Unlike many other folk songs, “Captain Grant” is based on a true story. Jeremiah Grant from County Laois, formerly Queen’s County, was a renowned highwayman in the early 19th century. Despite his crimes and his habit of demanding protection money from farmers, he was well-liked in the area and a favourite of the ladies. He had a Robin Hood-like reputation for championing the poor and was apparently respected in the locality. In 1816 his luck ran out when he was arrested for robbery, imprisoned in Wexford, tried, found guilty and hanged at the age of 31.
The assertion in Mr Benfield’s version that he was tried in Edinburgh is incorrect, but broadsides printed the location as Edinburgh. Why should historical accuracy get in the way of a good song?
Despite the setting of the story in Ireland, all the collected versions are from the south of England.