Late at night, while walking down a street in Dublin's Stoneybatter you might hear a clanging on the cobblestones behind you but, fear not for 'tis only the ghost of Billy in the Bowl, a dubious character from 18th century Dublin.
Billy Davis was born without legs but managed to make his way around in a large iron bowl held in place with two leather straps over Billy's broad shoulders.
Billy in the Bowl, as he became known, was a familiar sight around Stoneybatter and Grangegorman. What Billy lacked in lower limbs he made up for in his arms. They were long, large and a mass of muscle, the envy of many a prizefighter.
Billy sported long locks of pitch-black hair and apparently, his features marked him out as a beauty in Dublin's streets which drew the pitiful attraction of ladies.
Billy's sole flow of income was in the business of begging. With his unusual disability and striking good looks, Billy made a handy few bob, especially from ladies of all classes who pitied the good-looking legless lad.
Billy liked to indulge in more than a few pints and had a great grá (love) for gambling. Between the gambling and the "gargle", Billy was spending his money faster than he was making it and so, he decided that stealing proved more profitable than begging.
Billy's first victim was an unsuspecting woman who was walking along a lonely lane in between Grangegorman and Stoneybatter one dark winter's evening. Billy unstrapped himself from his bowl and hid in a bush. As the woman walked closer, Billy let out a groan which drew her attention. When she bent down to look through the bush, Billy's two giant hands burst through and grabbed her. The woman fainted with fright and Billy whipped off the woman's jewelry and made off with her purse.
As nobody suspected the cripple in the bowl, Billy continued to carry out similar robberies, but the robberies took on a murderous streak. One night Billy tried to rob a servant girl but she put up a fight. In the struggle, Billy strangled the servant girl in what became known as the Grangegorman Lane Murder. It resulted in Dublin's first organized police force coming into action and Billy abstained from his murky hobby for a number of months.
Of course, Billy's funds ran dry and begging couldn't replenish his greed so he went back to his violent robberies again. More women were attacked and robbed and the police stepped up night patrols around Dublin to catch what was termed the Stoneybatter Strangler.
Billy in the Bowl. The Case of the Stoneybatter Strangler. #dublin https://t.co/9dkvoa1laX pic.twitter.com/UteubPsQIg— Sinéad Davis Cochrane (@sineadcochrane) October 18, 2017
One night two female cooks were making their way back to their lodgings after a night out at the theater when they heard a groan coming from a bush. Billy, who lay in wait, failed to notice there were two women. He grabbed one of the women when they came close but she put up a fierce resistance while the other one pulled out her hat pin and stuck it in Billy's eye.
The two women ran away leaving Billy rolling in agony on the ground with a hatpin sticking out of his eye socket. The two women came upon a police foot patrol who dashed to the scene. They were delighted they finally got the Stoneybatter Strangler but, they were highly surprised who it was.
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A crowd of locals soon gathered and one of them produced a hand cart which was used to cart Billy off to the Bridewell!
Billy in the Bowl was convicted to a life of hard labor and sent to Green Street jail. He avoided the hangman's noose but spent the rest of his days using his strength breaking stones.
Billy in the Bowl died in prison, his corpse buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location but, according to locals, his bowl can still be heard clanging off the cobblestones up around Stoneybatter...
* Originally published in 2018, updated in April 2023.
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