating watch to me he did surrender, I thought I had a noble prize to be thus be-friended, With a hundred guineas in bright gold I bought a famous gelding, He could jump over the turnpike gate I bought him of Jem Sheldon. Now mounted on my gallant steed I looked bold and daring, Resolved on the road to go no man I e’er did fear him, The very next man I robbed it was in Covent Garden, And in two hours after in Newgate I was fasten’d. I have robbed both lords and dukes of silver plate and money, All for to maintain myself and my dearest Polly, But now in Newgate cells I lie until I am convicted, For my folly I now mercy crave for I am sore afflicted.
This Daring Highwayman appears in several broadsides with the same title and same lyrics, publication dates range from 1819-1844 and 1828-1829.
A Scottish book published in 1826 includes Allan Tine O’Harrow along with Highland Laddie and Bonnie Wood of Craigie lea. While the lyrics are almost identical, several differences are included:
Protagonist: Allan Tine O’Harrow From: Hills of Tarrow Horse Bought From: Mr Fielding Victim(location): Lord Arkinstone (Covent Garden), Earl of Warren, Revenue Collector (Turnham-green) Death: Confined at Newgate, executed at Tyburn Hill
The same version was published in 1825, alongside Jack in his Element and The Beds of Roses.
Here is where the story gets weird, this un-dated broadside has a song titled Valentine O’Harra, with almost exactly the same lyrics and story except for:
Protagonist: Valentine O’Harra From: Hills of Tarra Horse Bought From: Mr Shielding Victim (location): Lord Edgers (near Covent Garden), Attorney Harding Death: Confined at Newgate, executed at Tyburn Hill
This version, and the Tine O’Harrow, have an additional ‘Robin Hood’ verse about not stealing from the poor and also giving them money. While the broadside is not dated, it is published with a song (play?) about an accident at the Victoria Theatre that occurred in 1859; a gas explosion after a Christmas play that killed 15 people, reported in Australia here.
This would seem to lend itself to the theory that a generic Highwayman song from 1825 was reworked into Allan Tine of Yarrow, and then later re-imagined 30 years later with an Irish protagonist, whose name is based on the Mondegreen Valentine O’Harra with the politically motivated inclusion of a ‘Robin Hood’ verse.
The fly in the ointment here is this entry in the Ulster journal of archaeology, which references the publication in 1802 of a song book featuring A Second Song in Favour of Henry Meade Ogle along with Adventures of Valentine O’Hara and the Flying Irish Highwayman. This predates both the Daring Highwayman and Allan Tine by 25 years. Unfortunately I cannot find any links to text from 1802.
I made some efforts to search both the list of executions at Tyburn Hill (1196 until 1783) and the proceedings of the Old Bailey (1674-1913). Other than a small-time highwayman called Patrick O’Hara, executed in 1763, there is no mention of either a Valentine O’Hara or an Allan Tine/Tyne.
Correspondingly, the victims named in both later versions of the ballad do not appear to be real people, a Lord Arkinstone/Lord Edgers would have been listed in the peerage, but are absent. This would suggest that the names are fictional and made up for the ballad.
If this particular highwayman is a concoction, were there any real Irish highwaymen? Based on the 1799 book by J. Cosgrave, A Genuine History of the Lives and Actions of the Most Notorious Irish Rogues and Rapparees, yes, there were many to choose from. The life of Redmond O’Hanlon is quite fascinating and bears some similarity to Valentine O’Hara with impoverished origins (thanks to Cromwell) and a stint in the army. However, rather than a mere highwayman, Redmond was the mafia boss of Ulster. Unfortunately he was shot (by his foster brother) rather than hanged and there is no record of him using Valentine as a pseudonym or needing to flee to England after getting a girl pregnant.
William Macquire (alias Irish Teague) has more similarity in that he was an Irish highwayman in England and was hanged at Tyburn in 1691. James Butler was born in Kilkenny, but fought in Spain and deserted before briefly becoming a contract killer in Florence. James ended up robbing on the highway in England and was hanged at Tyburn in 1716. Any of these three men could have been the subject of an early 1800s ballad about real Irish highwaymen.
A note of interest made within Cosgrave’s book is that in some cases the real family name of a highway robber was suppressed if they were from a noble family.
So the conclusion here, short of finding a copy of the 1802 text, is that this ballad is probably entirely fanciful, re-made twice, once for English and once for Irish audiences.
Edit: Thanks to the work of Martin Nail (comment below) it looks like the Irish win, with the 1802 ballad supporting Valentine O’Hara as the earliest version of the song.