Collier the Robber – “Your money or your life – Stand and deliver”
Michael Collier was born at Bellewstown in 1780. Collier was attracted to the easy life crime provided. He started his career as a carman like a modern day taxi, on the Dublin to Drogheda route, relieving his passengers of little items. He became a highway man and roamed the roads of Louth, Cavan, Meath and north County Dublin. He held up every well-to-do traveller that chanced to cross his path. He and his gang often used the Commons in Duleek as a hiding place. On one occasion Collier on his own managed to hold up the heavily armed coach. Erecting hats on bushes around a narrow glen in order to give the appearance that there were many members of his gang hiding out he called on the coach to stop and ran quickly along the line firing giving the impression that there were many men present. The coach guards were fooled and Collier escaped with the loot.
He could not get away with it for ever. Arrested at Gormanstown near a pub or an inn called the Cock, across the road was an inn called the Hen. He was charged with the crime of cattle stealing. The jury at Trim Court found him guilty and sentenced him to execution. But he was not going to hang around to be hanged. Tied up in heavy irons he was confined to the strongest cell in Trim Gaol. Collier appeared to be resigned to his fate but the night before his execution he removed his chains using a file which had been smuggled in by his friends and made a strong rope from strips torn from his blanket.
Collier then removed the bars from the window of his cell, leaving one to which he tied the rope. Climbing down he escaped to freedom by swimming the flooded river Boyne. The sentries sounded the alarm but Collier was already being spirited away by his friends.
This entire scene was re-enacted by Scurlogstown Olympiad at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Trim. That day Collier made his escape on a pony heading for the Galtrim hills.
It was not long before he began holding up coaches and rich travellers again. Of those that rode with him fourteen were hanged, six were shot and two were transported to Australia. A widow in Summerhill appealed to Collier that the landlord’s agent was due to collect rent from her and she had nothing to pay and would be thrown out on the road. Collier provided her with the necessary funds and so the rent was paid but the agent met Collier up the road and was relieved not only of the widow’s rent but a fair sum of gold sovereigns as well.
On another occasion when the government police were in pursuit, Collier coming across a group of young lads working in a potato field, he appealed for assistance, and the youths covered him with sacks and earth.
Collier had many more escapades but he was eventually recaptured and returned to Trim Gaol. He was sentenced to seven years transportation but was offered the alternative of enlisting in the army – the West Indies corps, an offer he gladly accepted. It is said that he gave the court information about the other members of his gang and this is why he was not sentenced to be hanged this time.
Obtaining his discharge in 1815 the retired highwayman became a plantation overseer in South Carolina but eventually came back to Ireland and rented a pub in Ashbourne. However Collier was his own best customer and the pub had to be sold. Once again he took to the roads and spent his last days storytelling. Whenever Collier had money he spent or squandered it on whoever was in his company at the time. His younger brother, Richard, was also charged with the highway robbery of a farmer named Patrick Downey, just outside Drogheda in January 1834
The reformer criminal lived for a while in Navan behind the Courthouse – what an ironic place for a highway man to live. Behind the Courthouse is a well called Tubborum and sometimes Collier would go off the drink and the saying would go around the town – “Collier’s off the poteen, he on the Tubborum” off the hard drink and on the water.
Collier died of cholera in Drogheda in 1849 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Chord Road Cemetery. ‘Deliver to Collier’ – the last of the highway man was dead.