Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley

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During the Depression when the O'Malley children were young, their Nana (Elizabeth Ginley), regaled them with stories of the famous Irish pirate queen whose lineage they shared. Grace O’Malley (Granuaile or Ghráinne Ní Mháille) lived a full life from 1530 until her death in 1603. Nana related in exquisite detail stories of Grace's daring exploits built on legends and folklore. They documented her grit and the sheer force of her prowess that endeared Grace to hundreds under her command. As her army grew in numbers and strength, her leadership was successful in the fight against the tyranny of Great Britain as proof of her clan motto "Powerful by Land and Sea." Nana also described the lush green hills of Ireland and the lapping waves of Achill Sound in County Mayo, along with her visits to the Grace O'Malley castles in County Mayo commandeered from battles with neighboring clans. The stories delighted her grandchildren and ignited their desire to visit their ancestral home as they imagined their own adventures on the high seas. At a time when the family didn’t have much to eat, stories from their Nana fed their imagination and assuaged hunger pangs until they became a distant memory.

 

Elizabeth’s favorite story to her grandchildren relayed the extraordinary meeting between the two royals (one’s title was inherited; the other earned through sheer fortitude.) Queen Elizabeth I summoned Grace O’Malley in 1593 (Grace was sixty-three years old in a time when the average was 37.) 

 

’"Twas a high honor, and although no records of their conversation exists, it is believed the Queen was in awe of Grace’s achievements given that she was a woman without the formal support of a country, government, or established armed forces. Letters from the Queen document she aided Grace in her personal and political struggles, including those of her family. But can ye picture the amazing energy present when these two powerful women from widely diverse backgrounds met on equal footing?” Elizabeth loved to instill into her grandchildren the accomplishments one can achieve with the same courage and bravery exhibited by their ancestor.

Contemporary photo of the remains of Grace's Castle

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A sign pointing the way to the castle of Grace O'Malley & another

contemporary view of it

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Grace O'Malley's elegant 4-poster bed. Location: In Belleek Castle, Balin, County Mayo, Ireland - currently on display at Westport House.