Monday, March 20, 2017

Grace O'Malley, Gráinne Mhaol,The Sea Queen of Connacht

Grace O'Malley: Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan, rebel, seafarer, pirate, fearless leader galley captain, trader, diplomat and mother.

Although her life story reads like fiction or folklore, she is a well-known historical figure in 16th-century Irish history, and is sometimes known as "The Sea Queen of Connacht".

She ... became an icon of international feminism, both as an example of a strong and independent woman and as a victim of misogynistic laws. Nevertheless, this subject of verse, music, romantic novels, documentaries and an interpretive centre remains shrouded in mystery. Gráinne Ní Máille’s mythical status is a double-edged sword that, while ensuring that her name survived, has obscured the reality of the woman behind the legend. She was an extraordinary woman who lived, loved, fought and survived during a pivotal period of Irish history that saw the collapse of the Gaelic order and the ruination of Ireland’s ruling élite.

Born in 1530 in Connacht, Ireland, she was well-educated, learning Latin, and was well regarded by contemporaries as being exceptionally formidable and competent.

According to legend Grannie, as a young girl, wanted to join her father on the sea and travel with him to Spain. Her mother disagreed saying she was a girl and not a sailor. Grainne shaved off her hair to disguise herself as a boy. Her father gave in and so Grainne got on board and became Grainne Mhaol. (the Irish for bald).

Her name was rendered in contemporary English documents in various ways, including Gráinne O'Maly, Graney O'Mally, Grainne Ní Maille, Granny ni Maille, Grany O'Mally, Grayn Ny Mayle, Grane ne Male, Grainy O'Maly, and Granee O'Maillie.

Her's is a story so rich with intrigue and excitement that I wish I could recreate it here for you, but alas I don't have the time, so please check out her life story as written on
the hair-raising and action packed life of Grace O'Malley,
the Pirate Queen :

Grace O’Malley was born in Ireland in around 1530, as a daughter of the wealthy nobleman and sea trader Owen O'Malley. Upon his death, she inherited his large shipping and trading business. From her earliest days, she rejected the role of the sixteenth century woman, instead embracing the life on the sea with the fleet of O'Malley trading ships. The income from this business, as well as land inherited from her mother, enabled her to become rich and somewhat powerful.

Stephanie J. Block, left, as Grace O'Malley and Linda Balgord as Queen Elizabeth I in "The Pirate Queen."
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The meeting of two wildly powerful women: Grace O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth I:
In the later 16th century, English power steadily increased in Ireland and O'Malley's power was steadily encroached upon. Finally, in 1593, when her sons, Tibbot Burke and Murrough O'Flaherty, and her half-brother, Dónal na Píopa, were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, O'Malley sailed to England to petition Elizabeth I for their release. Elizabeth I famously sent O'Malley a list of questions, which she answered and returned to Elizabeth. O'Malley met with Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace, wearing a fine gown, the two of them surrounded by guards and the members of Elizabeth's royal Court. O'Malley refused to bow before Elizabeth because she did not recognise her as the Queen of Ireland. It is also rumoured that O'Malley had a dagger concealed about her person, which guards found upon searching her. Elizabeth's courtiers were said to be very upset and worried, but O'Malley informed the queen that she carried it for her own safety. Elizabeth accepted this and seemed untroubled. Some also reported that O'Malley sneezed and was given a lace-edged handkerchief from a noblewoman. She apparently blew her nose into the handkerchief and then threw the piece of cloth into a nearby fireplace, much to the shock of the court. O'Malley informed Elizabeth and her court that, in Ireland, a used handkerchief was considered dirty and was destroyed. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as O'Malley spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish (wikipedia)

During the entire 70 years of her life, Grace O'Malley managed to retain the reputation of fierce leader and smart politician. She successfully protected the independence of her lands during the time when much of Ireland fell under the English rule. She finally died in Rockfleet Castle in 1603, the same year as the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. To this day, Grace O'Malley is used as a personification of Ireland and an inspiration for many modern songs, theater productions, books, and a name for a wide variety of sea vessels and public objects and places.

Gráinne Mhaol, pirate queen of Connacht: behind the legend
Theresa D. Murray is a history undergraduate at University College Cork.

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