According to legend Jenny Watts was the youngest daughter of Jack Watts owner of the Jolly Fisherman, a tavern to the west of the County Down town of Bangor.
As well as being the proprietor of the Jolly Fisherman, John Watts was also involved in smuggling, coffee, tea, silk and brandy from the Isle of Man and selling them in the expanding town of Belfast. As it did not pay the high duties levied in Great Britain and Ireland the Isle of Man was widely used as a base for smuggling contraband into Ireland and Scotland. Jack Watts did not take an active part in the smuggling but encouraged and assisted his daughter Jenny. Jenny was an excellent sailor and skippered her wherry regularly to the Isle of Man port of Peel to obtain duty-free wine and brandy to be sold to the growing population of Belfast. This illegal trade continued for some years and Jenny became a local hero as she shared the proceeds of her activities among the poor in the local community.
Jenny Watts Cave
She had a number of close encounters with the excise men (similar to below right) but, because of her local popularity, she had always managed to avoid capture. The penalties for smuggling were severe, ranging from long periods of imprisonment to hanging. It is not clear how it ended. Rumour has it that one dark November night while Jenny and her crew were storing kegs of brandy in the cave (now known as Jenny Watts Cave) they were surprised by a large number of excise men. It was suggested that she had been betrayed by a local squire whom Jenny had rejected. The crew managed to escape but Jenny who was deep in the cave when the excise men arrived decided to hide rather than face a long term of imprisonment. Jenny was never seen again and the locals believed she was drowned when the tide came in and flooded the cave.
It is also rumoured that she can be seen on Brompton Harbour (below left) on the last Friday of November every year. Near Jenny Watts Cave and a short walk along Bangor’s coastal path. To commemorate her legend (and to share a bit about Bangor) I created the Jenny Watts Treasure Hunt (website here).