Collier, Michael (1780–1849), highwayman, was born at Bellewstown Hill, Co. Meath, son of a small farmer; no other details of his parents are known. Aged 13, he was employed as a farm labourer in Co. Louth, and he later worked as a carman on the Dublin–Drogheda mail coach (where he regularly stole items from passengers’ baggage) and in an iron foundry in Drogheda. By the late 1790s he had embarked on a career as a highwayman, ranging over the counties of Louth, Meath, Westmeath, and Dublin. Though he sometimes worked alone, often in the disguise of a beggar or priest, his gregarious and charismatic character attracted associates, and he led a gang for more ambitious schemes (such as barricading the road and robbing the Dublin–Drogheda mail coach at Naul, Co. Dublin). Occasionally he worked legitimately as a horse trader, buying horses at the Ballinasloe horse fair in Co. Galway to sell in England. His financial resources, however, were usually insufficient to fund his extravagant and hard-drinking lifestyle (he was twice imprisoned for debt), and he soon resumed his criminal activities. His exploits fostered his reputation as a popular folk hero, but eventually he was arrested at the Cock Tavern in Gormanstown, Co. Meath, and conscripted into a regiment serving in the West Indies.
After several years’ service in St Domingo, he left the army in 1815 and travelled to America, where he worked as a plantation manager in South Carolina. He later returned to Ireland, where he opened a public house near Ashbourne – a venture sabotaged by his own sociable and chronic drinking habits. He briefly returned to crime but, as his health declined, came to rely on the hospitality of the local population, trading stories of his escapades for food. According to D. J. O'Donoghue (qv), Collier, ‘in a miserable plight’, visited William Carleton (qv) in 1848 and proposed that the novelist write his biography. Carleton distrusted Collier's claim that ‘though I have a bad name, I never shed blood’, and declined the request. Collier succumbed to cholera on 13 August 1849 in the house of Edward Reilly in West St., Drogheda, and was buried the following day in an unmarked grave in Chord burial ground. An anonymous pamphlet, celebrating his various exploits, appeared in 1850. Collier was married twice; his second marriage being bigamous as his first wife was then incarcerated in the Drogheda poorhouse.