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Patrick Magee, Highwayman, 1670

Everything we know about Patrick Magee comes from the Middlesex sessions records. Together with Claude Du Val, a much more famous highwayman, he was indicted for a robbery on the highway committed on 1st December 1669.

Du Val and Magee were tried together at the gaol delivery sessions for Middlesex that began on 14 January, 1669/70. They were found guilty by the jury.

Both highwaymen were condemned to be hanged. Du Val was hanged at Tyburn on Friday 21 January; according to some accounts, it was quite an event, since a number of well-born ladies are said to have accompanied him to the gallows as mourners. It is fairly certain that Magee will have gone to the gallows at the same time as Du Val.

Cell at Newgate

Newgate Prison

Come to see the wicked highwayman, Patrick Magee have you? You think its safe now I'm locked in chains in Newgate gaol.

Cell at Newgate
Cell at Newgate

I think half the fine ladies and gentlemen in London have come to stare at me. They never gave me a second glance when I was just another poor Irish fellow selling fruit in the streets.

How they despised my countrymen! Starved and beaten in their own land they came to seek a living as weavers, porters, sellers of fruit and trinkets and labourers.

But now I am a famous fellow! They not only pay the gaolers for the privilege of looking upon me but sometimes talk to me as well!


They don't stay long. The smell and damp make them afraid for their own health. It is only four years or so since the plague and the great fire of London when half this hell pit was burnt down.

Newgate
Newgate

What little food we get is thrown to us as if we were dogs and we sit amongst our own waste in our dark cell. No wonder they are afraid to breathe. And the cold. January sitting and freezing amongst Newgate's stones. The only comfort is to buy hard drink and sing yourself senseless.


The other day, when the trial was done, we had a ballad-maker here. He took note of everything I said and will make my life and adventures into a famous song.

So on Friday, when I ride to Tyburn on the hangman’s cart, I shall hear the sound of the ballad-sellers bellowing a song about Patrick Magee.

On the way to Tyburn Gallows
On the way to Tyburn Gallows

[Laughs and sings lines from a mock ballad made up by himself ( tune: Packington's Pound)]

I am a bold padder, Magee is my name,
A wild Irish tory who scorns to be tame,
I robbed on the highways and milked every purse,
And for your high gallows I care not a curse.

He asked a lot of questions, that ballad-making cully: when did I first go on the highway? and why?

Well, what would you rather do - tramp through the streets, rain or shine, with a heavy basket of apples on your head, shouting yourself hoarse, [loud, singsong] “Come buy my ripe pippins! Come buy my ripe pippins!”

Or ride a fine horse with a good coat on your back, a sound pair of boots, and your pockets clinking with money?

I learned to ride when I was a boy on my father’s farm in Clanawley in the County of Fermanagh.

But that was during the wars. More than once the British planters came and burnt our crops.

Violent scenes with soldiers, C17th
Violent scenes with soldiers, C17th

Maguire’s troops, our own people, took our horses, one by one.

Last came the English army, Ludlow’s men, and drove us off our land. They wanted the land for the new settlers - English and Scottish - and had no regard for us.

We were treated as less than the meanest dog in our own country. The pride of ancient families was destroyed and we had to find our way, living in the barren hills and bogs. So many of us perished.

My mother was already dead by then. Soon after we lost the farm, my father and brother died of the plague

So I left and came to England on the boat. There’s work in London for a lad with a strong back. I made what living I could as a labourer but I soon grew tired of being treated badly and living in rough houses.

One night I went to play cards in Knockfergus. Not Knockfergus in Ireland, but Knockfergus by the Tower, where we poor Irish live.

At the table was a man called Claude Du Val. The great Claude Du Val, one of the bravest highwaymen who ever lived.

Card Game
Card Game

After we’d come to know each other, he asked me if I’d ever thought to go upon the pad - you know robbing the traveller's on the road.

I’ll swear no oath to your English king, but I took an oath of loyalty to Captain Du Val and the gang.

Three years ago that was, near enough. Three years of hearing the people call me ‘sir’ and ‘Master Magee’.

Brave times we had together; lurking in some thicket till the travellers came by, and then we’d ride out and surprise them: [shouts] “Stand and deliver your purse!” Oh, it is always a joy to see them jump and turn pale when they see the pistols.

Highwayman
Highwayman

But I’ve never shed anyone’s blood. I would never do that.

I tell you, it’s a hard law, your English law, a merciless, bloody law, that drives an Irishman off his land, then hangs him just for taking a few purses.

Hanging
Hanging

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