by Garry Bryant / Garaidh Ó Briain
Torlach Rua MacMahon was Lord of Clonderlaw in County Clare and his wife was Mary O'Brien, daughter of the Conor O'Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond. This couple are the parents of Máire Rua MacMahon, who was born in 1615 probably at Clonderlaw, County Clare, Ireland.
Máire was known also as ' Máire Rua' (Red Mary) for her red hair, and yes she is known to have had a temper. Her first husband was Daniel Neylon, of Dysart O Dea, married around 1631. In 1594 the Bishop of Kildare at the time, Daniel O’Neylan, acquired the surrounding lands of the castle. The Bishops grandson, Daniel and his wife Máire "Rua" ní Mahon went on to inhabit the castle during their lifetimes. [http://www.castlesinireland.net/odea-castle.html] Daniel died about 1638 leaving Máire to take care of three sons, but he left her £1,000 to help take care of his family's needs.
Around 1639 a second marriage took place with a cousin Conor O'Brien. With the £1,000 that Máire Rua brought into the marriage a mansion was added and finished in 1648 to the fifteenth century tower house called Leamaneh, which is located between Inchiquin and Kilfenora. Only a shell of what must have been one of the magnificent homes of the seventeenth century remains.
Conor O'Brien was appointed in January 1642, to raise a troop of horse for his cousin Lord Inchiquin who commanded for the King of England in Cork. It is doubtful that Conor raised troops for the king, for he sided with the Supreme Council of Confederate Catholics after the first of June 1642, taking part in raids against English farmers. [Máire Mac Neill, Maire Rua: Lady of Leamaneh. (Whitegate, Clare, Ireland: Ballinakella Press, 1990) Pp. 26-27. NOTE - hereafter referred to as Mac Neill.] Maire Rua and husband Col. Conor O'Brien used to ride at the head of their troops in the wars and one raid on Gregory Hickman in October 1642, in a sworn deposition named Maire as riding with her husband's troops raid on his estate on 12 January 1642 (Maire had three weeks earlier given birth to Donat). [Mac Neill, p.28.] During one such outing in 1642, Conor O'Brien of Leamaneh, seized the castle, thereby continuing his father's claim to Dromoland. [Mac Neill, p. 32.]
Disappointment came to Conor in March 1646 with the revoking of his rank of lieutenant colonel and the company he lead. His company being sent to England to help a Catholic king's army. In 1647 the Supreme Council appointed Conor to the position of High Sheriff of County Clare. [Mac Neill, p. 39.]
Three years later Máire Rua's husband is promoted to colonel of a horse regiment in May 1650. Tragdey befell the O'Brien family during the summer of 1651, two of the couple's daughters, Mary and Slaney died and were buried at the Coad church where an inscription below the east window reads:
"HERE LYES THE . BODIES OF MARY AND . SLANY NY BRIENN DAVGH . TERS TO CONNOR OBRIEN . AND MARY BRIEN ALIAS . MAHON OF LEMINEAGH . ANND OMINI 1651." [Mac Neill, p. 49.]
Parliamentarian General Henry Ireton (Olivier Cromwell's son-in-law) sent five of his best men, disguised as sportsmen, to shoot Conor O'Brien, and one of them succeeded in wounding him. Máire captured and hanged the man, called her sons and advised them to surrender to the Parliament. . . . [T.J. Westropp, Folklore. [Vol. 24?] (1913) Pp. 494-495. NOTE - hereafter referred to as Westropp.] [different version by Lady Chatterton, Rambles in the South of Ireland. Vol. 2. (1839, 2nd edition) Pp. 183-85.]
Ireton was attacked by Conor O'Brien, at Inchecroghnan a pass west of Ennis. Conor fell mortally wounded. Legend has his servants bring him back, nearly dead, to his wife at Leamaneh. 'She neither spoke nor wept,' but shouted to them from the top of the tower,- 'What do I want with dead men here?' Hearing that he was still alive she nursed him tenderly till he died. This clash of arms was during the last week of July 1651. Conor was age thirty-three, and probably buried at Ennis Abbey. [Mac Neill, p. 52.][different version in O'Brien, p. 203.]
Soon Máire realized that because of her husband supporting revolt against the Cromwellians, their estate of Leamaneh would be confiscated. Quickly she put on her best apparel of blue and silver, called for her coach pulled by six horses, and proceeded to Limerick which was under siege by General Ireton. At the outposts she was stopped by a sentinel, and roared, and shouted, and cursed at him until Ireton and his officers, who were at dinner, heard the noise and came out. On their asking who was the woman, she replied,- 'I was Conor O'Brien's wife yesterday, and his widow to-day.' 'He fought us yesterday. How can you prove he is dead?' 'I'll marry any of your officers that asks me.' Cornet John Cooper, a brave man, at once took her at her word, and they were married, so that she saved the O'Brien property for her son, Donat. [Westropp, pp. 494-495.] This time period is refuted in other versions of the story which state that Máire Rua didn't marry until 1653, two years after Conor's death. Various documents narrows down the time period between August 1653, and May 1656, but probably in late 1653. [different version: O'Brien, p. 203.]
By October 1651, Parliamentarian troops had occupied Leamenah Castle when Ludlow spent two nights. So where was Máire during this time? She probably sought refuge at Inchiquin where her sister Honoria lived until they too were expelled.
The English 'Parliament's Act for the Settling of Ireland' called for all Catholic landowner's holdings to be confiscated beginning in August 1652. [Mac Neill, p. 60.]
