Maeve McQuillan of Dunluce

by Kate Murphy

You won’t find this story in any of the tourist brochures but if you talk to someone who knows they will show you Maeve’s room in the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which she sweeps nightly.

Maeve was the only daughter of the old chieftain McQuillan and the apple of his eye.  Now in those times it was customary for a girl to marry according to her father’s wishes and Maeve’s father had chosen for her a minor local chieftain (an older man) whose lands adjoined his own. The match would cement an alliance between the two clans and strengthen them in the event of an attack.

An independent young woman, Maeve, however, had other ideas.  She had met and fallen in love with young O’Cathain of the Roe.  Perhaps he had visited Dunluce with a hunting party and been entertained there.  Maeve declared that she would have nothing to do with her father’s choice and that she would marry none other than young O’Cathain.  Her father was not well pleased and pointed out the O’Cathain was the youngest son and had neither land nor prospects but Maeve was adamant.

Her father ordered her to be locked in a tower room with her maidservant until she came to her senses.  Each day he visited but her answer was always the same – she would marry no one but Reginald O’Cathain.  One day, McQuillan found his daughter sewing a white garment and expressed his pleasure that she might be sewing a wedding garment. Maeve’s response was that before it would be a wedding garment, it would be a shroud!

What her father didn’t know, or expect, was that Maeve had got messages to Reginald, through her maidservant, who had bribed their jailer with Maeve’s jewelry to leave the door unlocked on a particular day..

Young O’Cathain had brought a boat into the cave below Dunluce castle and Maeve and her maidservant joined him there and set sail for Scotland .

That evening when McQuillan visited his daughter, he found the room empty.  He rushed to the window and saw a small boat rising and falling in the waves.

As we who live on this coast know, (and McQuillan well knew it too), the sea is changeable and treacherous.

As he watched and called out, perhaps, that his daughter could marry whomever she wished if only she would come back, a great wave swamped the boat and boat and all its precious cargo disappeared below the waves.

And so they say that Maeve still sweeps her tower room and laments the imminent death of any member of the McQuillan clan, however lowly.

If you should hear her banshee wail around Dunluce some dark windy night, don’t be afraid but spare a thought for the McQuillans and for Maeve’s sad story.

Kate Murphy