Maurya Na Gleanna, or Revenged at Last
by Edmund Leamy
Or Revenged at Last.
During the year of the ’98 Centennial celebrations,
it chanced that I was staying on a short visit with
a friend in the county of ——, whose residence was
not far from one of the battlefields of the rebellion.
Our talk turned one day upon ’98, and I asked him
if he knew if any stories of the period were still
current in the neighbourhood. He said he was not
himself familiar with any. He was not belonging
to the county, and had been residing in it only a
few years. But he promised to find out if any of
the servants or workpeople could give me any
information. That evening he informed me there
was an old man helping in the garden, now almost
past his work, who was at one time a schoolmaster,
and had originally come from the county of Antrim,
and who had some stories of the rising in the North.
The next day I made the old man’s acquaintance,
and from him took down the story of Maurya na
“I wasn’t more nor nine or ten years old when
I first saw Maurya na Gleanna, and although I’m
over seventy years now I can see her face just as
if she was standing there foreninst me. She would
have been very tall if it were not for a stoop in
her shoulders. Her face was rather long, her cheeks
shrunken and almost yellow. Her hair (and there
was plenty of it) was tied up in a wisp at the back
of her head, and was gray almost to whiteness,
while her eyebrows were as dark as the night.
Her lips were full and might have once been red,
but the colour had left them and they looked dry
and blanched. Her eyes were as black as a coal
with a red heart that would blaze up for a moment
and then become dull.
“She had come into the glen many years before.
She had wandered into it of a wild March morning—a
Patrick’s morning, too, it was—when the snow
lay deep in the glen, and you could hardly see a
bit of green for miles around.
“The snow was in a drift against Jack M’Guinness’s
door when she knocked at it just after the
break of day. There was hardly one astir in the
house at the time, but when the knock was repeated
the servant-man got up and went to the door and
opened it; before he could question the woman
he saw standing outside, she had stepped across the
“Her hair was then, so they afterwards told me,
as white as when I first saw her, but there was some
colour in her cheeks, nor had it left her lips. A
kerchief covered her head, and a shawl thrown
over her shoulders was fastened above her breast
by a skewer that had been beaten into the semblance
of a pike, and which served to keep in its place a
bunch of shamrocks. Her head-dress and shoulders
were thickly coated with snow, which clung to her
dress that stopped short at her ankles. Her feet
“The man said afterwards that the blaze of her
eyes nearly blinded him, and took the word out of
“She laid her left hand upon his shoulder, and
touching the shamrock with one of the fingers of
her right hand, she whispered in a tone suggestive
“‘Is there green upon your cape?’
“’Twas then a few years after the troubles, but
the servant boy had been one of the United men,
and had fought at Ballinahinch. He knew the
words of the rebel song, but as he didn’t reply at
once, she whispered again:
“‘Is there green upon your cape?’
“For answer he took her hand, while a strange
feeling came over him that she was something
‘uncanny,’ and he gave her the ‘grip’ that showed
he was a United man. She returned it.
“‘Who is there?’ cried Jack M’Guinness, who
came out of his room into the kitchen, having
heard the door open.
“He started back a step when he saw the blazing
eyes and tall figure (for the stoop had not fallen on
“‘Is there green upon your cape?’ she asked
him eagerly, almost feverishly.
“‘Ah, my poor woman, the day is over I’m
afeard,’ he said softly, for, with a keener perception
than that of the servant boy, he saw the poor
creature was demented.
“‘Over! over!’ she cried, almost hysterically,
‘it will never be over until he—he that you know—sure
everybody knows him—until he, Red Michil
of the Lodge, comes to his own, his own, you know,
the three sticks, two standin’ straight and one
across. Red Michil, with the brand of Cain and
the curse of God on him. An’ isn’t this a purty
posy?’ and she took the bunch of shamrocks from
her breast and held it up to Jack M’Guinness.
