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Maire Rua
(1615 - 1686)

See also Legends of Máire Rua

Maire Rua was born in 1615, or possibly 1616. Her father was Torlach Rua MacMahon, Lord of Clonderlaw and her mother was Mary O'Brien, daughter of the third Earl of Thomond. Her place of birth is unclear. An elegy composed for her gives Bunratty as her birthplace but local tradition claims that she was born at Clonderlaw.

Her first husband was Daniel Neylon of Dysert O'Dea in north Clare. They had three sons, William, Daniel and Michael. William was the father of Baron Francis Patrick O'Neillan. It seems that a fourth son was born but died in infancy. When Daniel Neylon died Maire Rua gained control of the estate.

Around 1639 Maire Rua married Conor O'Brien of Leamaneh. From State documents about Leamaneh it seems that he got a 1,000 fortune with her. In 1648 they built a more comfortable mansion on to the original fifteenth century tower house at Leamaneh. Only the four walls with their mullioned windows are left in what must have been Clare's most magnificent seventeenth century house. Conor and Maire had eight children, Donough (or Donat) ,Teige, Turlough, Murrough, Honora, Mary and two daughters who may have died of the plague that had raged in the Limerick district in the year of the siege.

Conor was killed in 1651 at the Pass of Inchicronan while leading his men against the Cromwellians. There are varied reports of Maire Rua's reaction to Conor's death. One report is that he was taken home in a very weak condition by his followers and that Maire Rua nursed him until he died at nightfall. She would have realised that the punishment for Conor's rebellion was forfeiture of his property. It is reported that immediately after Conor's death she went, richly dressed, to Limerick. In a bid to retain her lands and estates she offered to marry immediately any Cromwellian officer who was willing. This is refuted in other versions of the story which state that Maire Rua didn't marry until 1653, two years after Conor's death.

In either case her third husband was Cornet John Cooper, a Cromwellian soldier. They had a son, Harry (or Henry), and possibly a daughter also. Through this marriage of expediency Maire Rua succeeded in keeping her estates intact for her children. John Cooper left the army and became wealthy through land and property speculation, though he later ran into financial difficulty resulting in the mortgaging of Leamaneh.

In fact and in fable Maire Rua was a formidable woman. Legends have grown up around her, many of them exaggerated with the passage of time and many of them simply untrue. In 1664 she was granted a royal pardon on murder charges brought against her two years previously. These charges related to her supposed involvement with Conor O'Brien's raiding parties in the 1640's. Without doubt, she was a tough, forceful and determined woman but there is no evidence to support the story of her throwing her third husband out of the window of Leamaneh, or of her forcing him to ride his horse over the Cliffs of Moher. In fact, it seems that financially and legally the marriage of convenience lasted for many years although they perhaps lived separate lives later on. She spent the final years of her life at Dromoland Castle. Her son, Donough, had moved the family seat from Leamaneh to Dromoland. He was brought up as a protestant and eventually became the "richest commoner in Ireland."

It is claimed by some that Maire Rua is buried at Coad church in Kilnaboy parish. Her two daughters are buried there and it is thought that Maire had constructed the church there following a dispute with the Rector at Kilnaboy.

Legends about Maire Rua may be exaggerated but documented history shows that she was indeed a remarkable and fearless character.

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Maire Rua

Leamaneh Castle