Maggie was the only daughter of Deegan a renowned and skilful poacher from Ballyvaston Killough in Co. Down. His fame and skill was known and revered in the countryside around.
Salmon or pheasant, deer or rabbit – nothing was safe from the snares and traps laid by the wily poacher. Many an empty belly was fed by him in Newcastle and it surrounds, when money was hard to come by and those that had a lot cared little for those who had little.
Maggie was the apple of her father’s eye and from the time she could walk, he carried her with him on his back on his day escapades. Before she was 10 she had mastered his trade and was as proficient as many four times her age in the ways of the countryside.
Maggie and her father were no friends of the landed gentry in the area. While they were never caught they were never far from suspicion when deer disappeared from estates or the salmon pools of the Shimna River were emptied of everything except water.
The gentry took to setting up watch by day and night but still they were never caught.
By the time she was seventeen Maggie had matured into the most beautiful and wild creature that the countryside had ever laid eyes on. She had gold flowing locks, the figure of an hour glass and a smile that would melt you.
She was as fleet of foot as a deer for those who dared to chase her and had no eyes for any man other than her father Deegan. Such was the devastation of wild game in the estates that the gentry sought the help of the army to try and curb the activity of poachers and in particularly the pair from Ballyvaston.
The renewed vigilance by the soldiers took its toll on the pair’s activities and it wasn’t long before hunger came to their door. Deegan was not as active as before and Maggie became the sole provider. She did throw an odd wink and a smile at a lonely soldier who would turn a blind eye to her activities and hoping that she would favour him with something more; but it never came.
On occasion she would climb down the cliff face of Dundrum Bay to gather the eggs of nesting seagulls filling her basket to the brim. It was on such an occasion that she was spotted on the headland by a group of drunken soldiers. Her hair was blowing in the wind, her skirt tucked up and in on herself from climbing; her long beautiful legs striding out on the road home and her basket full.
The saw an opportunity to block her path and keep her trapped between the headland, a wide sea chasm and the sea. There was more on their minds than the eggs of seagulls when they charged down towards her shouting obscenities and roaring with drunken laughter.
She ran; but was trapped – in front of her, the huge sea chasm cut into the coastline. Maggie could not swim but death by drowning seemed a better option at that moment than what might befall her. Still she held on to the basket of eggs and summonsing the spirits of every deer they ever poached she leaped for freedom and her lithe body landed with grace on the other side leaving her pursuers to only stand and gape.
In her basket, every egg was intact.
Maggie continued on for many years providing food for her father and mother till the day came when they were gone and times became a little better.
She never married but she is still remembered in this area and the chasm north of Newcastle is known to this day as Maggie’s Leap. K.W.
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