Robin Hood and Little John
Walkin’ through the forest
Laughin’ back and forth
At what the other’ne has to say
With the upcoming release of Robin Hood (May, 2010) starring Robin Crowe, it’s fitting to look at the enduring but surprisingly little researched local legend that suggests that Little John of Robin Hood fame visited Dublin in the 12th century.
The first reference I could find comes from Richard Stanihurst who wrote in in 1577 that:
“In the yeere one thousand one hundred foure score and nine … little John was faine to flee the realme by sailing into Ireland, where he sojornied for a few daies in Dublin. The citizens being done to understand the wandering outcast to be an excellent archer, requestd him hartilie to trie how far he could at randon; who yeelding to their behest, stood on the bridge of Dublin, and shot at the mole hill, leving behind him a monument, rather by his posteritie to be woondered than possiblie by anie man living to be counterscored” (1)
Joseph Cooper’s Walker’s Historical Memories of the Irish Bards (1786) fleshes out the story:
“According to tradition, Little John (who followed his master to this country) shot an arrow from the old bridge to the present site of St. Michan’s Church, a distance of about 11 score and seven yards, but poor Little John’s great practical skill in archery could not save him from an ignominious fate; as it appears from the records of the Southwell family, he was publicly executed for robbery on Arbour Hill.” (2)
The “old bridge” mentioned is the Father Matthew Bridge which has been there in one shape or another for over 1,000 years. A very interesting article on the history of this bridge by Frank Hopskins, which mentions the Little John legend, can be read here.
The Dublin University magazine (1857) suggests that “after the dissolution of the band in Sherwood forest … (Little John) while jouring for a few days in Dublin exibited to the citizens by shooting an arrow from the Old Bridge to a distant hillock on the northern side of the city, thence styled in after time ‘Little John’s shot'” (3)
The historical memoirs of the city of Armagh (1819) mentions in passing that “Little John … had visited Dublin about the year 1188 and had shot an arrow from Dublin – Bridge to the little hill in Oxmantown” (4)
The wonderfully named Pat Chat wrote in the Irish Times in 1882 that “Little John … exihbited feats of archery … (but) was then hanged at Arbour Hill for robbery” (5)
D.H.W in his article entitled ‘Little John in Ireland: An Exile from Sherwood” (1928) proposes that Little John and his followers “lived in the woods outside Dublin, round Arbour Hill” and reiterated the the tale that “he was caught in Dublin … (and) was publicly executed on Arbour Hill”. (6)
Like most of things concerning Robin Hood, little can be backed up by historical evidence. For example, Little John is reputed to be buried in a churchyard in the village of Hathersage, Derbyshire. A modern tombstone marks the supposed location of his grave, which lies under an old yew tree.
However, I much prefer the version that he was hanged at Arbour Hill and is buried a few feet below Connolly.
(1) Richard Stanihurst cited in Jeffery L. Singman, Robin Hood: the shaping of the legend, (Westport, 1998), p. 27
(2) Joseph Cooper, Walker’s Historical Memories of the Irish Bards, cited in James Collin’s, Life In Old Dublin (Dublin, 1913), p. 53
(3) Dublin University Magazine (Vol. 50), (Dublin, 1857), p. 108
(4) James Stuart, The historical memoirs of the city of Armagh, (Newry,1819), p. 201
(5) Pat Chat, The Irish Times, Saturday, May 20, 1882, p. 1
(6) D.W.H, The Irish Times, Friday, June 22, 1928, p. 4