Pirate Queens: #5 of 10: Grace O'Malley

Grace O'Malley, or Gráinne Ní Mháille in Gaelic (Gaeilge), was a 16th century Irish chieftain and pirate. 

Born in County Mayo, Ireland, Grace was the daughter of sea captain Owen O'Malley (Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máil), but she was meant to stay ashore and marry a chieftain, while her half-brother made seafaring his profession. 

Wee Grace, however, persisted. Finally, in a fit of temper after the elder O’Malley refused to take her along on a trading expedition to Spain because she was a girl, young Grace reportedly dressed in boy’s clothing and chopped off all her hair. 

Her stubborn will impressed Owen O’Malley, and her freshly bald head just made him laugh, earning the miniature spitfire the nickname, Gráinne Mhaol, or Bald Grace.

Shown above: Actor Molly Lyons portrays Grace O'Malley, in one-woman play, A Most Notorious Woman. Promo still.

Her exploits over a long and interesting life could, in fact, fill a book -- so here are some quick highlights:

* Returning from a voyage, Grace and her crew landed at a place called Howth. Grace sought the hospitality of the house for herself and her men from the lord of the castle (Howth Castle), a Gaelic custom of long standing. 

The doors were barred to her, and she was told that the lord was dining and would not be disturbed. Furious at having been refused entrance, Grace simply kidnapped the son and heir of the castle and took him back to Connaught with her. 

Shown above: Promo still from A Most Notorious Womanfeaturing actor Molly Lyons as Grace O’Malley. Photo by Rebecca Calvo. 

* Another story that’s become part of the legend of Grace O’Malley is the way she earned the nickname, ‘The Dark Lady of Doona.’Seeing a floundering ship, Grace planned to salvage the stores, but instead discovered a lone survivor called Hugh de Lacy. 

Grace nursed him back to health and in the process the two fell madly in love. Then Hugh was killed during a deer hunt by the MacMahons of Ballycroy. 

Grace sailed to the MacMahon family seat of Doona, claimed the family castle for her own and burned their boats -- she also tracked down those responsible for Hugh’s death and killed them all.

* Grace was a de facto leader in the various Irish clan rebellions against the expansion of British rule. Ruling English monarch Elizabeth I was necessarily Grace’s enemy, sending a British military administrator who reportedly had Grace’s eldest son killed, turned a second son against Grace, and had her youngest son imprisoned. 

Despite the then quite natural enmity these two powerful woman shared, Grace’s life story apparently fascinated the English monarch -- ultimately the English queen accepted the request of the pirate queen to a private audience in 1593, agreeing on an informal truce. 

The truce was brief, but the meeting was notable for its rarity and the meeting of two of the late 16th century’s most unusual women. 

Shown above: Promo still from A Most Notorious Womanfeaturing actor Molly Lyons as Grace O’Malley. Photo by Rebecca Calvo. 

Both Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley also reportedly died in the same year, 1603. Grace reportedly died at her own Rockfleet Castle and local legend had it that her bones were interred in an unmarked crypt in the chapel of an abbey on Clare Island, near Belclare Castle, where she was born -- although her final resting place has never been found.

Pirate captain and stalwart rebel Grace O’Malley is a famous figure in Irish popular culture, and hundreds of stories have been written about her, places named after her, songs sung about her. 

Ironically, she was nearly written out of history by Irish historians, who deemed her behavior beyond the pale for a woman in any age, let alone the medieval ages.

As writer and lecturer Anne Chambers notes, ‘The Annals of the Four Masters, that source of Irish history compiled a few years after her death and in a place where memories of her activities were still verdant, do not even mention her name. The English State Papers, on the other hand, contain references to her as late as 1627 -- some twenty-four years after her death.'

So, how then did later centuries uncover the story of Grace O’Malley? Because of the many complaints and anecdotes about her, carried home in military missives -- by her enemies. 

Shown above: Video clip, depiction of Grace O'Malley by actor Molly Lyons, in A Most Notorious Woman

Among the creative works of art inspired by the story of pirate queen Grace O’Malley is a one-woman play, written by and performed by actor Molly Lyons, called A Most Notorious Woman.

Here's a wonderful design at Liana's Paper Doll Blog, based on a statue of Grace O'Malley. The statue itself can be found on the grounds of Westport House, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland:

Shown above: The Rebel Chieftain, by artist Liana Leslie
Part of the Queens of the Sea series, during Random Magic Tour: Pirates!
Win this design! Info and entries

Find more profiles in the Pirate Queens series: 
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Here's another interesting tour feature you might also enjoy:

The main Rum + Plunder treasure hunt is open internationally!
Here’s a fun way to win something piratey and cool: 

Please note: This is not a treasure hunt stop and comments can't be left below -- but definitely do try some of the other stops on the tour, all amazing posts and most of them have a coin for the hunt!

By the way -- you'll have a chance to enter to win a wonderful historical novel about Grace O'Malley, on an upcoming tour stop. (Shhhhh! :)

Bonus: Find even more pirate plunder, with Little Pirate Prizes, these aren't marked on the schedule and they're not part of the hunt, but they’re out there for visitors to find and they could be ANYWHERE.: Find some Little Pirate Prizes   

Happy hunting and good luck!