The Chieftain Clan O'Flaithbheartaigh {O'Flaherty}

Grace O'Malley

The tale of my fellow O'Malley clanswoman Gráinne Ni Mháille, known as Granuaile (pronounced Granya Wale) or more simply, Grace O'Malley, as she is most widely known today, begins nearly 500 years ago on Clare Island, lying off the rugged western coast of Ireland at the entrance to Clew Bay. Born in 1530, she was the only daughter of Owen Dubhdara ( Black Oak )Ni Mháille (O'Malley) and his wife Margaret. Dubhdara was chieftain of the territory of Umhall, the Barony of Murrisk, on the west coast of Ireland. The O'Malleys are a seafaring clan and our association with the sea reaches back to pre-history. The family business was trading of clan produce including salted fish and beef, hides, tallow and cloth, between Ireland, Scotland and Spain.....as well as a bit of the time honored art of piracy and plunder thrown in for good measure.

Granuaile's passion for the sea began at a young age and one day while still a child she announced to her parents that she intended to go along on the next trading mission. Well, you can imagine that this bit of "news" was not readily accepted by either parent! She was reminded on no uncertain terms that she was not only a girl, but a high born girl and had no place in a man's world going to the sea in ships! Legend tells us that her reaction to this stern reprimand was to promptly cut off her hair, dress herself in boys clothing and once again announce to her stunned, but by this time quite amused parents, that she would, in fact, be going! And.... go she did! While on one of these early voyages she is said to have saved her father's life when their ship came under attack. Granuaile, who had been told to hide below, was instead up in the rigging. Seeing an attacker coming up behind her father, she leapt on his back biting, kicking and screaming, thereby distracting the attackers long enough for her father to gain control. Although this fearsome experience would surely have discouraged most young girls, Granuaile was thrilled by it and it served only to strengthen her resolve to follow the path of high adventure!

When she was 15 years old her father arranged a marriage for her to Donal-an-Cogaidh (Donal of The Battles) O'Flaherty, chieftain of Ballinahinch in Connemara, to whom she bore three children, Owen, Murrough and her daughter Margaret.  Donal was more interested in feuding and fighting (hence the name "Donal of The Battles") than in his duties as chieftain, and therefore his clansmen turned to Granuaile for leadership.  Although Gaelic law did not support women becoming chieftains, she was accepted as de facto chieftain in his place. 

Donal O'Flaherty was killed defending Ballinahinch (Cock's Castle) in Lough Corrib against the Joyce clan, which gives rise to another story of the courage and bravery of Granuaile. With the death of Donal, the Joyce's thought the castle would be theirs for the taking, but they had not reckoned on Donal's wife! Granuaile, leading the O'Flaherty clansmen, regained the castle, showing such courage that it was renamed Hen's Castle, the name it still bears to this day!

Despite the fact that Donal's cousin was eventually appointed as her husbands successor, Granuaile had tasted power and she would not be denied it again, either by law or convention. Taking many of her husband's followers along with her she returned to her ancestral lands of Umhall and settled on Clare Island, the place of her birth, at the mouth of Clew Bay. It was from here that the legend of Granuaile, Pirate Queen of Connacht, was born.

Across the sea in England another woman was also overcoming the many obstacles placed in her path to power and dominion. This woman was none other than Elizabeth Tudor, soon to be Queen of England, and one day these two extraordinary women would meet!

Meanwhile, armed with her own army of men 200 strong, and a fleet of galleys, Granuaile launched into her career of mercenary work and piracy, which she would later describe to Elizabeth as "maintenance" by land and sea.  One story that demonstrates the fierceness of this remarkable woman tells of how after discovering the murder of her Norse lover by a neighboring clan, Granuaile tracked down his killers and slew them one by one, then claimed their castle as her own.  It was this incident that earned her the name, "Dark Lady of Doona".  

In 1566 Granuaile married once again, however this time she did the choosing for herself.  She had her eye on Carraigahowley Castle, located on an inlet of Clew Bay and legend tells us that she married the owner, Richard Bourke "for one year certain",  a trial marriage by Gaelic law.  It is said that after one year of marriage and having her men firmly in possession of the castle, she greeted her husband on his return home by shouting from the ramparts, "Richard Bourke I dismiss you!"  However, they did later reconcile and together they became an imposing pair in a marriage that lasted until his death, 17 years later. 

