Badass Bitches Of History: Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley

Despite being half-Irish, I am not a big celebrator of St. Patrick’s Day. I kinda figure that, well, if today is the day when everyone is Irish, then perhaps it is my turn to take the day off! Which means, I guess, I shan’t be clever all day, nor shall I walk around my apartment singing “The Well Below The Valley” as I am wont to do.

I will, however, chat with you about one of the all time most bad ass bitchess to ever come out of Ireland–Grace O’Malley, the motherfuckin’ Pirate Queen of Conaccht!

O’Malley, also known as Granuaile, was born in 1530 on the west coast of Ireland into the Ó Máille clan, whose income had long come from fishing and piracy. Her father the king/chieftan, Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, taught her how to sail at a young age, which was later quite helpful in her career as a pirate.

When she was 16, she married Dónal O’Flaherty, the son of a neighboring chieftain, and moved with him into his castle, known as Cock’s Castle. After many romantic years of keeping house, raising a family and plundering together–with Dónal often going off to fight battles and O’Malley hanging out at home and robbing ships that came by as well as charging them for “protection” money–Dónal eventually died in battle.

Figuring the castle was now up for grabs, the Joyce clan (who may have been responsible for Dónal’s death) attempted to invade Cock’s Castle. However, they were not prepared for the badassery that was Grace O’Malley, and were promptly sent running. And that’s when people started referring to “Cock’s Castle” as “Hen’s Castle,” as it’s known today.

Now, because shit in Ireland was super misogynistic in those times, they didn’t allow women to become chieftains, so despite her awesomeness, Dónal’s cousin was selected to become leader of the O’Flaherty clan. O’Malley and her kids were given only a small parcel of land as a consolation prize, and did not inherit any of her husband’s wealth.

After that, her father died, and he left her in charge of all of his “shipping and trading” business–and although the O’Malley’s weren’t about to have an official lady chieftain either, everyone pretty much treated her as though she were the official chieftain anyway, because they didn’t really want to fuck with her.

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Those who didn’t give her any respect soon learned she meant business. Once, while on one of her pirate trips, she went to go pay a courtesy visit to a castle in Howth, home of Lord Howth. Now, it was the custom at that time for chieftains to be received and given hospitality. But Lord Howth was like “Whatever, you’re a woman, be gone with you!”

Grace was so pissed off by this, that she kidnapped the dude’s grandson and heir. The ransom she demanded was not money, but his promise to keep his gates open for unexpected visitors and to set a place for one at every meal. He gave her a ring to seal the deal, and to this day, there is always an extra place-setting at Howth’s castle.

Not long after that incident, Grace was out again sailing the high seas when she came across a shipwrecked man, Hugh de Lacy, the son of a rich merchant. The couple quickly fell madly in love, but their affair was short-lived. When de Lacy was out hunting deer one day, he was murdered by the MacMahon clan of the neighboring Doona castle. Grace was pissed.

She waited for the MacMahons to leave on a trip of their own, and then captured their boats, seized their castle and killed the man she held responsible for de Lacy’s murder.

Soon after that, she gave birth to her fourth child, Theobald, aboard her ship. After that, she got married a second time, to another chieftain, Richard Bourke. This time, she brought her own dowery, but demanded that it be returned to her in full upon his death or their divorce. She was not about to be left with nothing again. In fact, when Richard died, she immediately claimed one-third of his land for herself, remembering how she’d been screwed the last time.

After his death, she continued her plundering ways, and eventually found herself locked up for a year in Dublin Castle, where only the most famous and feared criminals were kept.

The later years of her career were marked by an ongoing battle with Richard Bingham, the English Governor of Connaught, after he murdered one of her sons and jailed another. The feud continued until she was 63 years old!

Having had just about enough of this bullshit, Grace sailed on over to England to have a chat with Queen Elizabeth herself. Despite the fact that the Queen rarely saw even official Irish chieftains, Grace was granted an audience. She told Queen Elizabeth of the discord in Ireland, and the fact that she’d been screwed by not being able to inherit her husband’s wealth. The Queen agreed with her that this was some serious bullshit, and, in exchange for Grace being willing to beat the shit out of all her enemies, granted her some money to take care of herself in her remaining years, and released her son from prison. Queen Elizabeth also wrote a personal note to Bingham, demanding he leave her new BFF the hell alone.

Grace O’Malley started plundering ships at the age of 17, and didn’t quit until she was 70–giving her one of the longest pirating careers in history. If the idea of a 70 year-old pirate queen doesn’t brighten your worst Irish Gloom Day, I don’t know what else will!

[Booty! Girl Pirates on The High Seas]

[Wikipedia]