The Legend of Mealane
The Sad Tale of
As told by M. Hickey
A mile west of Newmarket, in the County of Cork, is a beautiful glen, steep and richly wooded. Here the Aundaluagh or 'double rapid river' flows tempestuously between the interstices of the two steep hills which form the glen. On the west bank are the remains of an old feudal castle of the MacAuliffes, a tribe who possessed a vast tract of country in those parts; and at a considerable distance is pointed out Mealane's Rock, a bare projecting rock in which there is a cavity. This castle has a very romantic legend attached to it.
BRIDE OF A HERO
Many years have passed since this time-worn castle fortified the area, with battlemented might, and the paeons of bardic lay resounded through its halls, extolling the exquisite beauty of Mealane - a fair daughter of the McAuliffe clan. "My daughter shall be the bride of a hero," the aged sire would say. "Now that old age has stricken my limbs, and years rolled heavy on my nimble feet I can no longer wield the spear or chase the fleet-flying stag; but as God has not blessed me with sons I may be the grandsire of them."
These words were not spoken unheard; they were echoed afar, and the surpassing loveliness of the 'Lily of the Valley,' as she was commonly called, allied with the vast possessions of the McAuliffes (to all of which she was sole heiress ), soon procured her many suitors. One young chieftain alone, O'Herlahy of Carrigduve, found favour in her eyes and he urged his claim before the grey-haired sire. And to his entreaties the elder answered in the following words;
"The Lord of Blackrock is young in years; his name is not known in the council; nor his prowess in the song of the bard. Go into a foreign land, O'Herlahy; let thy sword be flashed in the blood of the infidel, and I will grant thee my daughter. Mealane shall be a hero's bride."
Thus challenged, the young O'Herlahy could not refuse the terms, for the spirit of the sire was as adamant as the unyielding rock that stands unmoved against the fury of the tempest. To Spain the young warrior went. Here he led the hardy sons of Erin who had joined the gallant troops led by Fernando to crush the Moorish infidel. But at the gates of Granada the brave O'Herlahy was captured. For five years he languished in captivity and then, due to the influence of the favourite of the Algerine Dey, he was released from prison.This lady, it seemed, had become enamoured with the noble prisoner and would have accompanied his flight, but the love he bore another forbade this project.
O'Herlahy returned to Spain and had revenge on his captors. His companions were fired by his example; they rushed into the thick of the battle, and a trail of death marked their gory victory. The Moors fled, never again to rule in Spain. The King then gifted this brave youth with the proudest order of Spanish chivalry. With joyful steps he returned to Ireland: no obstacle now between him and the possession of his love.
Preparations for the wedding feast then went ahead on a grandiose scale. In the vast kitchen of the castle many cooks were busily preparing a profusion of rich viands for the many guests who were bidden to the reception. The sun shone forth in all its glory over the fair glen of Aundaluagh, and dressed in her nuptial robes of virginal white, the lovely Mealane appeared to have well deserved the sobriquet of 'Lily of the Valley'. Her fair flaxen hair, secured by a golden chaplet, gave vivacity to her clear blue eyes that sparkled with great lustre, though it was noticed by some discerning people that her cheeks were very pale - rather too pale, in fact, for this occasion.
Once or twice during the afternoon she was observed to start suddenly, and when uncalled for, cry out "I come; I come!" Then, as if to calm her spirits, she said she would go for a short walk. O'Herlahy rose to accompany her.
"No, my dear lord! I bid you stay," she said. "
What! May I not go with you?"
"Not now; not now," she said mournfully.
"Nay then, I will follow you."
"If you do, I do not go forth. Abide here till my return."
THE MISSING BRIDE
Mealane walked forth; the evening breeze whistled down the glen like the sighing of unseen spirits, and she did not come back. Meantime, the clergyman who was to perform the ceremony arrived; the bridegroom was waiting - but no bride.
A peasant who had just returned from the opposite side of the Aundaluagh said he saw a white figure near a tree, but when he spoke he received no answer and went his way in wonderment. O'Herlahy then arose, buckled on his trusty armour and went forth to win his bride or perish. He went alone; the night was still and lonely. Every rock, tree, hill and glen was bathed in the lucent light of a full moon and the heavens above were studded with the myriad glow of glittering stars. O'Herlahy paused on the bank of the Aundaluagh to gaze at the beauties all around him: then with heavy heart searched everywhere for his beloved one.
Presently, he crossed the stream and approached an oak tree, the oldest in these parts. A figure in white reclined beneath the branches. He stole cautiously on, and uttered just one word - "Mealane." At the sound of his voice the figure rose up, and waving her white hands to bid farewell, she was borne along the course of the stream as though under the guidance of some powerful spirit, and fled towards the rock which opened to receive her. It closed immediately, and ever since there has been no trace of the fair Mealane, though it is whispered that the nightly wayfarer who passes by this rock sees the fluttering of a white diaphonous figure about Mealane's Rock. O'Herlahy later married a less supernatural lady and the lands of McAuliffe passed to strange hands.
This story entitled "The Legend of Mealane' by M. Hickey was published in 'Ireland's Own' magazine, January 14, 1961.
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The Legend of Mealane
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