Click HERE for a visual tour of Granuaile's private chamber, high up inside the castle.

The merchant ships from England, Spain and France, heavy laden with merchandise were no match for her highly maneuverable galleys or for her knowledge of the rocky, rugged and very dangerous west coast of Ireland and so became sitting ducks.  By the early 1570's, Granuaile's fleet numbered some 20 ships, and her blatant piracy was so adversely effecting the financial well being of the English merchants at Galway city that they complained to the English for assistance.  An army was dispatched to put a stop to this "director

of  thieves and murderers at sea", however, after enduring a 21 day siege she was finally able to successfully route her besiegers!

Their only child Tibbot-ne-Long (Toby of The Ships) was born in 1567 while Granuaile was coming back from one of her excursions at sea.  Legend tells us that the morning following his birth, while she still lay in her childbirth bed, her ship was attacked by Turkish pirates.  Without her rousing presence up on deck her men were losing control of the ship and so armed with a blunderbuss and her body wrapped in a blanket, she stormed up on deck.  Cursing her men for not being able to do without her for even one day, she shot the Turkish pirate captain yelling "take this from unconsecrated hands!"  Thus, she rallied her men and took back control of her ship.... as well as adding another ship to her own pirate fleet......

When Richard died in 1583, Granuaile quickly established her rights to Carraigahowley Castle.  A wealthy woman in her own right, as well as her ships and her army, she inherited land from her mother and had accumulated, according to her own testimony "a thousand head of cattle and mares."   She continued her "maintenance" on land and sea and her notoriety as a powerful sea captain, pirate and leader of "men of savage mood" grew.  At this same time, hostilities between England and Spain had intensified dramatically and the need for the English to bring Ireland under control intensified as well.  It was during this period that Elizabeth sent a new governor to Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham.  Bingham proved to be brutal and unrelenting in his obsession with putting down this "nurse to all rebellions in Ireland for forty years", and would become the hated arch enemy of Granuaile!

When Bingham brutally killed her eldest son Owen, and then compelled her second son Murrough to align with him, such was her rage that she attacked Murrough's castle, driving off his cattle herds. Bingham eventually cornered her and threw her into prison. The chieftains of Mayo submitted hostages to save her, but Bingham confiscated her cattle and horses.

The land bore the scars of the constant war as Bingham determined to bring the

chieftains of Connacht to their knees, and as his campaign intensified, one by one the Mayo chieftains fell in fierce battle or submitted to Bingham. Granuaile held out to the last, but in 1593, when Bingham captured her youngest son, Tibbott, she decided to go over the head of the tyrant and take her case directly to Queen Elizabeth herself! When Bingham threatened to hang her son, Granuaile set sail for England! At a time when most male Irish Chieftains would not have dared set foot in England, the Queen not only permitted her an audience, but legend has it that the two women looked upon one another with a mutual respect founded in the adversity of two powerful women in a man's world.

 

Granuaile left England with a pardon and an order for Sir Richard to supply her with a pension. Her son was soon released by order of the Queen and Sir Richard was replaced in two years. Granuaile died in 1603, in her own home, Carraigahowley (Rockfleet) Castle, a pirate to the end. Legend tells us that she was buried in the O'Malley family crypt out on Clare Island.

Granuaile lived through turbulent times, her life touched by sometimes savage adversity on almost a daily basis. She would never, however, have considered herself a victim. Let us take her lead and as we look back on many of our own lives, where once we saw fear, let us now discover our own courage and our own bravery.

 

Where once we saw what we thought of as our own victimhood, let us now see the strength of our will to survive!

 

Let her fierce and daring path stand as a beacon of courage and strength for women the world over.

 

Granuaile...my Pirate Queen of Connacht, I salute you!

 

 

Contributed by Judy Staley

Grace O'Malley (also called Granuaile) was a famous pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in Ireland in the 1500's. She was born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland and was the daughter of sea captain Owen O'Malley. As a young child, Grace always knew she wanted to be a sailor but as a female, she was discouraged repeatedly. Extremely upset when her father refused to take her on a sailing trip, legend has it Grace cut off all her hair and dressed in boys clothes to prove to her parents that she could handle the trip and live a seafarer's life. Seeing this, her father and brother laughed aloud and nicknamed her "Grainne Mhaol" meaning "Bald Grace" (which is believed to have led to her nickname "Granuaile.") Eventually, through her persistence, she was allowed to go to sea with her father and his fleet of ships.

