Billy in the Bowl

something from the archives. Daev Walsh forwards an article from The Irish Digest about “Billy in the Bowl“. This story is also immortalised in an old Dublin song, which in turn was mentioned in a Pogues track. Billy was a legless beggar in the alleys of Stoneybatter and Grangegorman (where I now live) during the 18th century, who discovered a new, but not entirely legal, way to make money.


daev (spam-protected)
Subject: The Case of the Stoneybatter Strangler

A story of my new neighbourhood…

The Irish Digest July 1964

The Case of the Stoneybatter Strangler

The handsome, deformed Billy in the Bowl evolved a plan to rob his donors. Then, one night, he made the biggest mistake of his life

DUBLIN in the eighteenth century was noted for two things – the architectural beauty of its public buildings and the large number of beggars who sought alms in its maze of streets and lanes. Many of these beggars relied on visitors and the gentry for their coin, but there was one who campaigned among the working class. This was “Billy In The Bowl”

The strange appellation was derived from the fact that Billy’s sole means of transport was a large bowl-shaped car with wheels. Seated in this ” bowl “, the beggar would propel himself along by pushing against the ground with wooden plugs, one in each hand.

Billy’s unusual means of conveyance was vitally necessary, as he had been born without legs. Nature, however, had compensated for this by endowing him with powerful arms and shoulders and, what was most important, an unusually handsome face.

This was Billy’s greatest asset in his daily routine of separating sympathetic passers-by from their small change.

The cunning young beggar would wait at a convenient spot on one of the many lonely roads or lanes which were a feature of eighteenth century Grangegorman and Stoneybatter, until a servant girl or an old lady would come along.

He would then put on is most attractive smile which, together with his black curly hair, never failed to halt the females. The fact that such a handsome young man was so terribly handicapped physically always evoked pity.

“Billy in the Bowl”, however, wasn’t satisfied with becoming the daily owner of a generous number of small coins; what his greed demanded were substantial sums of money. The more he managed to get the more he could indulge in his pet vices – gambling and drinking.

As a result the beggar evolved a plan to rob unsuspecting sympathisers. The first time lie put his plan into operation was on a cold March evening as dusk, was falling. The victim was a middle aged woman who was passing through Grangegorman Lane on her way to visit friends in Queen Street – on Dublin’s North Quays.

When Billy heard the woman’s footsteps, he hid behind some bushes in a ditch which skirted the lane. As his unsuspecting victim drew close, the beggar moaned and shouted, and cried out for help.

Trembling with excitement, the woman dashed to the spot where Billy lay concealed. She bent down to help the beggar out of the ditch, when two powerful arms closed around her throat and pulled her into the bushes.

In a few minutes it was all over. The woman lay in a dead faint, and Billy was travelling at a fast rate down the lane in his ” bowl “, his victirn’s purse snug in his coat pocket. An hour after the robbery the woman was found in a distracted condition, but failed to give a description of her assailant. And, as “Billy in the Bowl” had figured, nobody would suspect a deformed beggar.

Again and again the beggar carried out his robbery plan, always shifting the place of attack to a different part of Grangegorman or Stoneybatter.

On one occasion ” Billy in “the Bowl ” tried his tactics on a sturdy servant girl who put up such a vigorous resistance that he was forced to strangle her. The incident became known as the 11 Grangegorman Lane Murder and caused a great stir.

Hundred.s flocked to the scene of the crime and for a couple of months “Billy in the Bowl” was forced to desert his usual haunts. Around this period, Dublin’s first-ever police force was been mobilised, and the first case they were confronted with was the Grangegorman lane murder.

Months passed and “Billy in the Bowl” reverted once again to his old pasttime. A number of young servant girls were lured into ditches and robbed, and the police were inundated with so many complaints that a nightly patrol was placed on the district. But the beggar still rolled along in his “bowl” pitied and unsuspected. Then came the night that finished Billy’s career of crime.

Two stoudy built female cooks, trudging back to their places of employment after a night out in the city, were surprised and not a little shocked to hear shouts for help. Rushing over, they came upon a huddled figure in the ditch.

Billy, thinking there was only one woman, grabbed one of the cooks and tried to pull her into the ditch. She proved much too strong for him, however) and while resisting tore ‘at his face with her sharp finger-nails.

Meanwhile, her companion acted with speed and daring. Pulling out her large hatpin she made .for the beggar, and plunged the pin into his right eye.

The screams and howls of the wounded beggar reverberated throughout the district and brought people dashing to the scene. Among them was a member of the nightly police patrol who promptly arrested the groaning Billy.

“Billy in the Bowl” was tried and sentenced for robbery with violence, but they could never prove it was he who had strangled the servant girl. The Grangegorman-Stoneybatter district became once again a quiet, attractive Dublin suburb where old ladies strolled, and carefree servant girls laughed and giggled as they wended their way home at night.


Rev. Dave ‘daev’ Walsh, (spam-protected) Home:
Weekly Rant: ‘Is it about a bicycle?’-Sgt.Pluck, ‘The Third Policeman’, by Flann O’Brien

Holistic Pet Detective, Owl Worrier, Snark Hunter
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  1. Seamus Carmichael
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 02:49 | Permalink

    The Dubliners recorded a “Billy in the Bowl” song on an LP from the late 60’s, though it seems to have escaped the compilers of Dubliners’ Discographies out there e.g. Wilipedia

  2. Seamus Carmichael
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 02:51 | Permalink

    The Dubliners recorded a “Billy in the Bowl” song on an LP from the late 60’s, though it seems to have escaped the compilers of Dubliners’ Discographies out there e.g. Wikipedia