Howth Tea-Smuggler Escapes as Revenue Routed by Pill Lane ‘Mob,’ 1764

Portrait of a Smuggler, by Henry Pertwee Parker, via Selling Antiques

From the Oxford Journal, 28 July 1764:


Dublin, July 17. Last Friday Night some Revenue Officers made a Seizure at Howth of 160 Casks of Tea; but they were soon after attacked by a Number of Smugglers, when a desperate Engagement ensued, in which one Higley, a Smuggler, was killed; only seven Casks out of the whole Parcel, were carried off by the Officers. A Brother to the Deceased was taken Prisoner by the Officers, and this Day sent to Town, guarded by a Serjeant and four private Men, but in passing thro’ Pill Lane, on their way to Kilmainham, they were assaulted by a tumultuous Rabble, which rescued the Prisoner, and dangerously wounded the Serjeant; the House of a reputable Shop-keeper, into which the Soldiers retired, was much abused by the Mob.”

Pill Lane, 1811, via the Dublin City Digital Archive

Just one of many exciting goings-on in the very exciting and somewhat rebellious street of Pill Lane over the years!

Others include a dancing bear climbing up a lamppost, numerous escaped livestock, an underground prison break and a couple of fires which, but for luck, might even have destroyed the Four Courts itself. A reconfigured Pill Lane now survives as Chancery Street, but most of the western side has now been incorporated into the Four Courts site.

Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, many of the businesses along Pill Lane traded in tea. The generally rebellious nature of the street – which had played a significant part in the 1798 Rebellion – may have been one of the reasons for removing it. A much later example of its residents’ successful defiance of authority can be found here.

Late 19c, via Geohive: much of Pill Lane has now been incorporated into the Four Courts site, with the rest forming Chancery Street and the Bridewell.

More on smuggling in Howth in Francis Elrington Ball’s ‘A History of the County Dublin,’ which details Mr Higley’s death but omits to mention the escape of his brother, here.

Smugglers on the Irish Coast, by Julius Caesar Ibbetson, via the Tate, hat-tip to @TheTomMallow and @JohnConstableRA

As late as 1820, Thomas Kitson Cromwell, in his ‘Excursions Through Ireland,‘ describes the town of Howth as “inhabited by a singularly hardy and healthy race of men, generally above the common height, who, until very lately, were noted smugglers, and several of the father and grandfathers of the present race, are frankly stated by them to have died of wounds received in the pursuit of that illicit calling. In one encounter of this kind, it is narrated, a Howth man who had fallen, was found to have owed his death to the lodgement of a sleeve-button in his heart; a revenue-officer, whose ammunition was expended, having loaded his pistol with this extraordinary bullet.”

Are there still Higleys in Howth?

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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