As a child, Grace often sailed with her father on trading missions overseas. Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace had been instructed by her father to hide below deck if they ever were attacked, but she did not heed his advise. Instead she climbed up onto the sail rigging. Watching the battle from above, she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father, raising a dagger behind his back! The brave Granuaile leapt off of the rigging, through the air and onto the pirate's back.... screaming all the while! The distraction this caused was enough for the O'Malleys to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates.

She spent her young life learning the ways of the sea and grew to be quite the sailor--eventually having her own fleet of ships. Her family had become wealthy mainly through fishing and trade, but in her later life, Grace took up piracy by taking on Turkish and Spanish pirate ships and even the English fleets. She grew her estate to include a fleet of ships as well as several islands and castles on the west coast of Ireland.

In her later years, Grace developed her reputation as a fearless leader through her efforts in battle along side her followers. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons while out to sea. The very next day following the birth of the baby, the ship was attacked by Turkish pirates. Though exhausted from giving birth Grace grabbed a gun, went on deck and proceded to rally her men against the Turks, forcing their retreat.

Grace married two times in her life. Her first husband was Donal O'Flaherty who was the son of the chieftain of the O'Flaherty clan and next in line for the post as chieftain. Grace and Donal married when was about 16 years old. In those times, it was common for families to arrange marriages so the union between Grace and Donal was probably more political than emotional at first. The O'Flahertys were a seafaring people, much like the O'Malleys, so Grace was right at home with their clan. Over the course of their marriage, Grace learned more about seafaring from Donal and his clan and added to her knowledge of sailing and trading at sea. Grace was soon in charge of the O'Flaherty fleet of ships and ruled the waters surrounding their lands. Although it was unusual for a woman to lead men, Grace earned the respect of all who followed her through her shrewdness as well as her knowledge of sailing and bravery at sea. Her husband, Donal, had a reputation for being quite a "hot head" and his temper eventually cost him his life in battle against a rival clan. They were married for a total of nineteen years.

According to Irish law, widows were entitled to a portion of their husbands estates. But for some reason, the O'Flahertys did not follow this tradition. Grace was forced to rely on the O'Flaherty clan for support. She did not like this, so she set out on her own, taking with her a loyal group of followers and traded on the seas to earn her own way. She used what she learned from her father in her youth and from her husband and eventually was able to break away from the O'Flaherty Clan altogether. Grace moved back with the O'Malley clan bringing her followers with her -- Grace had become a Chieftain in her own right and the heir as Chieftain of the O'Malley clan.

In equally as political a move, Grace married her second husband, Richard Burke in an effort to strengthen her hold on the west coast area of Ireland. Since the death of Donal, she had built her empire to include five castles and several islands in Clew Bay, but needed Rockfleet castle in the northeast side of the bay to complete her stronghold on the area.

Legend has it that Grace travelled to the Castle Rockfleet, knocked on the door and proposed marriage to Richard for a period of one year. She explained that the union would enable both clans to withstand the impending invasion by the English (who were slowly taking over the Irish lands around them.) It is believed that after exactly one year, Grace said to Richard, "I release you," apparantly offering him the option to end the marriage, but he must have really fallen for the lovely Granuaile, because they remained married until he died some seventeen years later.

Grace had a total of four children. Donal and Grace had three children, 2 boys and 1 girl. Their sons were Owen and Murrough and daughter Margaret. Later, when Grace married Richard, they had a son, Tibbot (or Theobald).

In 1593, after many difficult years fighting against the English and the capture of her brother and son by English forces, Grace visited Queen Elizabeth to make peace and ask for the release of her brother and son. Events leading up to the meeting between Grace and Queen Elizabeth had a significant impact on the meeting itself and Grace's behavior afterward.

Over Grace's lifetime, the English had taken over much of Ireland a peice at a time through a process called "Sumit and Regrant." The English would convince (or force) Clan leaders to submit their lands to the English and in return they were given an English title. Some Cheiftains surrendered, many rebelled-- Grace among the rebellious. She maintained her independence longer than most of the rest of Ireland, but in her later years, the pressure from English forces began to weigh heavily on her.

