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Monday, June 14, 2010

Grace O'Malley - Granuaile

The Meeting of the Pirate Queen with the British Queen - Grace O'Malley & Queen Elizabeth I

Grace O'Malley is one of the more colorful Irish heroes (or in her case heroines).

Gráinne Ní Mháille (c. 1530 – c. 1603), also known as Granuaile or Gráinne Mhaol, usually known in English as Grace O'Malley (sometimes "O'Mealey", another Anglicism), is an important figure in Irish folklore, and a historical figure in 16th century Irish history. O'Malley is sometimes known as "The Sea Queen Of Connaught". Her name appears in contemporary documents as Gráinne Ui Mháille, Gráinne Umhaill. Anglicized versions of her name in contemporary English state papers included Grany O'Maly, Grany Imallye, Granny Nye Male, Grany O'Mayle, Granie ny Maille, Granny ni Maille, Grany O'Mally, Grayn Ny Mayle, Grane ne Male, Grainy O'Maly, and Granee O'Maillie.

Even as a young woman Gráinne Ní Mháille was involved in the business of sailing ships and international trade. She probably learned the business from her father, Eoghan "Dubhdara" Ó Máille, who plied a busy international shipping trade. It is known that she always wanted to join his fleets, but he always refused. Bunowen Castle, where she lived with her first husband, Dónal an-Chogaidh O'Flaherty, was situated on the most western point in Connacht, and was apparently the first base for her shipping and trade activities. By the time of Donal's death in the early 1560s, she commanded the loyalty of so many O'Flaherty men that many of them left the area when she did, and followed her to Clare Island in Clew Bay, where she moved her headquarters.

Dónal an-Chogaidh O'Flaherty had taken a fortress in the Lough Corrib from the Joyce clan. Because of Donal's attitude, the Joyces bagan calling that particular fortress "Cock's Castle." When they heard of his death, they decided to take back the castle. Grainne defended it against them successfully, and apparently the Joyces were so impressed with her abilities in battle that they renamed it Caislean an-Circa, the "Hen's Castle," the name by which it is still known. The English later attacked her at the Hen's Castle, but despite being outnumbered O'Malley withstood the siege. According to legend, she took lead from the roof of the fortress and melted it, then poured it onto the heads of the attacking soldiers. She summoned help by sending a man to light a beacon on the nearby Hill of Doon. Some time before she had ordered the signal beacons set up for just such a purpose. Help arrived and the English were beaten back, never to attack the fortress again.

Around the time of her first husband's death came the initial complaints to the English Council in Dublin from Galway's city leaders that O'Flaherty and Ní Mháille ships were behaving like pirates. Because Galway imposed taxes on the ships that traded their goods there, the O'Flahertys, led by Ní Mháille, decided to extract a similar tax from ships traveling in waters off their lands. Ní Mháille's ships would stop and board the traders and demand either cash or a portion of the cargo in exchange for safe passage the rest of the way to Galway. Resistance was met with violence and even murder. Once they obtained their toll, the O'Flaherty ships would disappear into one of the many bays in the area.

By the early 1560s, Ní Mháille had left O'Flaherty territory and returned to her father's holdings on Clare Island. She recruited fighting men from both Ireland and Scotland, transporting the gallowglass mercenaries between their Scottish homes and Irish employers and plundering Scotland's outlying islands on her return trips. In an apparent effort to curry favor with the English, which were engaged in a re-conquest of Ireland at the time, Ní Mháille went to the Lord Deputy of Ireland and offered two hundred fighting men to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland.

Ní Mháille's attacked other ships at least as far away as Waterford on the south central coast of Ireland, as well as closer to her home port in northwestern Ireland. She did not limit her attacks to other ships. She attacked fortresses on the shoreline, including Curradh Castle at Renvyle and the O'Loughlin castle in the Burren. She also attacked the O'Boyle and MacSweeney clans in their holdings in Burtonport, Killybegs and Lough Swilly.

In 1577, she met with Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, who already knew of her since she had met his son, Sir Philip Sidney, in 1576. Although Philip Sidney would have been a very young man at the time, Ní Mháille evidently made an impression on him since he mentioned her in favorable terms to his father.

Ní Mháille was wealthy on land as well as by sea. She inherited her father's fleet of ships and land holdings, as well as the land her mother had owned. Around the time of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth I of England, she owned herds of cattle and horses that numbered at least one thousand, which would have meant she was wealthy.


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