Posted by: Alastair Rosie | December 22, 2013

Grace O’Malley: Sea Queen of Connacht

Clare Island has long been associated with Grace O’Malley
Picture taken by Brendan Conway and now released into the Public Domain.
Sourced from Wikipedia..

Last week I said I would look at Telesilla but in keeping with the last post on female captains I’ve decided to go forward two thousand years to the northwest coast of Ireland and one of the most eulogised Irish women in history. Grainne O’Malley was born in 1530 in Connacht during the reign of Henry VIII and rose to become the legendary Sea Queen of Connacht. The English of course called her a pirate, an exercise in hypocrisy considering their own pirate activities. During her life she married twice and divorced both men, fought against the English and met Queen Elizabeth. Her name has been Anglicized as Grace but in Ireland she is more commonly known as Granuaile.
There have been so many tributes to Grace O’Malley that this will be just a brief article to sum up the facts as far as I can work out and hopefully point you in the right direction for further research and there is a lot of material out there on Grace O’Malley so let’s begin with the facts.
As mentioned she was born around 1530. Her father Eoghan was chieftain of the O’Malley clan and also owned a fleet of ships. As was the custom amongst Irish nobility she was fostered out to another family, a throwback to Celtic practices. When she was a child she begged her father to let her sail with him to Spain but he refused because her long hair would get caught in the ropes. Not one to be put off by such an excuse she took a knife and cut her hair short. This act of rebellion earned her the name Grainne Mhaol, maol means bald.
She was married in 1546 to Donal of the Battle (Donal an Chogaidh), an O’Flaherty and bore him three children, Owen, Margaret and Murrough. Her marriage to Donal only lasted a few years. He was killed in battle and she retook one of his castles that had been captured by the Joyces. It still stands today and is known as Hen’s Castle. However after his death she returned to O’Malley territory taking many of her O’Flaherty followers with her.
By 1556 she was married again to a man known as Iron Richard, named either for his coat of mail or the fact he owned an iron works. They were married under the ancient Brehon law, which operated alongside Ecclesiastical law and there is not enough space to write about this remarkable set of laws that have their modern equivalent in Western statutes. One of those concerned the status of women, entitling them to take property into a marriage and out of it if they decided to divorce their husbands. A woman could divorce her husband under Brehon law for such things as infidelity, impotence and homosexuality, as well as other reasons. A man could strike his wife but if he left a mark on her face she could demand the bride price as compensation.
A year after the marriage, Grace divorced her husband, reportedly shouting from the window of Castle Rockfleet, “Richard Burke, I divorce you.” Since she was currently in possession of the castle she got to keep it and it has remained in her family ever since.
Another story concerns the time when her first husband’s old enemies, the Joyces attempted to take back Cock Castle in the Lough, Carrib but she defended it against them successfully, it was renamed Hen’s Castle after that and the name has stuck ever since.
O’Malley gained quite a name for herself in the 1560s when she inherited her father’s fleet and began plundering far and wide, from the west coast of Scotland to Waterford. She exacted taxes from passing vessels and afterwards her ships would retreat into the bays. Grace had quite a following, having brought many of the O’Flaherty’s back to her homeland. She wasn’t above fighting alongside the English as well as against them either. Suffice it to say, she had gained such a reputation that in 1593 Richard Bingham complained that she had been the source of a great many rebellions these last forty years. That was about the time two of her sons and her half brother were captured by Bingham. She sailed to England to petition Elizabeth for their release and famously refused to bow to the queen because in her eyes, no English monarch had claim to Ireland. Nevertheless she must have impressed Elizabeth because the queen acceded to her demand that the English governor, Bingham, be removed from office and even agreed that he must return the cattle and land he’d stolen, in return she asked that Grace stop raiding English ships. This Grace agreed to and Bingham was recalled to England. However the cattle and land were not returned and when Elizabeth later sent Bingham back to Ireland Grace realised the meeting had been futile and went back to raiding English ships although during the Nine Years War she fought against England’s enemies.
Grace reportedly died in 1603 at Rockfleet castle although the time and place of her death are still disputed to this day but what was noted even years after her death was that she was a natural leader of men.
Today the old province of Connacht is still officially considered one of the provinces of Ancient Ireland and has been subdivided into the following counties: Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Siligo, the area also has the highest concentration of native Irish speakers With that we leave the northwest coast of Ireland and travel east and back fifteen hundred years to the First Century and the revolt of the Icenians under Boudica.
I’ve left some links for you to follow below.
The actual history of Grace by Anne Chambers.
By Anne Chambers

The Pirate Queen: The Story of Grace O’Malley is a fictional account of Grace O’Malley
By Alan Gold.

The Wikipedia article

And yes the legendary sea queen has her own website, courtesy of Anne Chambers

Cover image for The Deepening Dark

An exiled queen, a band of elves and the warrior cult known as the she bears are all that stands between General Bolksta and his conquest of Haydutia. Rhianna will need the luck of the gods if she is to hold back the tide of evil as an imperial army invades her country intent on turning Haydutia into just another province. 
Smashwords edition
NEW! Now on Amazon.




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