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Grace O’Malley, Granuaile. Chieftain, trader, pirate adapted from ‘Grace O’Malley’, Time Traveller 2 by Day, R. at al., CJ Fallon, 0-71441-129-9, 00 83-7. If you had been alive four hundred years ago and living near Clew Bay in Co. Mayo, you might have seen galleys

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Grace O’Malley, Granuaile

Chieftain, trader, pirate

adapted from ‘Grace O’Malley’, Time Traveller 2 by Day, R. at al., CJ Fallon, 0-71441-129-9, 00 83-7

If you had been alive four

hundred years ago and living

near Clew Bay in Co. Mayo,

you might have seen galleys

(ships) like the one in the

picture sailing the seas

around Clare Island. Many of

the galleys would probably

have belonged to Grace

O’Malley, chieftain, trader

and pirate.

Grace – a timeline

Planning:NLS Year 3

Grace was born in 1530.

She was a member of the O’Malley family. The family crest is also on the right.

The family motto, in Latin, was

Terra Marique Potens.

This means

Powerful on land and sea.

We do not know what Grace O’Malley looked like, but we are told that she had dark hair and dark skin.

She might have looked like this as a young woman. Her clothes are similar to those worn by Irishwomen at that time.

An modern artist’s impression of how Grace might have looked.

This is a seventeenth-century portrait of Grace’s granddaughter. Could Grace have looked like her?

Grace O’Malley was one of the most successful pirates ever to sail the seas off the west coast of Ireland. With a fleet of ships and over 200 men, she robbed the cargo of any ship that dared to sail through her waters and charged the owners a ransom for a safe voyage.

Contemporaries feared Grace

Top: An artist’s impression of an O’Malley galley

Bottom: Replica of 30-oared galley used by Grace

Grace was also a trader and she frequently sailed her galleys as far as Spain where she traded fish and cattle hides for wine, salt and iron. Her ships were often hired by the leaders in Ulster at that time, the O’Neills and O’Donnells, to bring fighting men, called

gallowglasses, over from Scotland. Song: Free & Easy

Grace had a very exciting life. Many stories are told about the adventures she had. Here are four of them.





Grace O’Malley was also called Grainne Mhaol. We do not know why buy maybe it is because maol means bald. It is said that when Grace was a young girl, she asked her father could she sail with him. He refused to take her, because she was a girl. However, Grace was determined to go with him, so she cut off all her hair and dressed in boys’ clothes. She went back to her father and said, ‘Now will you take me?’ We don’t know what her father answered. What do you think?
Howth Castle

Once, when returning from a voyage, Grace’s fleet landed at Howth near Dublin. At that time, it was the custom for Irish chieftains to offer food and shelter to other chieftains who were travelling through their lands. Grace went to Howth Castle, fully expecting to be welcomed as a guest. Imagine her surprise and anger when she found the gates of the castle locked against her. To make matters worse, she was told that the lord of the castle was dining and did not wish to be Disturbed. Furious at this insult, she returned to her ship.

On her way back, Grace came upon the son of the

Lord playing with his friends. She quickly seized

the boy and carried him aboard her ship. With her

hostage safely aboard Grace’s fleet set sail for


Frightened for his son’s safety, the Lord of Howth

went to Mayo to plead for his release. He offered

to pay Grace any ransom she demanded in return for his son. Grace did not ask for money, however.

She wanted a promise that the gates of Howth

Castle would never again be closed to anyone

looking for food and shelter. She also demanded

that an extra place would always be laid at the

dinner table in Howth.



When Grace was sixteen years old, she was married to a chieftain called Donal O’Flaherty. His nickname was Donal an Chogaidh (Donal of the Battles), because he was always fighting. Donal attacked and captured a small castle on an island in Lough Corrib from his neighbours, the Joyces. Donal fought so fiercely that he was given a new nickname, Donal an Choiligh (Donal the Cock), and the castle was renamed Cock’s Castle in his honour.
Shortly afterwards, Donal was attacked and killed by the Joyces while hunting in the mountains. Luckily, some of his men survived the ambush and returned to the castle to warn Grace. The Joyces thought that, with Donal dead, it would be easy to recover their castle. They were wrong. Grace rallied her followers around her and fiercely defended the castle. The Joyces were forced to retreat. Grace defended the castle so well that its name was changed to Caisleán na Circe (Hen’s Castle) in her honour.

Song: The Defence of Hen’s Castle


Elizabeth I

Grace had a deadly enemy called Sir Richard Bingham. He had been appointed Governor of Connacht by Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was determined to bring Grace under his control. Bingham made life very difficult for Grace, taking her lands and cattle, and even putting her in jail on one occasion. Finally, in 1593, Grace wrote to Queen Elizabeth I to complain about his behaviour.

Grace’s tactics in dealing with the English

Elizabeth agreed to see Grace. She was probably curious to meet this famous pirate who had caused the English in Ireland so much trouble. Queen Elizabeth must have been impressed by Grace because she

ordered Bingham to return the lands and cattle which he had taken from her. Grace returned to Connacht where she died about the year 1603.

