The White Maiden: A Folktale of Tiernaboul, Ireland

Tiernabowl
Pinpoint Location: Tiernaboul, County Kerry / Map data ©2018 Google

This folktale from Tiernaboul tells the story of Margaret Barry, who paid the ultimate price to gain her freedom. 

The last chief of the Mac Sweenys, many years ago, inhabited a thatched farmhouse in the neighbourhood of Tiernaboul. A proud man he was of his descent, and though he had lost the greater part of his estates in the revolution of 1688, and was outlawed before the surrender of Limerick, he managed to to keep up the style of an Irish chief. The bard and the jester haunted his fireside; and crowds of idle followers, who knew no restraint but their lord’s will, were ready to obey him.

Under the command of Mac Sweeny, a formidable gang of freebooters, termed Rapparees from the half pikes or short sticks which they carried, sprung up, who devastated the country for miles around. And although plundering both the partisans of James and William, the security afforded by the woods, as well as the strength of Mac Sweeny’s mountain fastnesses, rendered pursuit from either an idle task.

One evening, in the stormy month of November, the desperate dwellers in Tiernaboul were collected around a blazing turf fire, anxious for the return of their chief, who had gone the preceding night on some secret expedition, when suddenly above the sighing of the rising wind they heard the tramp of a horse.

“It is the coppul duve,” exclaimed Gilla-roo, Mac Sweeny’s confidant, who received his name from the long, matted, red locks which overshadowed his weather-beaten face, “It is the coppul duve, and Mac Sweeny.”

A shrill and well-known whistle verified Gilla-roo’s assertion, and out rushed the clansmen, each bearing a blazing torch. Great was their wonder at perceiving, seated on his dark horse before the chieftain, the fair form of a maiden, who was consigned with few words to the rough guardianship of Gilla-roo.

“Keep her safe,” said Mac Sweeny, “when I was the lord of these lands, the proud Margaret Barry rejected my suit. Now that I am a poor outlaw, she shall be mine.”

Before daybreak the following morning, Mac Sweeny departed from Tiernaboul at the head of his retainers, on a plundering excursion. It was his last, and few who accompanied him ever returned.

Gilla-roo alone, much to his dissatisfaction, was left behind to guard the fair captive. He was kind to her in his own rough way; he procured for her every comfort in his power, and permitted her to range the glen. Fatal permission it proved to be, for the second morning after the chieftain’s departure she was found suspended from a tree, after having carved her malediction on a nearby rock:

SWEENY TOOK ME FROM MY PLACE.
MAY HE, LIKE ME, MEET DUE DISGRACE.

It is said that, on the eve of this event, the form of the ill-fated Margaret is seen flitting through the glen, and her voice has been heard, not after the wailing manner of the Banshee, but in shouts of triumphant laughter, which quicken the breath and curdle the blood of the hearer.

Years have since passed away, and the story is nearly forgotten. But the tree and the stone remain as memorials of deeds, and of days, which the people no longer remember, save when, perhaps during the darkness of the night, they traverse the Glen of Ahahunnig, and mutter a prayer for the repose of the White Maiden of Tiernaboul.

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