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Leamaneh Castle and the Story of the Notorious Red Mary

by Roberto
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On the edge of the Burren in Ireland’s County Clare, lies the ruins of Leamaneh Castle. At first sight, it’s pretty, if not spectacular. Most people keep driving, without taking that second important glance. A glance into the castle’s past, that is. Before them stands one of the most haunted Irish castles, and the home of one of its most notorious historical figures. This is Leamaneh Castle, the home of Red Mary.

Leamaneh Castle is all but a ruin today. It sits on private land near the intersection of the R476 and the R480, the road which travels through the magnificent Burren in County Clare. As it is on private land it’s not possible to enter, without the expressed permission of the owners. However there is space on the road side from which to admire it from. Nowadays it’s short a roof and only the shell remains of what it once was.

If you stand and linger long enough, it’s easy to see the sinister edge of the place. The red haired ghost of Mary is said to still haunt this place to this day. With all the blood on her hands from her life, it would come as no surprise. The ravens circling above add another dimension to this haunting ruin.


History of Leamaneh Castle

Little is known of the history of the castle before or after its famed inhabitant. The tower house on the end is said to have been built around 1480 by Toirdealbhach Donn MacTadhg O’Briain, King of Thomond. O’Brian would later surrender to King Henry VIII, to become earl of Thomond. It served its defensive purpose until the day Red Mary walked in its door.

When Red Mary moved to Leamaneh Castle in the 1640’s with her second husband Conor O’Brian, they set about creating a home of some note. The 4 storey tower was extended to become a 4 storey high gabled mansion. Large mullioned and transomed windows became a defining feature of what was one of the most splendid houses in the country during the 17th century. The decorative rather than defensive form was particularly unusual, as this was a time of much strife on the island of Ireland.

The Fall of Leamaneh Castle

Red Mary’s son Donagh, moved the family seat to Dromoland castle in 1689, and were the wealthiest and most powerful family in the area. Leamaneh fell into ruin with the years and by the 18th century was completely derelict. The barbican gates that once adorned the estate can now be seen at Dromoland (they were moved there by the Baron Inchiquin, the descendant of Mary). For an dramatic image of how it looks now, this superb video should by TheNigelCox should have your imagination racing.

Source: TheNigelCox Youtube

How Red Mary ended up in Leamaneh Castle

Red Mary McMahon (or Maire Rua as she was known in Irish), was born in 1615 to wealth. Her father was Lord of Clonderlaw, and her mother the daughter of the third Earl of Thomond. She was known for her bright red hair, and maybe the name referenced her temperament a little too. She married Daniel O’Neylan of Dysert O’Dea Castle in County Clare. On the death of her first husband she inherited his lands and a dowry of £1000, which was in fact a substantial amount in its day. It’s then that her story starts to get interesting. After marrying her second husband, Conor O’Brien they packed up and moved to Leamaneh.

Mary and her husband were known opponents of Cromwellian rule, and they would ride out together to attack English settlers. When O’Brien was badly wounded during on attack on the Cromwellian general Henry Ireton in the battle of Inchicronan, he was taken back to the castle where he died. Mary, in knowledge that she would now forfeit her lands, rode to Limerick, where she then offered to marry any Cromwellian officer. John Cooper was the lucky (or is that unlucky) soldier who stood up. With the marriage he in fact gained great wealth, and Mary was able to retain her family’s home and power.

The history books tell us that Mary and John Cooper lived to a handsome age, and Mary gave birth to twelve children along the way. But that’s how the history books note it. Local folklore and popular belief tell a much different story.

Red Mary of Leamaneh castle
Maire Rua. Source: Wikipedia

Will the real Red Mary please stand up

So now we know the history behind the woman, what about the woman behind the history? Many, many stories abound of her cruelty and the Clare Library is a great resource on them. True or not, here’s some of the more outlandish.

A Good Wife

As Conor O’Brien returned to Leamaneh dying from his wounds, Mary is said to have thrown open her window and yelled “What do I want with dead men here”? She did nurse him in his dying moments, but after his death it wasn’t long before she was married again. Whether we put this down to an insatiable appetite for men, or a smart tactical move is open to debate.

Red Mary’s third husband John Cooper met his comeuppance when he made a comment to Mary about her previous husband. Taking offence she jumped out of bed, kicked him in the stomach and he subsequently died. Conflicting reports say he died while shaving. Perhaps she picked her time well to lay that kick. Other stories suggest he “fell” from a third floor window.

Rumour also has it that she had 25 husbands over her lifetime. After a year and a day she would divorce them. What was that I said about appetites again? Having switched to Protestantism for her third marriage, it’s not altogether impossible. Or did they indeed come to a more sinister end?

A Tough Enemy

Red Mary is said to have sent enemies over the Cliffs of Moher on horseback, where they then plummeted to their death in the sea below. The cliffs are about 20 km away, and many question if this actually happened. But a clue possibly lies in the name of the castle. Leamaneh translates as the horse’s leap. Did that name become attached before or after the time of Red Mary. We may never know but I’ll let you, the reader, draw your own conclusion.

Leamaneh translates as the horse’s leap.

Red Mary was known to hang the servants that displeased her. The men by their necks and the women by their hair. She is also said to have cut off the breasts of the women.

A Deserving End to Red Mary

Mary obviously crossed too many people in her time, as she finally met her demise when her enemies rounded and buried her alive in a hallowed out tree. Whether the tree stood at Leamaneh or at the nearby Carnelly near Clare Castle is the subject of much speculation. It is said that the ghost of Mary haunts both. I wouldn’t put it past her; she seemed formidable. Personally I wonder how you bury someone in a tree? Her red haired ghost is said to still walk the floors of the castle. Perhaps it’s the reason why it was left to fall into ruin.

Leamaneh Castle

Have I piqued your curiosity in haunted castles? Then Leap Castle should be on your itinerary. With around 50 ghosts in attendance its sure to send a chill down your spine. Especially on the self guided tour. Read my experience of Leap Castle here.

Looking for accommodation in Clare? Booking.com is always a safe bet. Using the link below might help me update my face mask collection. This post contains affiliate links, which means I may subsequently receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any money, it will help keep this site going and me travelling. Thank you for your support. Best to zoom out.



Booking.com


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Red Mary

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