| 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 along the shores of Clew
Bay on the rugged western coast of Ireland in what is today County Mayo.
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.
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
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.
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 at the mouth
of Clew Bay. It was from here that the legend of Granuaile, Pirate
Queen of Connacht, was born.
Looking out to Clare Island
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
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.
for a visual tour of Granuaile's private chamber, high up inside the castle.
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......
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!
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.
burned by Sir Richard Bingham
and it's friars persecuted.
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. (Click HERE
for a poem written long ago to commemorate the meeting of these two most
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.
O'Malley Crypt, Clare Island, Ireland
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
as a beacon of courage and strength
for women the world over!
Granuaile...my Pirate Queen of
Connacht, I solute you!
Fine Art Prints and Posters of these images
are available HERE!
for Pirate Queen T Shirts, Etc.!
information about this remarkable woman visit
author of the biography
IRELAND'S PIRATE QUEEN (GRACE O'MALLEY) 1530-1603
of The Cauldron Graphics are Copyrighted
Legacy of The Cauldron, Sharon Maille-Rettich all rights reserved..
images are copyrighted by the respective artists, all rights reserved.