At 56 years old, Grace was captured by Sir Richard Bingham, a ruthless Governer appointed by the Queen to rule over the regranted territories. Soon after his appointment, Bingham sent guards to arrest Grace and have her hanged. Grace was apprehended and along with members of her clan, imprisoned and scheduled for execution. Determined to die with dignity, Grace held her head high as she awaited her execution. At the last minute, Grace's son-in-law offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the promise that Grace would never return to her rebellious ways. Bingham released Grace on this promise but was determined to keep her from power and make her suffer for her insurrection. Over the course of time, Bingham was responsible for taking away her cattle, forcing her into poverty, even plotting the murder of her eldest son, Owen.

During this period of Irish rebellion, the Spanish Armada was waging war against the English along the Irish and Scottish coastlines. It is not known whether Grace assisted the English against the Spanish or if she was merely protecting what little she had left-- but around 1588, Grace slaughtered hundreds of Spaniards on the ship of Don Pedro de Mendoza near the castle on Clare island. Even into her late 50's, Grace was fierce in battle.

In the early 1590's, Grace was still virtually pennyless thanks the constant efforts of Bingham to keep tight controls on her. There was a rather large rebellion brewing and Bingham feared that Grace would run to the aid of the rebels against the English. He wrote in a letter during this time that Grace was, "a notable traitoress and nurse to all rebellions in the province for 40 years."

Grace had written letters to the Queen demanding justice, but received no response. In 1593, her son Theobald and brother Donal-na-Piopa were arrested and thrown into prison. This was the final straw that prompted Grace to stop writing letters and go to London in person to request their release and ask for the Queen's help in regaining the lands and wealth that were rightfully hers.

Grace set sail and managed to avoid the English patrol boats that littered the seas between her homeland and London. The meeting took place in Greenwich Castle. The only record of this meeting that has survived are the lyrics to an old song that tell of Grace's presence in the court of the Queen:

 

That sun-burnt brow did fearless thoughts reveal;

and in her girdle was a skeyne of steel;

her crimson mantle, a gold brooch did bind

her flowing garments reached unto her heel

her hair-part fell in tresses unconfined

and part, a silver bodkin did fasten up behind.

 

No one really knows why Queen Elizabeth agreed to meet with Grace (let alone why she did not have her executed or imprisoned). Grace was fluent in Latin and thus was able to converse freely with the Queen. Grace explained that her actions in the past were not rebellion but rather acts of self-defense. She told of how her rightful inheritance from both husbands' deaths were wrongfully withheld from her and asked for them to be returned. She also asked for the release of her son and brother. In return for all of this, Grace agreed to use her strength and leadership to defend the Queen against her enemies by land and by sea.

The Queen agreed and Grace returned to Ireland and demanded Bingham release her son and brother and return her assets by order of the Queen. Bingham did release the two captives, but never did restore Grace her rightful possessions.

One interesting story is also worth noting. This allegedly occured during Grace's meeting with the Queen in England. It is said that during the meeting, Grace sneezed in the presence of the Queen and her lords and ladies. A member of the court, in an act of politeness, handed Grace an attractive and expensive lace handkerchief. She took the delicate cloth and proceded to blow her nose loudly then tossed the kerchief into a blazing fireplace. The members of the court were aghast that she would be so rude to toss an expensive gift so easily into the fire. The Queen then scolded her and said that the handkerchief was meant as a gift and should have been put into her pocket. Grace replied that the Irish would never put a soiled garment into their pocket and apparantly had a higher standard of cleanliness. After a period of uncomfortable silence, (during which the members of the court expected the Queen to have Grace executed for her rude behavior) nervous then roaring laughter followed. The Queen was amused.

Granuaile was known as a fearless leader and fierce fighter. In her 70 years of life, she and her family saw the English rule spreading throughout Ireland, but through her strength and leadership saw that her clan and those around her were mostly unaffected by it. It is said that from the year of her death in 1603 and onward, that no Irish chieftain had been able to preserve the old Gaelic way of life as Granuaile and her family had done in her lifetime.

