Billy in the Bowl
It was said that he occasionally robbed from wealthy women who stopped to give him alms and that, since he was readily identifiable, followed robbery with murder. On one occasion in 1786 he attempted to rob two women, but they overpowered him by pulling his hair and sticking a thumb in his eye. Some hours later, male friends of the two women captured Billy in a hedge near the back of the Royal Barracks and conveyed him to custody using a wheel-barrow. Convicted of robbery, Billy was sent to Newgate prison where he saw out his days doing hard labour, while city notables came to visit him as an object of curiosity.
In Dublin folklore Billy is sometimes remembered as a Robin Hood-style character who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. He is recalled in traditional songs such as ‘The twang-man’ and makes an appearance in James Joyce's (qv) Finnegans wake: ‘Billi with the Boule, who had mummed and mauled up to that (for he was hesitency in excelcism)’. More recently he featured in Shane MacGowan's song ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’ on the album Rum, sodomy and the lash (1985): ‘You remember that foul evening when you heard the banshees howl / There was lazy drunken bastards singing “Billy in the Bowl” / They took you up to midnight mass and left you in the lurch / So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church’.