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This song is based on a true incident. The highwayman, William Brennan was caught and hanged in County Cork in the early years of the 19th century – the exact date is obscure. The ballad itself may have been composed at the time but the earliest traceable version is from about 1830. It has remained in oral tradition ever since, not only in Ireland but England also. The appeal is obviously from the Robin Hood nature of the criminal, only robbing from the rich. The song was given a boost by a recording by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in the 60s