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Whiskey in the Jar

    Throughout history outlaw heroes have served to provide oppressed
people with dignity during their subjugation.  Swashbuckling, romantic
figures, they represented traditional justice as opposed to the self-interest
and inequity of the state.

    Set in 17th Century Ireland, Whiskey in the Jar is the story of Redmond
O’Hanlon--a true-life highwayman who relied more on daring, wits, and
cunning than he did on bloodshed to accomplish his goals.  He established
support and supply systems and organized rival outlaw bands into an army
with which to thwart the occupational forces of the English.

    O’Hanlon was known as the “Robin Hood of Ulster”, for not only did he
rob the English and Scottish settlers (or charge them a fee called the
“black rent” to protect them from robbery by himself or anyone else), he
also stole rent monies from the wealthy landlords to share with the Irish
tenants from whom they had been collected.  In turn, the tenant farmers supported and protected Redmond and his men from the English soldiers and the squires’ agents who sought their capture.

    The story begins when Richard Power (of whom the song “Whiskey in the Jar” was written), who is on the run from the authorities, leaves County Kerry to join forces with O’Hanlon in Armagh.  For a time, along with Redmond’s brothers, Loughlin and Edmund, and other outlaws, Strong John MacPherson, Harry Donoghen, Shane Bernagh, and Patrick MacTighe, they were able to thwart the efforts of the English establishment to effectively govern their colony.  They harass the English soldiers--trick them, rob them, even steal and sell back to them their own horses.  The highwaymen roam Ireland’s highways and byways and rob both rider and coach, who haven’t paid their protection money.  ‘Twas said, “The highways of Ulster were safe only if ye were under the protection of Count Redmond O’Hanlon.”

    Whiskey in the Jar is pertinent to today because it is the story of how the bitter and long-fought rivalry between Northern Ireland’s Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists began. 

    There were many pamphlets written about Redmond O’Hanlon in the 17th and 18th Centuries and it’s been said that Sir Walter Scott once contemplated writing a novel on this rapparee but found a scarcity of information on the man.  When I first began writing the story the Internet was not a great source for me.  In the last couple of years this has changed and there seems to be more and more information pertaining to the story’s place and time with each passing day.  Only recently did I discover that a novel was written about Redmond O’Hanlon by William Carleton in 1862.  Its title is: Redmond Count O'Hanlon, the Irish Rapparee, an Historical Tale.  I’ve only skimmed through it (online as it’s out of print) but can see that it bears no resemblance to the story that I’ve concocted and it actually takes place after Redmond O’Hanlon is known to be dead. 

    The song “Whiskey in the Jar”, recorded by numerous Irish folk groups and rock bands, including Thin Lizzie, U2, and Metallica, is believed to be the inspiration for The Beggar’s Opera and The Three Penny Opera, from which the song “Mack the Knife” was adapted (Macheath being the highwayman).

    In Ireland there are but five million people.  Worldwide, though, there are seventy million of us who are descendants of the Irish Diaspora, forty million in the United States alone.  Whiskey in the Jar, though largely fictional, is based on obscure but significant events in our history.  Part fact, part legend, the tale is comprised of chronicle, myth, and conjecture.

Copyright © January 2008 Michael D. Kerrigan


A sneak preview of the soon-to-be-published Whisky in the Jar

                            Prologue                                Chapter One

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