Máire Rua and the Cliffs of Moher
Mary MacMahon (1615?-1686) was a member of the County Clare aristocracy. She and her second husband modernised and lived in Leamaneh Castle in the Burren of North Clare near Kilfenora. He was killed in battle, and Mary married again. Her third husband lived to a great age. After her death, for reasons lost in the obscurity of time, she was transformed by legend into the lustful and sinister Máire Rua Red-Headed Mary.
Máire Rua married 25 times, kept a harem of men disguised as maidservants, took a soldier to bed every night and murdered him in the morning take your pick; they can’t all be “true”.
The Cliffs of Moher are the setting for two stories, or two versions of the same yarn. One of her (three) husbands was riding her stallion near the Cliffs when Máire whistled a signal that made the horse throw him over the edge.
The other tale is that as a wealthy widow she was continually pestered by proposals of marriage. To separate the men from the boys, she required each suitor to ride her “untamed” stallion from Leamaneh Castle to the Cliffs and back again. None passed the test, because the horse had been trained to throw its rider off on reaching the Cliffs.
Young Turlough O’Loughlin applied for the vacancy, but he was either given a magic charm by an old man wise to her trick or told by his father to use his own bridle. In either case, Turlough was not unseated at the Cliffs. When Máire saw him galloping back to the castle she closed the gate against him, but he leapt the horse over the gate in defiance. The horse fell and was killed, but Turlough survived.
The story doesn’t tell if he married Máire, but the incident is said to be the origin of the castle’s name: Léim an Eich the Horse’s Leap. However, the district bore that name long before Máire Rua’s time.
Richard Marsh, Storyteller
Cliffs of Moher (700 ft.)
Location: Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland
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