According to stories that my relatives have told me, I am a direct descendant of Grace O'Malley. But rather than simply accepting the stories as truth, I have begun the process of researching that branch of my family tree to obtain definitive proof, and would welcome comments from anyone else researching this family.

 

Marriage to O'Flaherty

Grainne Ní Mháille (Grace O'Malley) was married in 1546 to Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Donal of the Battle), tánaiste or heir to the Ó Flaithbheartaigh (O'Flaherty) title, which would have been a good political match for the daughter of the O'Mháille chieftain. As O'Flaherty tánaiste, Dónal an Chogaidh one day expected to rule Iar Connacht, the area roughly equivalent to modern Conamara.[8]

She bore three children during her marriage to Dónal an Chogaidh:

  • Owen:[9] The eldest child and son, known to be extremely kind and forgiving. When Owen was in his late twenties, or early thirties, Richard Bingham tricked him and, as a result, Owen was murdered and Bingham and his troops took over Owen's castle.
  • Margaret:[9] Sometimes called 'Maeve', Margaret was much like Ní Mháille herself. She married and had several children. Ní Mháille and Margaret's husband[who?] were supposedly very close, and more than once Ní Mháille's son-in-law saved her from death.
  • Murrough:[9] Murrough was said to take after his father, Dónal, as he enjoyed warfare. He was also sexist, many times beating up his sister, Margaret, and refusing to listen to his mother because of her gender. Many sources report that Murrough, who seems to have had no sense of loyalty, betrayed his family and joined forces with Richard Bingham after the murder of Owen. When Ní Mháille heard of this, she swore she'd never speak to Murrough again for the rest of her life, though she would often insult him.

Later, the warring Dónal was killed in battle, and Ní Mháille recaptured a castle from the Joyces that had been his (now Hen's Castle in Lough Corrib). She returned, afterwards, to Mayo and took up residence at the family castle or tower-house on Clare Island.

After Dónal's death, Gráinne left Iar-Connacht and returned to O'Mháille territory, taking with her many O'Flaherty followers who were loyal to her.

 

Marriage to Bourke

By 1566 Ní Mháille had married a second time, this time to Risdeárd an Iarainn Bourke, called "Iron Richard",[11] an appropriate corruption of his Irish name as he is reputed to have always worn a coat of mail inherited from his Anglo-Norman ancestors. The nickname may also have come from the fact that he controlled the ironworks at Burrishoole, where his principal castle and residence were.[12]

Traditionally it is said that the Bourke marriage was motivated by Ní Mháille's desire to enlarge her holdings and her prestige. Bourke was owner of Rockfleet Castle, also called Carraigahowley Castle, which was strategically situated near Newport, as well as other lands like Burrishoole, with sheltered harbors in which a pirate ship could hide. Bourke held a high position as chieftain of a senior branch of his sept.[13] Because of his sept leadership he would eventually be eligible for election as Mac William, the second most powerful office in Connacht.[14]

According to tradition they married under Brehon law 'for one year certain', and it is said that when the year was up Gráinne divorced Risdeárd and kept the castle. Legend says that when the one year had passed, Ní Mháille and her followers locked themselves in Rockfleet Castle and Gráinne called out a window to Burke, "Richard Burke, I dismiss you." Those words had the effect of ending the marriage, but since she was in possession of the castle she kept it.[15] Rockfleet remained for centuries in the O'Mháille family and is today open to the public.

Despite the divorce story, Ní Mháille and Bourke appear as mentioned as husband and wife in English documents of the period, so appeared to remain married, at least allied, as far as the English were concerned. In her answers to the questions from Queen Elizabeth I, Ní Mháille said she was Risdeárd's widow.

They had one son, Theobald Burke, nicknamed Tiobóid na Long (Tibbot of the Ships) in Irish, who was born about 1567.[16] Tibbot was later knighted as Sir Theobald Bourke, and was created first Viscount Mayo in 1626 by Charles I. Bourke had at least four other children, Edmund, Walter, John, and Catherine.

 

Other Relationships

Ní Mháille was accused of promiscuity, and it was said that she may have had a son out of wedlock. Biographer Anne Chambers points out that despite hints at these facts in certain state documents, allegations such as these were frequently made against women who acted in a manner contrary to the social norms of the day.[18]

The Chambers biography relates that the legendary reason for Ní Mháille's seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy was because the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, a young boy who was easily fifteen years younger than her, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant Ní Mháille had rescued.

