The ‘news’ that Robin Hood’s Little John is buried in Hathersage, Derbyshire ( will come as a surprise to the people of Dublin, Ireland since the same John Little was hanged  for robbery and buried in Arbour Hill, an inner city area on the north side of old Dublin, close to one of the first bridges across the Liffey.

According to a number of sources, Little John came to Ireland with some of the merry men following the death of their leader Robin Hood, in 1188.


Little John’s Shot – from the point on the bridge to St Michan’s Church

The first mention of the legendary outlaw’s appearance is in Richard Stanihurst’s 16th century Irish history, De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis . Stanihurst was an Irish alchemist and intellectual and his book, Great Deeds in Ireland published in Latin and English in 1584 was heavily reliant on Giraldus Cambrensis’s Topographia Hibernica written in 1188, the same time Little John’s visit was recorded.

This is how Stanihurst relates Little John’s visit,

In the yeere one thousand one hundred foure score and nine … little John was faine to flee the realme by sailing into Ireland, where he sojornied for a few daies in Dublin. The citizens being done to understand the wandering outcast to be an excellent archer, requestd him hartilie to trie how far he could at randon; who yeelding to their behest, stood on the bridge of Dublin, and shot at the mole hill, leving behind him a monument, rather by his posteritie to be woondered than possiblie by anie man living to be counterscored” .

This account of Little John’s visit was given further credence in Joseph Cooper’s Walker’s Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, published in 1786,

“According to tradition, Little John (who followed his master to this country) shot an arrow from the old bridge to the present site of St. Michan’s Church, a distance of about 11 score and seven yards, but poor Little John’s great practical skill in archery could not save him from an ignominious fate; as it appears from the records of the Southwell family, he was publicly executed for robbery on Arbour Hill.”


Old headstones in Arbour Hill Military Cemetery

The old bridge in question has had fifteen names in its 1,000 year history. Now known as Father Matthew Bridge, it was first recorded as Droichead Dubh Ghaill (Bridge of the Dark Foreigners), it was also known, in its early years as Dane’s Bridge, Ostman’s Bridge and The Black Dane’s Bridge and later, in Medieval days as King John’s Bridge, Dublin Bridge, The Friar’s Bridge, even The Bloody Bridge.

Little John’s visit is mentioned again in Dublin University Magazine in 1857 and in the Historical Memoirs of the City of Armagh (1819).

So Heathersage, Derbyshire or Arbour Hill, Dublin? For the people of Dublin, it’s no contest particularly as Little John in Dublin shares his burial space with some of Ireland’s greatest patriot martyrs, the fourteen insurrectionists executed by the British in 1916, following the Irish Rebellion.

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