Built around 1480, and alternatively spelled as "Leamanagh" Castle, it was originally a five-story tower house. These fortified homes, with castellated features, were popular with Norman gentry in the western regions of Ireland during the middle ages.
The castle stands on the corner of a three-way intersection on the southern end of the Burren, where limestone is plentiful. The tower has a spiral staircase, small chambers, and narrow windows that are little more than slits.
In 1902, the gates were removed from Leamaneh and taken to Dromoland Castle, as the manor home had fallen into disrepair. Today only the four outer walls remain. Unmaintained and walled off, there is no access to the castle -- it stands on private property -- but it can be easily viewed from the road.
History of Leamaneh Castle
The tower house was built by Turlogh O'Brien, King of Thomond, one of the last of the High Kings of Ireland, and a direct descendant of Brian Boru. The name Leamaneh is derived from the Irish leim an eich (pronounced "laym an uch"), which means "horse's leap".
In 1543, Murrough, son of O'Brien, surrendered the castle and his Irish royalty to Henry VIII. For this he was made a First Earl of Thomond and Baron Inchiquin. He dutifully adopted English custom and converted to the Anglican Church.
In 1648, Conor O'Brien and his wife Mary McMahon (also known as Maire Rua, meaning "Red Mary") extended the tower by adding a four-story, high-gabled mansion house. The manor house was quite modern for the time and was paid for by Maire Rua through the wealth her first husband bequeathed her.
The Ghost of "Red Mary" McMahon
There are many legends surrounding Maire Rua ("Moy-ra Roo-a"), meaning Red Mary, so named because of her red hair.
A force to be reckoned with, Mary was born in 1615 from noble stock, her father being Red Turlach McMahon, Lord of Clonderlaw. When Mary's first husband, Daniel O'Neillan of Dysert O'Dea Castle died, he left what was then a large fortune of 1,000 pounds to his wife.
Mary then married Conor O'Brien, and used her inheritance to transform Leamaneh Castle into the finest 17th century mansion house of the region.
But in 1651, when Cromwell's armies invaded Ireland and ravaged the country, Mary's husband Conor O'Brien fought against him, and was severely wounded. The story goes that a small group of soldiers carried O'Brien back to the castle, and took him to his wife. Mary did not give her husband the tenderness the soldiers expected, declaring instead "What use have I of a dead man?" -- and throwing O'Brien from the castle tower.
However much truth there is in that tale, other versions of the legend are even more extraordinary. One version of the story claims that Red Mary went on to have a total of 25 husbands -- each eager for her fortune, but each of whom she killed off in increasingly elabourate deaths! One unfortunate husband, for example, was forced to ride his horse over the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
Enraged enemies entombed Maire Rua in a hollow tree on the grounds of Leamanagh because of her transgressions, and her gruesome death has condemned her to haunt the grounds these hundreds of years.
The O'Briens Leave Leamaneh
Maire Rua's son, Donagh O'Brien, was the last of the O'Brien clan to occupy the castle. Known as the richest commoner in Ireland, he moved the family seat from Leamaneh to the larger Dromoland Castle in Newmarket-on-Fergus.
Leamaneh Castle. Image by Stéphane Moussie