O Bold Captain Freeny

A little known fact about my family is that one of my ancestors who lived in the 1700s achieved quite a bit of fame and infamy in his life.  Of course, I’m talking of none other than the bold Captain James Freeny.  Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about him:

James Freney was a native of Kilkenny City, and from a respectable family who had been wealthy and powerful in the region since the 13th century, having their seat at Ballyreddy Castle. But during the 1650s they lost their lands and were reduced in status. His father, John Freney, was a servant working at the home of one Joseph Robbins at Ballyduff, Thomastown. In 1718 he married Robbins’s housemaid, Alice Phelan, and their son James was born the following year at Alice’s father’s home at Inistioge.

He received a good education locally—including tuition in the Robbins household—and in 1742 moved to Waterford where he opened a pub with his wife Anne. But unable to pay the exorbitant fees charged by the town corporation, the couple closed up and moved back to Thomastown. Here, Freney fell in with the Kellymount highway gang, led by fellow Thomastown man John Reddy. Their colleagues would in time number Richard Dooling, John Anderson, Felix Donnelly, James Bolger, Michael Millea, John Reddy, George Roberts, Edmond Kenny, James Larrassy and a man called Hackett.

Proclaimed an outlaw in January 1748 (old calendar), Freney surrendered in April 1749. Joseph Robbins’s brother, a lawyer, and Lord Carrick helped Freney work out a deal with the chief justices in which Freney would be allowed to emigrate. It is believed this deal was procured because the authorities feared executing him would make him a folk hero and lead to further disturbances.

The rest of the Kellymount were not so lucky. Bolger, Hackett, Kenny, Larrassy, Millea, Reddy, Hackett, Dooling and Roberts all went to the gallows. Reddy was imprisoned while Donnelly escaped to England but was eventually hanged in Kilkenny.

His autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Mr James Freney, was a huge success upon its publication in 1754. Thackeray, in reading the book, delighted in Freney’s “noble naïveté and simplicity of the hero as he recounts his own adventures”. Local landmarks named after him include Freney’s Rock and Freney’s Well, and he was the hero of The Ballad of the Bold Captain.

It is not know where or how long he was abroad—if at all—but by 1776 he had settled at the port of New Ross where he was worked as a customs official, a post he held till his death in on 20 December, 1788. He was buried in Inistioge graveyard.

Interesting, huh?  What I would give for a copy of that autobiography!  I have found a copy on Amazon.com, but it goes for over $90!

Stanley Kubrick made a movie called Barry Lyndon that was based on a book by the name of The Luck of Barry Lyndon.  I do believe that old Barry has a run-in with Bold Captain Freeny in both the film and the book.

Finally, a catchy Irish folk tune was written about him.  I have a copy of the song that you can listen to below.

Oh, what lovable rouges we Freenys are!

He's so bold!

He's so bold!


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