This section is from the book "Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland", by Jane Francesca Wilde. Also available from Amazon: Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland.
About a hundred years ago, a most notorious robber, called Captain Webb, used to make the County Mayo his headquarters ; and dreadful tales are still current amongst the people of his deeds of violence and cruelty.
Many beautiful young girls he carried off by force or fraud ; and when he grew tired of them it was his practice to strip the unhappy victims naked, and plunge them down a deep hole near Lough Corrib, which is still known throughout the county as " Captain Webb's Hole."
One day, however, fate worked out a revenge on the audacious highwayman by the hands of a woman.
He had committed a daring robbery on the highroad- plundered a carriage, shot the horses, and carried off a noble and lovely girl, who was returning home with her mother from an entertainment, which had been given by a great lord in the vicinity. Consequently, as the robber knew, the ladies were dressed magnificently, and wore the most costly jewels. After stripping the mother of all her ornaments he left her half dead upon the highway ; but wrapping a cloak round the young lady, Captain Webb flung her on the horse before him and galloped off to one of the many hiding-places he had through the country.
For some time he gave up all his other favourites for the sake of the beautiful girl, and carried her about with him on all his wild expeditions, so great was the madness of his love for her.
But at length he grew tired even of her beauty, and resolved to get rid of her, in the same way as he had got rid of the others, by a cruel and sudden death.
So one day, when she was out riding beside him, as he always forced her to do, he brought her to the fatal hole where so many of his victims had perished, intending to cast her down headlong as he had done to so many others ; but first he told her to dismount, and to take off all her rich garments of silk and gold and her jewels, for she would need them no longer.
" For pity, then," she said, "do not look on me while I undress, for it is not seemly or right to look on a woman undressing ; but turn your back, and I shall unclasp my robe and fling it off."
So the captain turned his back as she desired him, for he could not refuse her last request ; but still, he kept close to the edge of the hole ready to throw her in; "when, suddenly she sprang upon him, and, placing both hands on his shoulders, pushed him over the edge down into the fathomless gulf, from which no mortal ever rose alive, and in this manner the country was freed for evermore from the terrible robber fiend, by the courage of a brave and beautiful girl.
The Mayo Robber and Feenish; the Mare.
Another desperate character that made an evil reputation, in the same county was Captain Macnamara. Though a. man of family and good means and of splendid appearance,, he led a life of the wildest excess, and stopped at no crime so as he could gratify the passion or the caprice of the moment, or find money to spend on his pleasures, with the reckless, senseless, foolish extravagance of an evil, dissolute nature; for he had early squandered away all his own patrimony, and now only lived by fraud, lying, and insolent contempt of the rights and claims of others.
Just at the time when his finances were at the lowest, he was summoned to attend his trial at the county assizes for some malpractices concerning land and stock belonging to a wealthy widow lady, who had a fine place in the neighbourhood, though she seldom lived there, being constantly abroad, in Paris or Rome, with her only son, a young lad,, the heir of the property. It happened, however, that she returned home just in time for the trial, which interested her, as it concerned an audacious appropriation of some of her best land, from which the stock had been drawn off and sold by Macnamara. Highly indignant at the insult offered to her, the wealthy widow appeared in court resolved on vengeance ; and was received by all the officials with the utmost distinction and deference. The defendant was put through a most torturing examination, in which all his evil practices were laid bare with ruthless severity. But the widow heeded nothing of the record of wicked deeds ; she only saw before her a splendid stalwart man in the prime of life, with a magnifi-cent presence, flashing eyes, and raven hair. At once she was subjugated, as if by magic, by the handsome prisoner in the dock, and calling over her counsel, she gave orders that the suit should be stopped and no damages claimed. After this, as was natural, a warm intimacy sprang up between plaintiff and defendant, which ended in a short time by the marriage of the rich widow and the spendthrift captain; the widow's only son and heir to the estate being brought home from school to live with them, for, as the captain observed, it was necessary that the boy should be early instructed in the management of the property.
One evening, however, Macnamara set a rope across a lonely part of the road which he knew the lad must pass when riding home. In consequence the horse stumbled, and threw thé rider ; and at night when the servants and people went out with torches to look for the young heir, he was found lying quite dead by the roadside.
The whole property now devolved to the widow, who gave up the management entirely to Macnamara ; and he lost :no time in making good use of the large sums of money that came under his control, by constantly plunging into renewed courses of dissolute extravagance. How the home life went on no one knew, for little was seen of the wife while the husband carried on his orgies ; but after a year had passed by, the country heard with surprise of the death of the rich widow, as she was still called-suddenly, it was said, by a fit, a stroke. She was found lying dead in her bed one morning, and the husband was in the greatest grief-this was the orthodox narrative. But strange whispers at the same time went through the neighbourhood, that round the neck of the poor dear lady was found a black mark, and many had grave suspicions of foul play, though they feared to take any measures against the captain, so great was the terror he inspired.
Meantime, he consoled himself with another wife, a young girl who had been a favourite of his long before his first wife's death. And they led a reckless life together till all the widow's money was gambled away or spent in dissolute frolics. Then he joined a wild band of sharpers and desperadoes who fought and cheated every one at the fairs and races, and were the terror of the whole country. But, especially they warred upon the Big Joyces of Connemara, who thereupon swore to be revenged.
Now the captain had a famous mare called Feenish, who could fly like the wind and live for days without food. And he taught her all sorts of strange tricks-to stand on her hind legs, to go in at a window and to walk upstairs ; and the way the robber chief got the secret of power over men
-and animals was in this wise.
There was an old raven lived near him up in a big tree, and one day Macnamara stole the eggs, took them home, boiled them and then set them back again in the nest, to see what the old bird would do. Now he saw the wisdom of the raven, for she flew off at once to a neighbouring mountain, and having found a certain stone of magic virtue carried it back in her beak to the nest. With this stone she rubbed the eggs all over, till the life came back into them ; and in due time the young ravens were flying about as strong and joyous as the rest.
Macnamara having observed this process, watched his opportunity, and one day when the raven was absent, he stole the magic stone from the nest. His first trial of the power was to rub himself all over, as he had seen the raven do with the eggs ; and with a very remarkable result, for he at once became possessed of marvellous gifts. He could foresee events, and force people to do his will ; he knew when danger was near, and what path to take to avoid his enemies when they were on his track. Then he rubbed Feenish, the mare, all over, and instantly she became as wise as a Christian, and knew every word that was said to her.
So Macnamara, armed with all these new powers, went on with his wild wicked life, and robbed and plundered worse than ever ; and the blood of many a man, besides, was on his hands.
At last the Joyce faction resolved to make an end of the audacious robber, and all the Big Joyces of Connemara gathered in force and pursued him from place to place and over bog and mountain through half the country. At one time Macnamara plunged into a bog ; where Feenish lost her four shoes ; then he made her swim the river at Cong after a hard day's ride through mountain passes ; but when the poor mare got to' the other side she fell down dead, to the great grief of the robber chief, who had her buried on an island in Lough Corrib that still bears her name-Innis-Feenish. However, when he had laid his faithful friend in the clay, all energy forsook him, and all his good luck departed-his riches melted away, his children squandered his property, and his two sons met a violent death ; finally, broken in spirit, beggared, and alone in the world, the last of his race, he found himself with nothing left of his ill-gotten gains except an old grey pony. On this animal he rode to Cork, where he took his passage in an emigrant ship to America, and sailed away from the old country, laden with the curses of all who had ever known him ; and from that hour he was heard of no more. So ended the wicked career of the spendthrift and gambler and the suspected murderer of many victims.