Grace O’Malley : The Pirate Queen

Grace O’Malley , or Grainne Ni Mhaille (often corrupted to Granuaile ; c.1530 – 1600) , was the daughter of Owen O’Malley , chief of the West Coast Islands.

Through fearless and none-too-scrupulous warfare and piracy , she made herself Queen of the Clew Bay area when he died. She effectively controlled the vigorous trade between Galway and the Continent , as well as running a lucrative business importing Scottish mercenaries for the chieftains’ wars against Elizabeth I and their cattle-rustling and plundering activities. She earned her place in Irish legend by being one of the few Irish chiefs to stand up to the English. Aughnanure castle is worth seeing on any tours of Ireland as it was once her base…..hidden away near Galway it is a real hidden gem.

In 1575 she visited the St Lawrences of Howth Castle near Dublin , expecting to be made welcome in Irish fashion. When , instead , she was told that the family was eating and that she would have to wait , she responded by abducting the family’s heir.

When she met Elizabeth I in London in 1593 , she insisted on being treated as her legal equal. However , always a canny tactician , Grace switched sides when she realized she couldn’t beat the English , and her son was created first Viscount Mayo.

Continually mentioned in 16th century dispatches, her exploits included dissolving her Celtic secular marriage to her second husband , Sir Richard Burke of Mayo , by slamming the castle door in his face and then stealing all his castles. As a time when the old Gaelic world was crumbling around her , Grace ensured the continuation of her own dynasty and something of the old culture.

Ireland tours can be full of wonderful history like this.