Extract from Grace’s petition to Elizabeth I



c.1530 Granuaile is born.

Granuaile cuts off her hair and goes to sea with her father.

1546 marries Donal O’Flaherty.

Donal captures small castle in Lough Corrib from the Joyces.

Donal is killed by the Joyces.

The Joyces attack Hen’s castle but Grace maintains control.

1566 marries Richard (‘Iron Dick’) Bourke.

1577-1579 imprisoned in Rockfleet.

1588 granted a pardon by Queen Elizabeth I.

1593 audience with Elizabeth I in London.

1603 dies in poverty.



Contemporary fears of Grace and her clan

‘Grany O’Mayle [is] a woman that hath impudently passed the part of womanhood and been a great spoiler and chief commander and director of thieves and murders at sea to spoil this province.’

Lord Justice Drury, 1578

‘The continuing roads used by the O’Malleys and O’Flaherties with their galleys along our coasts, where there have been taken sundry ships and barks bound for this poor town, which they have not only rifled to the utter overthrow of the owners and merchants, but also have most wickedly murdered divers of young men to the great terror of such as would willingly traffic.’

Corporation of Galway City, no date



‘Free & Easy’ Composed by Shaun Davey Granuaile, Tara Music Company Ltd, 1985, Tara CD 3071; sung by Rita Connolly

What can you see from the masthead?

Spanish ships a-fishing

What can you see from the masthead?

A Portugee from Newfoundland

Rising up on the breaking wave

Let it carry you over all the sea in the morning

Weigh, hey, and up she rises

Sun is up, the bird’s a-wing

And we’re sailing free and easy

What can you see from the masthead?

A trading ship for Galway

What does he pay for the passage?

A just reward for the pilot

Rising up on the breaking wave etc.

We’ll stay at sea when the wind is keen

And waves begin to billow

We’ll keep to the sea when the wind it fails

And homeward bound we’ll row

Where shall we go for a cargo?

We’ll run right down to Vigo

And if the Bay shall make a storm

We’ll take a look in at Bordeaux

What spy you now from the masthead?

An Algerine on the quarter

What shall we do to greet him?

Acquaint him with our ordnance

Rising up on the breaking wave etc.



‘The Defence of Hen’s Castle’ Composed by Shaun Davey Granuaile, Tara Music Company Ltd, 1985, Tara CD 3071; sung by Rita Connolly

I had word of your coming

This is no surprise

To find oneself thus surrounded

Nor to feel such tears of anger

Now the cock crows no more

The hen shall slam the door

No raider, housebreaker

No bandit sheriff’s men

No Galway blow-in

Shall here lay a claim

This poor widow-woman

Long before now

Has stood her ground

Amidst the white winter fury of the ocean

She has outfoxed

The running surge of the breaking wave

And thus humbled

She will bow before no man

Go kindle torches

High on the hill of Doon

The night’s ablaze with flames on the hillside

In the morning ye shall find comfort



Grace’s tactics against the English an imaginary letter

June, the Year of Our Lord 1575, Clare Island

My dear Toby,

At this season I am usually at sea. A slight injury - nothing your need worry about - is keeping me on the island a little longer. My shoulder is giving me some trouble but my right hand is undamaged, thank God. So I can write to you.

Are you well, my son? Are the priests teaching you as I have instructed them? Learn your letters, study Latin, and memorise the names of the major seaports. Your older brothers by Donal O’Flaherty are merely simply warriors, all strength and shouting. I want more than that for you. Against an enemy as powerful as the English it is necessary to fight with one’s brains. Fortunately you and I both inherited good brains.

It saddens me to tell you that my beloved Dubhdara is dying. Your grandfather is like an ancient oak tree that has fallen in the forest and is slowly crumbling away. I continue to captain the fleet and support his people. I cannot say what the future holds, but be assured I shall do my best.



From the historical novel, Granuaile. The Pirate Queen, by Morgan Llywelyn, O’Brien Press, 0-86278-578-2, pp 58-9



Grace’s petition to Elizabeth I

In the opening lines of her petition Grace established her version of events, telling Elizabeth:

‘of the continual discords stirrs and dissention that hertofore long lyme remained among the Irishrey especially in west Conaght by the sea side everie cheeftaine for his safeguard and maintenance and for the defence of his people followers and countrye took armed by strong hand to make head against his neybours which in like manner contrayned your highness fond subject to take armes and by force to maintaine her selfe and her people by sea and land the space of fortye years past.’

Then she asked the queen for money and a free hand to do as she wished:

‘in tender considercion whereof and in regard of her great age ... to

grant her some reasonable maintenance for the little tyme she hath to lyve.’


‘grant unto your said subject under your most gracious hand of signet free libertye during her lyve to envade with sword and fire all your highness enemies wheresoever they are or shall be ... without interruption of any person or persons whatsoever.’