 

 

Caislean na Circe   -   Clonbur  

  Caislean-na-Circe located on Lough Corrib between Maam and Doon, free from islands except for the rock on which the ancient Hen's Castle of the O'Connor's and the O'Flaherty's stands. The castle was home of the great pirate Queen of Connemara, Grace O`Malley, who lived in the time of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England. The Lord Justice, in 1225, caused Odo O'Flatherty to give up Kirk Castle to Odo O'Connor, King of Connaught; for assurance of his fidelity.  

Caislean na Circe (built in a night by a cock and a hen according to legend) is one of the oldest mortared castles in Ireland. This Norman keep, placed in the direction of the cardinal compass points, was built early in the 12th Century by the sons of Roderick O'Connor, last High-King of Ireland, aided by their then ally, William Fitz-Adelm, the first de Burgo (later Burke). This castle which occupies almost the entire island had a troubled history, being stormed and besieged many times, not the least of which was the celebrated occasion when Grainne Mhaol (Grace O'Malley) personally defended it. It continued to be occupied as a castle until it finally succumbed to the Cromwellian soldiers in 1654.

  Castle of the Hen is considered to be the oldest fortress of its kind in Ireland, and it is undoubtedly one of the best built. When first built and well-defended, with good food stores, this castle must have been impregnable. The rocks slope abruptly into the water on all sides. It is only accessible in a few places. The castle is steeped in history and legend.   One such mythical tradition suggests that the O'Flaherty's, Gaelic Lords of Connemara, realizing the difficulties of building a large Castle in such a place, hired a witch to build it using magic. In a day and a night of casting spells she succeeded in creating the castle. She left a magic hen to look after it, warning that as long as the hen was looked after, the castle would remain secure. Everything went well until severe weather conditions made life difficult and they were forced to use up food stores, as it was impossible to go to the mainland for fresh supplies. With empty bellies, they felt there was not any choice other than to eat the hen. Shortly after this, the Norman knight, de Burgo, laid siege to the castle. The garrison was starved out and the castle demolished. History states that in Elizabethan times there was a policy of 'Divide and Conquer', which was used effectively throughout the sixteenth century.

 

It weakened Gaelic power and the peace of Connaught was broken, as it meant the return of inter-tribal warfare, each sept attempting to take advantage of the situation. Granuaile's husband, Donal-an-Chogaidh, Tániste-elect to the Chieftain, had much to lose as the fight for power erupted among the O'Flaherty Septs. The old customs were under threat. Donal-an-Chogaidh died at the hands of his old enemies, the Joyces, in an attack on Kirk Castle. On account of his courage at defending the castle, they nicknamed him "Donal An Cullagh, (The Cock). The Joyces descended on "Cocks Castle", they thought it would be a 'pushover' but they had not bargained on Granuaille who, with her husband's clansmen, defended the castle with skill and bravery -- so much so that the castle was renamed 'Hen's Castle', (Caislean-na-Circa), the name it has to this day.

 

In the nineteenth Century this historic ruin was vandalized and hundreds of its stones were removed to build houses in the area. The interior of the Keep is now a mass of stones and weeds, but it is still a very impressive sight. It is not too hard to visualize what this Castle must have looked like hundreds of years ago.

 

 

History of Ballynahinch Castle

Ballynahinch Castle is steeped in a wealth of tradition and has been intertwined in the history of Connemara and its people for many centuries.

From the days of the O'Flaherty Chieftains, to Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connemara, to Humanity Dick Martin, founder of the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and to H.R.H. the Maharajah Ranjitsinji, also known as the ‘Ranji’, Prince of Cricketeers.

Grace O'Malley (also called Granuaile) was a famous pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in Irleand in the 1500's. She was born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland and was the daughter of sea captain Owen O'Malley. As a young child, Grace always knew she wanted to be a sailor but as a female, she was discouraged repeatedly. Extremely upset when her father refused to take her on a sailing trip, legend has it Grace cut off all her hair and dressed in boys clothes to prove to her parents that she could handle the trip and live a seafarer's life. Seeing this, her father and brother laughed aloud and nicknamed her "Grainne Mhaol" meaning "Bald Grace" (which is believed to have led to her nickname "Granuaile.") Eventually, through her persistance, she was allowed to go to sea with her father and his fleet of ships.

