Abandoned ireland


Leamaneh Castle
Co. Clare.

Documenting our Heritage

Leamaneh Castle originally consisted of a simple five storey tower house which was built around 1480 by Turlogh O’Brien, King of Thomond. The name of the castle 'Leamaneh' is said to derive from the Irish 'Leim an eich' or in English, 'The horse's leap'. In 1543, Turlogh O’Brien's son, Murrough, surrendered the castle and his Irish royalty to Henry VIII. Murrough O’Brien, was subsequently created 1st Earl of Thomond and Baron Inchiquin. As a condition to these tittles he adopted English customs and laws, pledged his allegiance to the English crown and converted to the Anglican Church.

In 1648, Conor O'Brien and his wife, Mary McMahon, extended the tower with the addition of a four storey mansion house. The resultant structure is that which stands in ruins today.

Mary McMahon, commonly known as Mary Rua (Red Mary) due to her flaming red hair was a formidable character of the time and features in numerous folklore tales. She was born in 1615, daughter of Torlach Rua McMahon, Lord of Clonderlaw. Her first husband, Daniel O'Neillan of Dysert O'Dea Castle in north Clare died young, leaving his substantial estate and £1,000 to his wife.

In 1639, Red Mary married Conor O'Brien, bringing her inheritance with her and it was this fortune that paid for Leamaneh Castle to be transformed into county Clare’s most magnificent seventeenth century mansion house.

In 1651, Conor O'Brien fought against Cromwell’s new model army. According to an account by Lady Chatterton, written in 1839, General Ireton sent five of his best soldiers, disguised as sportsmen, to attack and kill him. One of these soldiers succeeded in mortally wounding him and his servants bought him, half dead, back to his wife at Leamaneh. Red Mary apparently shouted from the top of the tower 'What do I want with dead men here?’ Just hours later, Conor was indeed dead and Red Mary immediately put on her best dress and set off in her carriage for Limerick. In a bid to retain her lands and estates she offered to marry any willing Cromwellian officer. She was soon wed to Captain Cooper. It is said that some days later, during an argument with her new husband, Captain Cooper was pushed out of a third storey window.

According to legend Red Mary went on to wed a grand total of twenty-five husbands. Eventually, after killing her last husband she was taken by her enemies and sealed into a hollow tree. The gruesome spectre of her red-haired ghost is said to be still seen haunting Leamaneh Castle today.

Red Mary’s son, Donagh O'Brien, was the last of the O'Brien's to live at Leamaneh. He moved the family seat to the much larger Dromoland Castle. There were other occupants of Leamaneh but the castle finally fell into ruin at the end of the 18th century.

On the 9th December 1908, Dr George MacNamara reported that he found several men engaged in demolishing the arched gateway which stood in front of Leamaneh Castle.  He was informed that under instruction by Lucius William O’Brien, the 15th Baron Inchiquin, the gateway was to be re-erected at Dromoland Castle. It still stands in the gardens of Dromoland today. An inscription on the arch dates it to 1643 and records its construction by Conor O’Brien and his wife Mary McMahon.

The best of the  Leamaneh Castle fireplaces also found a new home; it was relocated to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, where it can still be found in a small room off an upstairs dining room today.

This article is the copyright of Tarquin Blake, Abandoned Ireland, and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Co. Clare