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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Kilballyowen (b)

The well-known headland called Cape Lean or Loop Head (recte Leap Head) is at the southwest extremity of this Parish, where the Shannon falls into the Atlantic. In Irish this Head is always called Ceann-Leime (Leap-Head) or Leim-Chonchulainn, i.e., Cuchullann’s Leap. The history of the cause of the name is involved in some obscurity, and as yet we have not met with any more authentic account than the following loco-tradition, which was very vividly remembered in the country up to the time of my leaving it in the year 1820. Cuchullan, the Champion of Ulster and Chief of the Heroes of the Red Branch, had a Leanan (mistress) whom he wished to abandon, but the more he endeavoured to avoid her, the more anxious she was to be in his society. At length, finding that Ulster was not wide enough for him and her to live apart in, he left that Province by stealth, and having turned his face to the south came on through the country until he had reached this peninsula, when suddenly looking behind him he saw to his horror his Leanán at his heels, and being resolved not to be overtaken he set off at his utmost speed, and coming at last to the very extremity of the land, and she close behind him, he saw a detached rock or small island before him. (At the distance of fifty two feet according to the Name Book.) He sprang forward and landed safely on it, but scarcely had his feet touched the ground here when he perceived his Leanan by his side, upon which he leaped backwards to the mainland again which he reached in safety; the Leanan did not hesitate an instant, but leaped backwards after him, tho’ not with the same good fortune, for she did not keep a proper level but came with her back against a large flag stone which projects from the top of the cliff, and falling down, was dashed to pieces before she had reached the bottom. Her blood was carried by the surges all the way to Hag’s Head and the Wave in consequence was called Tonn Mhal, i.e., the Wave of Mal, Mal being the name of the Leanan.

That this was the tradition in the west of Clare fifty years ago I will here shew by an imperfect quotation (from memory) from a poem addressed by John Hoare to Charles Keane of Kildimo, in the Parish of Kilfeeragh, in which he says:-

Tonn Mhal-bay dá shuídhiomh
Gur baoghal don domhan móirthimcheall
Seabhach mear tréan Chíll Díomai.

The Wave of Mal-bay proving (proclaiming)
That the whole world is in danger
From the active brave Hawk of Kildimo.

We have historical accounts of three of those waves on the coast of Ireland, as Tonn-Cliodhna in the Co. Cork called after Cliodhna, the daughter of Dearg-Duallach, the musician of Manannan Mac Lir, who was drowned there; Tonn Ruadhraidhe, on the north east coast of Ireland, so called from Rudhraidhe, one of the Firbolgs who lost his life there, and Tonn-Tuaithe (now called Mac Sivine’s gun at Ballyshannon)* so called from the district named Tuatha in that country, from which also Mac Sweeny-na-Thuath was called.

* Cave – J.O’D.