As a child, Grace often sailed with her father on trading missions overseas. Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace had been instructed by her father to hide below deck if they ever were attacked, but she did not heed his advise. Instead she climbed up onto the sail rigging. Watching the battle from above, she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father, raising a dagger behind his back! The brave Granuaile leapt off of the rigging, through the air and onto the pirate's back.... screaming all the while! The distraction this caused was enough for the O'Malleys to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates.In her later years, Grace developed her reputation as a fearless leader through her efforts in battle along side her followers. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons while out to sea. The very next day following the birth of the baby, the ship was attacked by Turkish pirates. Though exhausted from giving birth Grace grabbed a gun, went on deck and proceded to rally her men against the Turks, forcing their retreat.

Grace married two times in her life. Her first husband was Donal O'Flaherty who was the son of the chieftain of the O'Flaherty clan and next in line for the post as chieftain. Grace and Donal married when was about 16 years old. In those times, it was common for families to arrange marriages so the union between Grace and Donal was probably more political than emotional at first.

 

Grace O'Malley

 

She is known by many names: Grainne Mhaol (Bald Grace), Grainne Ui Mhaille (Grace of the Umhalls), Grania, the Dark Lady of Doona, Grace O'Malley, and Granuaile (Gran-oo-ale). She was a contemporary of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Edmund Spencer, Walter Raleigh, and Francis Drake. She was a mother, a pirate, and one of the many great women of Ireland.

 

Born c. 1530 into the O'Malley family, the hereditary lords of Umhall which included Clare Island, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Inishark and Caher, Grace married into two of the powerful families of Western Ireland, the O'Flaherty of West Connacht and the Burke of Clew Bay. Tradition has it that she is buried (1603) on Clare Island at the Abbey which bears the O'Malley coat-of-arms; Terra-Marique-Potens. Indeed a fitting family motto, for Grace was powerful on land and especially on the sea.

 

The Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley, also known by her Irish Gaelic name Grainne Ni Mhaille, is one of Ireland's foremost heroines, whose life was the stuff of Irish legend. Grace O'Malley's extraordinary life centres around the 16th Century Tudor conquest of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I. Grace was the daughter of the O'Malley Clan chieftain who controlled the south west of County Mayo and its coast from their castle on Clare Island. They were a renowned seafaring family who controlled the sea routes along the west coast of Ireland, charging a tax to fishermen and traders.

 

In 1546 Grace was married at a young age to the head of the O'Flaherty Clan, but when he was killed in battle, Grace became the head of the O'Flaherty's as well. Grace later remarried another powerful Irish Chief Richard Burke, but divorced him after one year under the ancient Brehon Laws and got to keep his title and Rockfleet Castle near Newport in Co. Mayo.

 

As England steadily gained control of Ireland, Grace came under increasing pressure to relent to the English crown. An expedition from Galway attacked Grace in her castle on Clare Island, so Grace turned to piracy, blockading the port of Galway and attacking English ships in Galway Bay.

 

When the English governor of Connaught, Sir Richard Bingham captured Grace O'Malley's two sons, she set sail for England to speak to Queen Elizabeth I face to face. Her ships sailed up the River Thames in London, where Grace met Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich. On meeting the Queen, Grace refused to bow, stating that she herself was a Queen of her land and not a subject of the Queen of England. Their discussion was carried out in Latin as Grainne Mhaol spoke no English and Queen Elizabeth spoke no Irish. The two, who were roughly the same age apparently, admired each other, and reached a truce; Grace would stop attacking English ships and switch to attacking Spanish ones and her sons were returned to her.

 

Grace O'Malley died at Rockfleet Castle in 1603, the same year as Queen Elizabeth.

 

In a man's world, Granuaile developed her own power base contrary to Gaelic and English law. She was a woman of singular strength of character and for that became, along with Roisin Dubh and Caitleen Ni Houlihan, a poetic symbol for Ireland:

 

The gowns she wore was stained with gore all by a ruffian band

Her lips so sweet that monarchs kissed are now grown pale and wan

The tears of grief fell from her eyes each tear as large as hail

None could express the deep distress of poor old Granuaile.

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