The Irish robber, together with My old horse
“The Irish Robber,” with its Robin Hood theme, has no evidence of actually having been written by an Irishman. The language is English. It is simply the confession of a man born in Dublin who is to be hanged for robberies, most of which were committed in London. He was arrested by Henry Fielding’s “gang.” These were the Bow Street Runners, a group organized by the English novelist-turned-lawyer who in 1749 became London’s first police magistrate and pioneer in the detection of crime. The only Irish connection is that the execution is to take place “on Stevens’ Green,” which is an area southeast of central Dublin.
The text appeared on at least four contemporary broadsides, two of which also include “My Old Horse” (Ford, “Broadsides” #3282). A quite different version of this text was copied out by Betsy Gaylord in her collection of lyrics and tunes around 1800. Her version ends with the line, “Here lies the rake and the rambling boy,” giving a somewhat different emotional slant to the song (116-18). Several other “Irish Robber” songs bear no resemblance to this text (Laws L13 and 15).
A dialogue between an old horse and his master, the sad “My Old Horse” is unusually sentimental for a lyric on animals although the old man himself is not particularly interested in the horse’s feelings. Two slip ballad versions of this text with rearranged verses have the burden “O, Ball, O!” and “Fol de rol, &c.,” but they have not led to the discovery of an associated tune (Madden Collection 5:114 #947). An 1858 broadside with this text gives a tune indication of “Dog and Gun” but the tune of that title that was current in 1812-14 does not fit these verses. The text was printed on English and American broadsides well into the nineteenth century (Roud #513).
“The Irish robber, together with My old horse,” Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project, accessed June 10, 2023, https://www.americanantiquarian.org/thomasballads/items/show/132.