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Máire Rua – Red Mary – 1927

Leamaneh Castle, Co. Clare - Home of Maire Rua Photo: Teo Romera Creative Commons
Leamaneh Castle, Co. Clare – Home of Maire Rua
Photo: Teo Romera
Creative Commons

Maev of Connacht is a name of light romance. For nigh a hundred years that strong untameable spiirit moulded and, perchance at times, marred the destiny of every notable life , that came under her influence.
To this day children are named Maev, gently nurtured children, to whose parents the Irish softness of the name appeals ; and the poetic remembrance the mists of ages have spread around the warrior Queen. Tradition tells us her hair was red — a flaming glory blent of copper and gold.
Of a much later date another red haired woman made of life a thrilling story, holding points of close resemblance to that of Maev. She lived in the earlier half of the ‘ Seventeenth ‘Century in that part of Clare where whole pages of Irish his tory are written in the stones. There are Cromlechs and forts scattered thickly around, telling of primitive strength and the human lust for supremacy. Cahercuttine (sic.) with walls of huge blocks of stone, 12 feet and more thick, and 10 feet high; another with part of it ‘veneered’ with- great slabs, and the great Doon, probably dating back to the days of the Firblogs, the Teach n’ennach, which was on a double sourced river, the Daelach, which rises thus in’ a hill north of the fort. To stand on it is to find poetry in the very names of the prominent places seen. Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora, Liscannor Bay, where the At antic comes to be caressed by the shore of Ireland. -And across the limestone flats lies the ruined home of Maureen Rhua (Red Mary), the Castle of Lemaneagh or horseleap.
‘On lonely hills where the rabbits burrow,
Are forts of kings men name not now.’
On mountain tops I have tracked the furrow
And found in forests the buried plough.
For one man living the strong land then
Gave kindly food and raiment for ten.’
So do the lone hills of Ireland call wistfully to her children to arise and find again her sleeping resources; to make the places of burrowing rabbits yield food and raiment for men.
Lemaneagh, a ruined relic no doubt of the endless strife for the possession of Ireland, was a fine picturesque Tudor house, built on to a tall peel tower dating from 1480, the house a century later. Roofless, it showed triple pointed walls and very fine stone-mullioned windows, and the three stories and attics were still at the highest point lower than the ancient tower. A small courtyard in front was entered by a massive outer archway, bearihg two richly Carved coats of’ arms, the quarterings of Conor O’Brien- and of his son, Sir Donat O’Brien, 1690.
The worn letters below bore record that — ‘This was built in the year of our Lord 1643 by Conor O’Brien and by Mary ni Mahon, Nvife. of the said Conor.’ Gardens lay at either side, and a long fishpond fed by a little stream. The high surrounding walls had a turret at one angle and a house with niches beside the door. In this it was said Mary, wife of Conor, kept a ‘blind stallion,’ a horse of so fierce a temper that her grooms had to instantly hide in the niches when they opened the ,door to give the horse freedom. In the deerpark there is a fine cromlech, and the stone fort of Caherscrebeen lies close behind. The long avenue and still longer road named in several places ‘Sir Donat’s Road,’ tell mournfully of greatness not so long gone, greatness that had kinship with those who built the forts and raised the cromlechs, but for whom it was unwise to dwell in Tudor houses and defy the results of Tudor supremacy.
Mary was the daughter of Sir Turlough MacMahon, and she belonged to a time when English influence and Iris determination were constantly clashing.
Murrough, the first Earl of Thomond, gave Lemaneagh and Dromoland to his third son. That was in 1550; and thirty tNvo years later this son, Donough, was hanged in Limerick under martial law. It was one of the times when English supremacy over-reached itself. Donough’s little son could not be disinherited be cause his father died under a military sentence. When he died, however, in 1603, Lord Inchquin made a claim to the castle through some transaction made with Perrot several years previously. This claim, however, was not pressed for twenty years, and then un successfully.
Conor O’Brien had a strong hand to aid him in his wife Maureen Rhua. Many a strange tale has been told of her raids upon the English, and one Gregory Hickman made depositions in 1642 that: ‘Conor O’Brien, gentleman, in a most rebellious manner seized upon the deponent’s corn’; and, later, ‘Conor O’Brien, of Lemaneagh, accompanied by Mary Brien’ (and others) ‘with force of arms came to the deponent’s house and took away fourteen English swine and a parcel of household stuff; also 400. sheep.
Small wonder the Tudor house has been roofless and lone this many years. Yet, Red Mary was a dauntless soul,, not tender-hearted— but who now may say what hammer blows hardened her on the anvil of her time? Conor, mortally wounded in a fight with General Ludlow, was carried home. From a window Mary saw what she thought was a corpse, and cried out: ‘We need no dead men here,’ but, finding that life lingered in her husband she cared him tenderly enough till evening, when he died. The strait she was in spurred her courage. Donat, her son, at least was dear to her. Donning her bravery of ‘magnificent blue velvet and silver,’ she drove to Limerick and sought to make terms through surrender to Ireton. He doubted her truth, and did not believe Conor was dead. As proof she said: ‘I will marry any of your officers that asks me. ‘
Not without courage, a Cornet Cooper proposed, . and they were married the same day, and the castle and lands were saved for her son, Sir Donat O’Brien. Strength breeds stories, and many a wild tale is told of this ‘ masterful woman. ‘ The gentle benignity of her name found no counterpart in her char acter; it is said that she killed the fool hardy Cornet with a kick because he ventured to make some adverse remark about her late husband. Tradition gives her many husbands,’ and to few of them a natural death. She also sought to close a right-of-way for the people of Burren, but Terence O’Loughlin, of a neighboring castle, broke her gates and kept the way open; and she is said to have hanged all her men servants by their necks, and the women servants by their hair from the corbels of Lemaneagh, probably, if true, because they were not able to enforce her will.
It may not also be true, that she was finally enclosed in a hollow tree at Carnelly and left to starve. The tale of her. ghost along the tree-shaded ave nue Avas long believed. Her portrait shows a strong, plain, red-haired woman, with rather coarse features and a fierce mouth, wearing curious ornaments, one, a pendant, very like a. bit of carving at Clonfort, and a celebrated Italian jewel. The pendant was shaped like a mermaid.
Where, I wonder, is it now? Not so very long ago Maureen Rhua lived, and little is left of all she fiercely strove for. She is but a link in the great chain of history.— H.C.M., in ‘Irish Weekly.’