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County Clare Folk-Tales and Myths by Thomas Johnson Westropp

 

The Eighteenth Century

In 1839 it was told in Querin that, after King William had prevailed, MacMahon, one of Lord Clare’s kerns, used to make plundering excursions to harry the English settlers. After many years spent thus, he robbed a retired soldier named John Meade, who gathered his neighbours and tracked the plunderers to a house in the woods. The pursuers tore off the thatch and leaped in, and a fierce fight ensued in the narrow interior. Meade was engaged with one of the bandits when MacMahon stabbed him in the side with a long spear, and he fell. The wounded man, however, in his agony sprang up thrice as high as the cross beam of the roof before he fell dead. The other English were slain, and their bodies buried near the bank of the Shannon at Temple Meegh or Mead (Teampul Meadhach) near Querin, which since that time has only been used for the burial of strangers and unbaptised children.

Jack Cusack, ‘the priest taker,’ lived about the same time. He was High Sheriff in 1708, and became that most hated of persons,—a ‘protestant discoverer’ under the penal laws in his own interests. But his only daughter married a Studdert and died childless, and all the lands Cusack had acquired passed then out of the hands of his family. When Cusack was buried at Clonlea near Kilkishen according to tradition an enemy cut on his tomb,—

‘God is pleased when man does cease to sin.
Satan is pleased when he a soul doth win.
Mankind are pleased when e’er a villain dies.
Now all are pleased, for here Jack Cusack lies.’[131]

The stone is said to have been broken or thrown into the lake near the church.

Tradition preserved the recollection of good as well as of ill, for I remember old people blessing the various families who had acted as friendly ‘protestant discoverers’ and trustees, thus saving the lands of the O’Briens and of the MacNamaras. The tradition was true, for I have unearthed amongst long-forgotten papers [132] an account how Marcus Paterson befriended the Barretts, and F. Drew of Drewsborough and J. Westropp of Lismehan the O’Briens.[133] I have not been able to verify the saving of certain MacNamara estates by the Westropps of Fortanne, as told in 1877, but the family papers there were burned.

To close my chronological series of tales I will tell, less fully than I have often heard it, a very horrible story of the period after 1700. A replica of Maura Rhue in the east of Clare used to dress as a man and rob and murder travellers on lonely roads through the woods and hills, sometimes shooting them from trees and throwing their bodies into a lake which was still pointed out by the peasantry some forty years ago. Her niece was suspected of admiring a handsome young Englishman who was their servant, and the family, fearing a love affair, consulted and, at the instigation of the virago (who had had a personal experience in her youth), determined to send away the young man. The fiendish woman advocated stronger measures, and at last carried her point. All the other servants and retainers were allowed to go to the great ‘pattern’ at Holy Island, and the stranger was set to pull down the middle of a turf rick. As he was stooping to remove the last few sods, the aunt shot him with a pistol, and he fell senseless. The conspirators proceeded to cover him with the peats, but he made a feeble struggle and thrust out his hand. His murderess, on seeking to cover the hand, saw upon it a ring which she had given long before to her own lover to place on their son’s hand when he grew up. She knew then that she had killed her own son, and dropped unconscious upon his body. Her brain gave way, and she remained imbecile until upon her deathbed, when she cursed her abettors. A terrible destiny, with many an untimely death, has followed down to our own time the family, which has long since left its old abode. Local tradition said that the skeleton of the son was found ‘some generations after, a hundred years ago’ (from 1870), when peat was scarce and the rick was used up.[134] Round Tulla, however, it was said that the family burned the rick to get rid of the corpse, but that a storm arose and blew away the white ashes, so that the unconsumed skull and the ring carved with the family shield were exposed.

 

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