As for Englishman John Cooper, his first documented appearance is as the third signatory on the certificate allowing young William Neylon/Neyland, Máire 's first child and age seventeen, to travel by ship to Spain, dated 1652, same year that the young William made out his will stating that he nor his father had anything to do with the revolt and that he should have the estate of his late father Daniel Neyland be exempted from confiscation, and for his mother to manage the estate while he was absent. Very smart thinking on Máire 's part for her son and the Neylon estate. Years later William returns to Ireland and in records is titled captain, indicating rank in a continental army. [Mac Neill, p. 61.]
Maire's name appears on a land transaction dated 4 August 1653, and she is identified as 'Mary Brien al Mohowny.' She had not married John Cooper by this time. [Mac Neill, p. 62.]
Marrying John Cooper paid off in that his influence as an Englishman and Protestant is listed in the records as a transplant to Clare and thus swayed the commissioners of transplanting folks from Ulster, Leinster and Munster from attacking the estate of Neylon and got them to give Máire 's son, Donat, a very small portion of his father's confiscated lands. Another smart maneuver was having Donat raised as a Protestant making it possible for him to inherit. [Mac Neill, p. 66.] During this time period Máire defended the folks who had to appear before the courts at Loughrea and Athlone, and she confronted Sir Charles Coote.
Legends tell that Máire Rua hanged her maids by their hair from the corbels on the old peel tower, (the nucleus of the building). Others said that she cut off the breasts of her maids. [Westropp, p.494.]
There is a folklore that she kept a wild stallion which her visitors she invited to ride. Being a wild horse it tried to unset the rider and would charge to the Cliffs of Moher where the stallion suddenly halted and the rider went head over his mount and into the western ocean. ["Leamenagh Castle. A Legend of the Wild Horse," by Charles ffrench Blake, The Galway Vindicator and Connaught Advertiser, 12, 16, 19 February 1870.] Added to this myth a man from the Burren by the name Torlach O'Lochlainn was the only suitor the horse failed to dismount. Riding the horse back to Leamaneh, Máire Rua ordered that the gate to the estate be closed, but the stallion died jumping over the gate. Hence the name 'Leamaneh' means in Irish 'horse's leap.' There are various versions of this legend. Another version adds that the horse belonged to the Dalcassion steeds, and Máire 's insisting that every stranger ride the horse was a test to see if they were of royal blood and unstained honor. There are many versions of this myth. [Mac Neill, p. 103.]
Westropp was told in 1878-81 that she married 25 husbands, all the later ones for a year and a day, after which either of the pair could divorce the other. All these men had a violent end. In connection to the former tale, it is said that she used to put her servants into all the houses of her temporary husband, and then suddenly divorce him and exclude him from his property. [Westropp, p. 494.]
One of the latest myths about Máire Rua was told in 1978, that she would lure an English soldier into her bed and by morning the man was dead. [Mac Neill, p. 99.]
It is claimed by some that Máire Rua is buried at Coad church in Kilnaboy parish. Her two daughters are buried there and it is thought that Máire had constructed the church there following a dispute with the Rector at Kilnaboy. Yet Westropp remembers when a young lad being told that 'Maureen Rhue' was taken by her enemies in 1686, after killing the last of her 25 husbands, and was fastened up in a hollow tree, of which the site and, I think, the alleged roots were still shown. Her red-haired ghost was reputed to haunt the long front avenue, near the 'Druids' altar' when Westropp was a child. [Westropp, pp. 495-96.]
In 1937 in a school girl's report at Kilkeedy School, that while riding Máire Rua O'Brien was killed by a fork in a tree catching her neck. Again various versions of this myth.
The truth is that the later years of Máire Rua were spent probably at Castlekeel near Carrow Catlin (Newmarket-on-Fergus), a property on the estate of the Earl of Thomond, which was put in trust for her, the trustees being Donough O'Brien and Lord Henry O'Brien (son of 7th Earl of Thomond). [Mac Neill, p. 80.]
Her will, written by herself, is dated 7 June 1686, and probably is buried next to Conor O'Brien in an unmarked grave at Ennis Abbey, County Clare, Ireland.
10. Daughter O'Brien - May have died of the plague that had raged in the Limerick district in the year of the siege 1651.
11. Daughter O'Brien - May have died of the plague that had raged in the Limerick district in the year of the siege 1651.
12. Mary O'Brien - Born about 1650. Married 1st to Donough MacNamara, married 2nd Mr. Wilson of Fenagh.
Máire Rue (MacMahon, O'Brien) and John Cooper had one known child.
13. Henry Cooper - Married with issue. Killed in 1701, Kilmateery, County Clare, Ireland.
14. Possible daughter Cooper -
The earliest mention of the tower house of Leamaneh is in 1550 when the property was granted to Donough O'Brien.
A fifteenth century tower house that was added on to by Conor O'Brien with the £1,000 he inherited upon marriage to Máire Rua. The tower house was expanded to include a four story stone mansion, perhaps the finest building at that time. The impressive structure houses the kitchens and work areas on the ground floor with the main living quarters being on the first and second story. Today Leamaneh Castle is nothing but a shell of ruins that are on private land, but the site is near the road. Along with a tower & mansion house was curious gardens, courtyards, fishpond, and outbuildings, between Inchiquin and Kilfenora.
In addition to improving the house, Conor surround it with a fortified wall and an impressive front gate. The high and rounded entrance gate held an inscription that said:
"built in the year 1643 by Conor O'Brien and by Mary ni Mahon, wife of the said Connor."
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.