GRACE O’MALLEY OUR PIRATE QUEEN [PRESENTED BY BRIGHTER FUTURES – PATRICKS DAY PARADE 2017]
Brighter Futures, the youth community programme produced by St Patrick’s Festival, presented its show “Grace O’Malley Our Pirate Queen”.
Grace O’Malley (c. 1530 – c. 1603; also Gráinne O’Malley, was chieftain of the Ó Máille clan in the west of Ireland, following in the footsteps of her father Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille. Commonly known as Gráinne Mhaol (anglicised as Granuaile) in Irish folklore, she is a well-known historical figure in 16th-century Irish history, and is sometimes known as “The Sea Queen of Connacht”. She was well-educated and regarded by contemporaries as being exceptionally formidable and competent.
Her name was rendered in contemporary English documents in various ways, including Gráinne O’Maly, Graney O’Mally, Grainne Ní Maille, Granny ni Maille, Grany O’Mally, Grayn Ny Mayle, Grane ne Male, Grainy O’Maly, and Granee O’Maillie.
Upon her father’s death she inherited his large shipping and trading business (a trade sometimes referred to as mere piracy). Through income from this business, land inherited from her mother, and property and holdings from her first husband, Dónal an Chogaidh (Dónal “the warlike”) Ó Flaithbheartaigh, O’Malley was very wealthy (reportedly owning as much as 1,000 head of cattle and horses. In 1593, when her sons Tibbot Burke (Tiobóid de Búrca) and Murrough O’Flaherty (Murchadh Ó Flaithbheartaigh), and her half-brother Dónal an Phíopa (“Dónal of the Pipes”) were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, O’Malley sailed to England to petition for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth I at her court in Greenwich Palace.
Many folk stories about O’Malley have survived. There are also songs and poems about her.
A widespread legend concerns an incident at Howth, which apparently occurred in 1576. During a trip from Dublin, O’Malley attempted to pay a courtesy visit to Howth Castle, home of Lord Howth. However, she was informed that the family was at dinner and the castle gates were closed against her. In retaliation, she abducted the Earl’s grandson and heir, Christopher St Lawrence, 10th Baron Howth. He was eventually released when a promise was given to keep the gates open to unexpected visitors and to set an extra place at every meal. Lord Howth gave her a ring as pledge on the agreement. The ring remains in the possession of a descendant of O’Malley and, at Howth Castle today, this agreement is still honoured by the Gaisford St. Lawrence family, descendants of the Baron. Commemorating these events, there is in Howth a street of 1950s local council housing named ‘Grace O’Malley Road’.
The legendary reason for O’Malley seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy was that the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant she had rescued. When the guilty members of the MacMahon clan landed on the holy island of Caher for a pilgrimage, O’Malley captured their boats. She and her men then captured the MacMahons and killed those responsible for her lover’s death. Still not satisfied with her revenge, O’Malley then sailed for Ballycroy and attacked the garrison at Doona Castle, overpowering the defenders and taking the castle for herself. Her attack against the MacMahons was not the first time she interrupted someone at their prayers. Legend tells of another chieftain who stole property from O’Malley and fled to a church for sanctuary. She was determined to wait out the thief, maintaining that he could starve or surrender. The thief dug a tunnel and escaped, however, and the hermit who took care of the church broke his vow of silence to scold her for attempting to harm someone who had sought sanctuary. Her reply is not recorded.
More than 20 years after her death, an English lord deputy of Ireland recalled her ability as a leader of fighting men, noting the fame she still had among the Irish people.