Crotty, William (1712–42), highwayman, was probably born at Russellstown in north Co. Waterford, son of a small farmer. He claimed that he became a highwayman aged 18 after his father was evicted from his smallholding for non-payment of rent. His early activities are largely unknown, but from about 1738 he led a gang whose depredations extended over the counties of Waterford, Tipperary, and Kilkenny. Operating from an inaccessible stronghold in the Comeragh mountains, he knew the area intimately and had several hideouts which allowed him to outwit the authorities’ search parties. He gave his name to several natural features in the Comeraghs: his hideout in the south-east of the mountains was near Lough Coumgaurha (also known as ‘Crotty's lough’); a rock that rises steeply from the edge of the lake and commands an extensive view of the surrounding roads and countryside is ‘Crotty's rock’; and an underground chamber at the foot of the rock, accessible only by rope, is ‘Crotty's den’ – this was his main hideout, which he shared only with his wife.
Crotty was a man of great courage and agility, and many legends grew up around his name. He always went about well armed, with a blunderbuss, a brace of pistols, and a dagger, and was a deadly shot with both hands. Although the authorities branded him a reckless murderer, he seems to have been popular with most local people (including some respectable ones), who claimed that he killed only in self-defence and shared his spoils with the poor; however, stories do mention that he was capable of acts of random violence. He regularly appeared at fairs and markets, and played football, hurling, and handball on the green at Kilmacthomas. He was also a renowned dancer and often attended patterns and wakes to partner the girls. There are many tales of his narrow escapes from the law, but he was eventually betrayed by the wife of David Norris, his main lieutenant and a man with a reputation for cunning and violence. Norris was arrested by the authorities on 21 March 1740, and although he escaped he was greeted by his former colleagues with such suspicion that he returned to custody in October 1741. Norris's wife betrayed Crotty's hideout to Mr Hearn, an energetic local magistrate who surprised Crotty as he emerged from his den early in February 1742 and shot him in the mouth. Crotty escaped and later took refuge in Norris's house, but Norris's wife notified Hearn, who arrived with a troop of soldiers on 16 February 1742. Crotty had been plied with whiskey and his guns spiked, but he still put up a desperate fight before being captured. He was taken to Waterford jail and tried the next month. Norris and another former member of the gang gave detailed information of Crotty's many crimes, including the murder of George Williams of Clonea. On 17 March Crotty was found guilty and sentenced to death. He asked for a stay of execution because his wife was pregnant, but this was refused. He was hanged in Waterford 18 March 1742 and his head affixed over the county jail gateway. A caoine, ‘Crotty's lament’, attributed to his wife, was written for him.
His wife Mary was greatly devoted to him and assisted in many of his escapades; she was arrested shortly after Crotty. According to some legends, after her husband's death she drowned herself by jumping from ‘Crotty's rock’ into the lake below, but it seems more likely that she was transported.