This Europe: Planners deny the Queen of Connemara her dying wish

Harry McGee,Ireland
Tuesday 25 February 2003 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Follow the steep valley road towards the village of Leenane and you get to a spot where Killary Harbour suddenly hoves into view. What opens up is a mighty symmetry of land, sea and sky. Few other places can epitomise your imagined Connemara in this way.

Here lived Bina McLoughlin, who filled every inch of her "larger-than-life" reputation until her death in February 2001. Bina was a shepherdess, tending a large flock of sheep on 200 acres on the slopes of the Maam Turk mountains. The broad, ruddy-faced woman with striking black ringlets became known as the "Queen of Connemara".

She shared her tiny cottage above Leenane with at least 40 cats, a peacock, donkeys, goats and sheep and a clatter of dogs.

But her most treasured possessions were the portraits of Irish political leaders on the walls. She loved the Fianna Fail party founder, Eamon de Valera. She even loved the irascible Charles Haughey. But most of all she had a "thing" for Eamon O Cuiv, de Valera's grandson, now Minister for Rural affairs.

When Bina diedat the age of 72, Mr O Cuiv was stunned to learn she had left her farm, worth €650,000 (£442,000), to him, his wife, and their four children. "Bina called me in and told me that she was going to leave it to me," Mr O Cuiv recalls. "I did not want it and I told her that."

When Bina left the land to his family anyway, they revoked the decision. But now, another twist in the tale means that none of the land will be used in the way she had intended. Bina had also left a small site on the land to her favourite cousin, Michael Heneghan. But his hopes of building a house there have been torpedoed by the county council, which has refused planning permission to build in an area of outstanding beauty. The upshot, says Mr O Cuiv, is unfortunate. None of the shepherdess's intentions for the land for which she felt such a passionate affinity will come to pass.

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