GRACE O'MALLEY

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By Tim Sullivan

Today’s fierce female is Grace O’Malley (Grainne Ní Mháille).

Though commonly known as “The Pirate Queen,” Grace was, in fact, the daughter of the Eoghan Ní Mháille, the ruling Lord of the O’Malley dynasty that controlled part of southwest County Mayo. Though she had a living brother, Grace assumed her father’s place as the lord of the clan.

She married Donal O’Flaherty in 1546 and had three children. After taking a castle in Lough Corrib from the rival clan the Joyces, they retaliated by killing Donal while he was on a hunting trip. They proceeded on to retake the castle, only to find Grace ready with an army of supporters. They successfully repelled the attack, and the fortress was renamed Hen’s Castle in her honor (which was rude if you ask me).

Grace covertly led and abetted many of the rebellions against English rule throughout her native land, so much so the the Sir Richard Bingham, Lord President of the Connacht region named her “nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years.” He ordered the capture of her sons, causing Grace to petition Elizabeth I for their release.

Elizabeth agreed to meet with Grace, so she crossed the Irish sea for an in-person audience at Greenwich Palace. Grace refused to bow, as she did not recognize Elizabeth as the rightful Queen of Ireland. They conversed in Latin, as Elizabeth spoke no Irish, and Grace spoke no English. Grace successfully negotiated for the release of her sons and the dismissal of Bingham from his post in Ireland, in exchange for her agreement not to participate in future rebellions. She did not keep her part of the bargain.

She died around 1603 at about 73 years of age. Ireland would finally gain independence over 300 years later.

One of the only quotes contemporaneously recorded of Grace’s is the following, said to her son who she felt was displaying cowardice in battle:

"An ag iarraidh dul i bhfolach ar mo thóin atá tú, an áit a dtáinig tú as?" 
("Are you trying to hide in my arse, the place that you came out of?")


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