“‘A purty posy it is, my girl,’ said he, falling
in with her humour; ‘but shake the snow from
yourself and come near the fire. Blow up the turf,
Shane,’ and he turned to the servant boy, ‘and
let the girl warm herself.’
“‘Ay, sure enough, it’s the purty posy,’ the girl
continued, ‘but hadn’t I trouble enough finding
it, with the snow here, there and everywhere, every
step I took goin’ deeper than the rest; but I didn’t
mind the snow, why should I? Sure his face
was colder when I saw it last, and his windin’
sheet was as white.’
“‘Sit down, achorra, and the good woman will
be up in a few minutes and will give ye something
to warm ye.’
“‘Ay, then! ‘tis cowld ye think I am, and maybe
I am cowld, too; an’ I gets tired sometimes; but
there’s a fire in my heart always—a fire that’ll niver
go out—niver go out, I tell ye, until Michil of the
Lodge comes to his own.’ And then the poor thing
sat down by the hob, and the boy blew up the
turf till the blaze lighted the whole kitchen, and
the pewter on the dresser flashed back the ruddy
rays. And when the heat began to spread about
the room, the head of the poor, tired creature dropped
on her breast and she fell into a deep sleep.
“This was the first coming of Maurya to the Glen,
and that’s the way the story was told to me. For,
as I told you, it was before my time. She was
treated kindly by Jack M’Guinness and his wife,
who took to the poor girl, and would have kept her
with her if she could, but Maurya couldn’t be induced
to spend more than a few days in any place.
“Who she was, or why she came to the glen,
or where she came from nobody in the glen knew.
“The women said it was love trouble that drove
the poor thing wandering, and that her question
about the green upon the cape showed that the
lover had fallen a victim on the scaffold, or in the
field, in the struggle in ’98.
“There wasn’t a family in the glen that hadn’t
sent a man to Ballinahinch, and not a few sent more
than one, and there wasn’t a hearth in the glen where
poor Maurya didn’t find a welcome.
“But she was always roaming. After a night’s
rest she went ‘scouting,’ as she used to say, hoping
to catch Red Michil to bring him to his own—‘the
“And so in the first light of the morning she used
to go out and ramble over the hills, living any way
she might, and coming back and seeking hospitality—now
in one house, now in another, in the
“‘I didn’t see any signs of him to-day,’ she used
to say, on entering the house which she had come
to for her night’s lodging. ‘I didn’t see any signs
of him to-day, but, please God, I soon will. Red
Michil won’t escape me, never fear.’
“And this mode of life Maurya continued for
years. The colour faded from the cheeks and from
the lips, and the tall form began to stoop, and
they noticed that she didn’t ramble so far as she
had been wont to do. She had always been very
gentle in her manner, but at times, and when she
seemed oblivious to everything passing round her,
the flame would flash from her eyes, and she would
leave her seat by the fire, and despite remonstrance,
no matter what the weather or the hour, would
start out on her quest for Red Michil. Over and
over again, some of her women friends tried to
get her story from her, not so much through
curiosity as through a belief that it might lighten
the burden on her heart if she would confide her
sorrow to some one.
“But they could get nothing from her but a denunciation
of Red Michil of the Lodge; but who he
was, or what he had done, they could not find out
“There was one house in the glen to which she
came oftener than to any other, and that was Shane
O’Donnell’s, an uncle of mine. I don’t mind saying
it now (said the schoolmaster), but Shane had a
little shanty upon the hills, beyond the glen, where
he carried on, in a small way, the manufacture of
the mountain dew. You’d hardly know the hut
from the heather. It was in a little dip on the
side of a hill, just deep enough for the walls, and
until you were almost atop of it you could hardly
distinguish the roof from the heather, and no wonder,
for it was thatched with scraws, with the heather
roots in them. The only thing that betrayed its
existence was the occasional smoke from the hole
in the roof that was the excuse for the absence of a
chimney. Thither Maurya na Gleanna often went,
and there she was always welcome. Although her
wits were generally wandering, she was always able to
lend a hand in household matters, and in the cabin
I’ve mentioned she used to boil the potatoes and cabbage,
and do other cooking what was necessary.
