Grace O Malley Ireland’s Pirate Queen

Gráinne Mhaol – Granuaile “Grace the Bald”

As a young girl, Grace was determined to be a sailor like her father. Deeming sailing to be an uncouth activity for young ladies, he resisted her efforts. Nonetheless, as befitting her legendary character – young Grace shaved off all her hair, earning her the name “Grace the Bald” Gráinne Mhaol.

Grace ‘O Malley or Gráinne Mhaol as she was known, was a firebrand, a woman of steely determination and courage who was born in Ireland around 1530.

Castles once owned by Grace ‘O Malley may be seen all over Mayo. One of her castles was known in its time as “The Cock’s Castle” named after her husband Donal, whom she married at the age of sixteen bearing him three children. “The Cork” was his given nickname for courage in Battle. This castle had been captured from the Joyces. After Donal was killed and Grace defended the castle after the Joyces tried to recapture it, it became known as “The Hen’s Castle”.

On the northern shores of Clew Bay, you will find another of Grace’s castles, “Rockfleet”. Once the property of Grace’s second husband Richard Burke whom she married in 1566. They had made an agreement that either partner could terminate the marriage after one year. Not content to continue their arrangement, Grace barricaded herself into Rockfleet, slammed the door in Burke’s face and made the castle her own, sending him packing!

Remarkable bravery combined with sailing skils ensured that she controlled shipping along most of Ireland’s western coast. Needless to say, she became very wealthy. Legend has it that she kept all her ships tied up with the ropes passed through a hole in her castle wall and tied to her bedpost!

Grace ‘O Malley was the only Irish woman ever to be received at the court of England. When Sir Richard Bingham became Governor of Connaught and confiscated all of Grace’s lands and posessions, Grace went to England to petition the Queen, Elizabeth the first. She offered to attack the Queen’s enemies off the coast of Ireland in return for the return of her lands. “The wild grandeur of her mien erect and high, before the English Queen she dauntless stood”. She must have impressed the Queen for Elizabeth the first agreed to all of her demands.

Grace ‘O Malley is buried in the Cistercian Abbey on Clare Island under an inscription of “Terra Marique Potens” which means, “Invincible on Land or Sea”, her family motto. She died in 1603.

 

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