Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille), Queen of Pirates

“Gráinne Ní Mháille was born in Ireland around 1530, when Henry VIII was King of England and (at least in name) Lord of Ireland. Under the policies of the English government at the time, the semi-autonomous Irish princes and lords were left mostly to their own devices. However this was to change over the course of her life as the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland gathered pace.”


“She was the daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, chieftain of the Ó Máille clan. The Ó Máilles controlled most of what is now the barony of Murrisk in South-West County Mayo and recognized as their nominal overlords the Gaelicized Anglo-Norman Burke or de Burgo family who controlled much of what is now that county. Her mother, Margaret, was also a Ní Mháille. Although she was the only child of Dubhdara and his wife, Gráinne Ní Mháille had a half-brother, called Dónal na Piopa (Donal of the Pipes), who was the son of her father.”

“Unusual among the Irish nobility of the time, the Ó Máilles were a seafaring family and taxed all those who fished off their coasts, which included fishermen from as far away as England. Their leader bore the ancient Irish title of “An Ó Máille” (“The O’Malley”, or “The O’Mealey” – as the name is also anglicised).”


“According to Irish legend, as a young girl Ní Mháille wished to go on a trading expedition to Spain with her father, and on being told she could not because her long hair would catch in the ship’s ropes, she cut off most of her hair to embarrass her father into taking her, thus earning her the nickname “Gráinne Mhaol” (Irish pronunciation: [ˈɡrɑːnʲə veːl]; from maol bald or having cropped hair). The name stuck, and was usually anglicised as Granuaile. As a child she most likely lived at her family’s residence of Belclare and Clare Island, but she may have been fostered to another family since fosterage was traditional among Irish nobility at the time.”

“Ní Mháille was probably formally educated, since she is believed to have spoken in Latin with Queen Elizabeth I at their historic meeting in 1593.[5] Because of her extensive travels and trade, she may have spoken some English, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic, and French as well.”


“In the later 16th century English power steadily increased in Ireland and Gráinne’s power was steadily encroached upon. Finally, in 1593, when her sons, Tibbot Burke and Murrough O’Flaherty, and her half-brother, Donal-na-Piopa, were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, Ní Mháille sailed to England to petition Elizabeth I for their release. Elizabeth apparently took to Ní Mháille, who was three years older, and the two women reached sufficient agreement for Elizabeth to grant Ní Mháille’s requests provided that her support of many Irish rebellions and piracy against England ended. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as Ní Mháille spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish.”





“Elizabeth I famously sent Ní Mháille a list of questions, which she answered and returned to Elizabeth. Ní Mháille then came to England (as previously stated) to petition the release of her sons and half-brother. She 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. Ní Mháille refused to bow before Elizabeth because she did not recognize her as the Queen of Ireland, and wished to show Elizabeth this. It is also rumored that Ní Mháille 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 Ní Mháille informed the queen that she carried it for her own safety. Elizabeth accepted this and, though the dagger was removed from Ní Mháille’s possession, did not seem to worry. Some also reported that Ní Mháille 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. Ní Mháille bemusedly informed Elizabeth and her court that, in Ireland, a used handkerchief was considered dirty and was destroyed. This was meant as an insult towards the court.”


“Ní Mháille and Elizabeth, after much talk, agreed to a list of demands. For example, Elizabeth was to remove Richard Bingham from his position in Ireland, and Gráinne was to stop supporting the Irish Lords’ rebellions. Ní Mháille sailed back to Ireland, and the meeting seemed to have done some good, for Richard Bingham was removed from service. However, several of Ní Mháille’s other demands (i.e. the return of the cattle and land that Bingham had stolen from her, for instance) remained unmet, and within a rather short period of time, