Comeragh Mountains

Comeragh Mountains
Curraheen, Waterford, Ireland.

The Comeragh Mountains are reputedly haunted by the ghost of William Crotty, an infamous eighteenth-century highway man who, along with his accomplices, terrorised an area stretching from Waterford as far as Kilkenny and Tipperary.

William was born in 1712 to a poor family who managed a small farm. When Crotty was 18, his father was unable to pay the rent, and this resulted in the loss of the father’s livelihood and the family home. From accounts I have seen, Crotty was a charismatic and intelligent young man and was unafraid of hard work. Had things been different, perhaps he would have chosen a different path, but feeling powerless and realising that some people had so much while others had so little, this cruel stroke of fate appeared to ignite the darker spark within him. He had a family that needed his help, and he had a “solution”. Crotty knew the surrounding mountains like the back of his hand. He could observe key transport links from a vantage point now known as Crotty’s Rock, ambush wealthy travelers as they passed through, and then vanish out of sight once he had relieved them of their valuables. A skilled horseman, he was able to make a quick getaway and it is even said that the horseshoes on his trusted steed were put on backwards to throw pursuers of his scent.

By 1738, he had assembled a small, trusted group of accomplices and over the next few years, they robbed travelers and invaded properties. Secret caves were used to safely store the fruits of their labors, one to hold the treasures they had amassed, another stolen livestock and a third which was used as a stable.

Despite the aggression displayed towards his wealthy victims, many locals regarded Crotty himself as a heroic figure, who shared some of the proceeds of his activities with the poor. Indeed, the young man did seem popular with his peers – he had friends and female attention. He married a young woman by the name of Mary, and she supported him & his comrades in their escapades.

As his notoriety grew, so did the price on his head and on the heads of his accomplices. Times were hard and the money offered in return for information about his whereabouts caused many to think twice about whether their loyalties laid. The temptation to betray their own leader also proved too great for a couple of his own men.

While Crotty was the leader of the feared gang, his associate, Davey Norris, was believed to be the brains behind some of their campaigns. Norris was a cunning and violent man. It was not beyond comprehension that he would turn on his friend, profiting from immunity, a potential reward for his cooperation and a chance to grab some of the stolen goods for himself. Some versions of the story also implicate Norris’s wife in the betrayal and as with all old stories, there are different versions as to how his capture played out, but the eventual outcome remains the same.

While some stories suggest that Norris got his friend drunk, confiscated his dagger and disabled his gun before soldiers burst in and apprehended him, a version recorded at the time was more dramatic. Based on information received, and possibly even with Norris at his side, a magistrate was able to locate Crotty’s hideaway in the mountains, and in February 1742, trapped him inside. Crotty remained steadfast in his cave for two days. Having escaped the law so many times before, he hatched another plan in the hope that he could do that once more. He shed his clothes and managed to squeeze through a narrow crevice, before fleeing naked through the mountains he knew so well. But the cold, hunger and exhaustion weakened him considerably, and his pursuers found him asleep soon after in a cabin a mile and a half away. Several sources also imply that at some point, shots were fired, and the highwayman sustained a non-fatal injury to his mouth. Reading further, if this occurred it may have been by chance, but it may also have been “pay back” for a similar assault Crotty himself had allegedly instigated on one of his own victims as part of a bet.

A month later, following testimony from Norris and another former member of his gang, William Crotty was found guilty of several crimes, including robbery and murder and was sentenced to death. He requested a stay of execution as his wife was pregnant, but this was denied. He was hanged in public – and as she watched on – on the 18th of March. In a final act of indignity, his lifeless body was decapitated, and the head placed on a spike at the gaol on the Quay, close to where the Clock Tower is now located.

Davey Norris, now afraid of retribution, made accusations under oath against Crotty’s wife Mary. and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Mary had been hiding in the Comeraghs but now, she was on the run too. While some say that she was captured, tried and sent to an overseas colony, other accounts say that she threw herself from the cliff and perished on the jagged rocks beneath.

It is said that Crotty’s hidden treasure was never found. There is a local legend that speaks of a horse emerging from the waters every seven years. If you spot the horse and see it shaking itself off, you should dig on that spot and it is said will find the highway man’s valuable stash.

You may also recall that I mentioned that Crotty used a cave as a stable for his horse. This is located near Coumshingaun Lake. It is said that on still, quiet nights, the ghostly sounds of his horse neighing can still be heard in this area.

The ghost of the man himself has also been seen. Most sightings reference a tall man in dark clothing who moves quickly and silently across the Croagh road heading towards his onetime vantage point at Crotty’s Rock. Sometimes, the spectre is seen riding a white horse.

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Further Information

Venue Name
Classification(s)
Outdoor / Street Hauntings
Address
Curraheen, Waterford, Ireland

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