“The hut itself was little more than an excuse.
It covered the descent into a cave, in which was
carried on the manufacture of poteen, and this was
reached through an opening which was disclosed
when the hearthstone was lifted up.
“The smoke from the operations below came up
through an aperture close to the hearthstone, and
was carried off with that of the fire in the hut, so
that anyone who might drop into the hut would
not suspect anything. It was a shepherd’s hut and
I was occasionally called on to assist in making
the poteen, and at this time Maurya na Gleanna
had been regularly employed as cook, that is to
say, whenever the men were at work Maurya was
sure to come there, and boil the potatoes and
make the stirabout, and sometimes, too, a bit of
mountain mutton found its way into the pot.
Well, it happened one day Maurya was boiling
a bit of mutton, and myself was sitting near
the fire, when Maurya said:
“It was a quare dhrame I had last night,
“What was it, Maurya?” I asked, for all of
us, young and old, used to humour her.
“Well, then,” said she, “do you see them three
legs to the pot that’s boilin’ there before you?”
“I do,” said myself, “why wouldn’t I?”
“Well, then, Shamey, and mind you, I didn’t
tell this to anyone but yourself, I dreamt last night
them three legs to the pot were the three sticks;
and rayson that out for me if you can, for I can’t.
I think sometimes my poor head is goin’, Shamey.”
I knew what she meant by “the sticks,” but, of
course, I couldn’t guess the meaning of her dream.
“I don’t know, Maurya,” said I. “I don’t know
what it means.”
“Ah, then, how could you, Shamey?” said she.
“Sure you never supped sorrow, and I hope you
never will, avick, and ’tis only them that has
supped it year after year that could tell poor
Maurya what she wants to know.”
And she swung the crane from which the pot
was hanging out from the burning turf.
“Do you see the three legs of it, Shamey?” she
“I do, Maurya,” said I.
“They are red now from the fire,” said she. “And
he was red—Red Michil, you know—and I dreamt
last night that they were the three sticks. But
dhrames are foolish, and there’s no use minding
them, Shamey. And how could they be the three
sticks? Sure, you couldn’t hang a mouse on them,
could you, Shamey, let alone Red Michil?”
Though I was used to Maurya, I was beginning
to feel frightened, sitting there alone with her,
while as she spoke she became excited in a way
that I know would frighten me now as it did then.
She hardly raised her voice as she spoke, but you
heard something—something that was like ringing
through it, and the veins on her arms, that were
bare, began to swell, and her eyes flared in a way
that would almost burn the very soul out of you.
She swung the pot back over the blazing peat
again, and examined its contents, and I took my
chance of stealing out of the hut.
I had hardly got outside the door when I saw a
number of soldiers making straight for it. I
“The soldiers are coming!” I cried down through
the hole through which I have mentioned the
smoke from the still below used to escape.
I shouted twice. Then I heard the words ‘All
right,’ and I knew that the men below would be
able to manage their escape, and perhaps destroy all
evidence of their trade should the soldiers discover
their retreat, which to me at this time seemed a
most unlikely thing.
“The soldiers are comin’, did ye say?” cried
Maurya, when I had finished speaking to the others.
“Are ye sure, Shamey, ’tisn’t the yeos?” And her
whole frame was quivering with excitement.
“It’s the soldiers, Maurya,” said I, “and I think
the gauger is with them, and there is another man
along with them, with a cast in his eye. He is
sandy complexioned, and has red hair that’s getting
“Shamey,” she cried, “Shamey!” and she caught
me in her arms. “Look at me. Am I tremblin’
like a lafe? I think my dhrame is comin’ true
somehow—but how, Shamey? how, tell me?”
I was so frightened I couldn’t reply, and before
Maurya could say another word, three or four
soldiers entered the hut, and with them two men in
I drew into a corner. Maurya took no notice of
them, and seemed to be taken up with her cooking,
her back turned to the intruders.
“What have you brought us here for?” asked
the officer who was in command of the military, and
who was one of the soldiers who had entered the hut.
“This man was my informant,” replied the Excise
officer, to whom the question had been addressed.
“That’s not enough for me,” rejoined the officer.
“I hope we have not come here on a wild goose
chase. We have had too much of that sort of sport
lately,” said he, somewhat bitterly.
“Tell that woman to swing the pot from the fire,
captain, yer honour,” said the man whom the
gauger had described as his informant, and who was
the man with the cast in his eye and the sandy
The captain requested Maurya to do so, but she
took no notice.
“Do it yourself,” said the captain, addressing the
The latter approached the fire. As he did so,
Maurya slunk back towards the side wall of the big
chimney, and in the same direction the informer
swung the crane, so that the pot came almost
The informer, without saying a word, kicked
the peats from the hearthstone, and I knew then
that he was acquainted with our secret. The
hearthstone fitted very tight into its casing, and
unless one had been previously informed he could
never suspect that it was removable. The informer
begged the help of the soldiers to lift it, and two of
them at different corners having with some difficulty
inserted the points of their bayonets succeeded
in raising it, and the others coming to their aid, it
was quickly removed, and an open space, showing a
ladder was disclosed.
“Go before us,” said the officer, addressing the
“I didn’t undertake to do that,” said the wretch,
trembling in every limb.
“We’ll go, captain,” said one of the soldiers, and,
bayonet in hand, he descended, followed by three of
his comrades. Then the informer, plucking up
some courage, began to descend. Suddenly the
noise of shouting and the report of a musket shot
was heard, and the informer, white with fear, was
climbing up again.
“Go down and be d——d to you,” cried the
officer, “and make way for my men!”
“Oh, captain, darling, save me.”
They were the last words he ever spoke. The
crane was flung back from the wall right over the
hole. As quick as thought the heavy pot was
loosened from it, and it fell with a sickening thud
on the informer’s head. A squirt of blood struck
the wall just beside my head.
“Seize that woman,” cried the astonished officer.
“Shamey! Shamey!” shouted Maurya to me,
her whole face as bright as if all her sorrow had
left her. “Shamey, my dhrame came true.”
I never saw Maurya na Gleanna again. I heard
that they said (and sure they were right, and they
were wrong at the same time), that she didn’t
know what she was doing, and they put her in an
“But did you,” said I, “ever find out who Red
Michil was, and was he the informer?”
“I didn’t then, till years after,” said the old
gardener, “and then I learned it by accident like.
Maurya na Gleanna, as we called her, was one Mary
M’Kenna, and at the time of the troubles, she was,
everybody said, one of the most beautiful girls in
all Ulster. And it seems she was in love with a
boy called Pat Gallagher, who was one of the
“United Men,” and he was in love with her, as many
another man was also. And sure amongst them
was the one she called Red Michil, whose mother,
who was a widow woman, kept the lodge at the
front gate of Pennington Hall in the County of
Antrim. And Red Michil pursued her, but ’twas
the back of her hand she gave him, and to take
revenge on her and on Pat Gallagher, who took her
fancy, he informed on him, and made up a charge
against him, and Gallagher was tried by court-martial
and hanged, and the poor creature wouldn’t
leave until he was at the foot of the gallows, and
when she was taken away they saw that her mind
Her relatives did their best to look after her, but
they were poor, and so she rambled off from them
till she found her way to our glen. Red Michil,
when he had wreaked his vengeance, sank lower
and lower. He became a common informer, and
then, when the hangings were all over, he secured
employment under the Revenue as a scenter-out of
illicit stills, and, as he had some experience of the
trade himself, he was well up in the expedients
which the potheen makers were wont to adopt in
order to evade the agents of the law. He was thus
an instrument in working out his own fate, and
after long, weary years, poor Maurya na Gleanna
had her revenge at last.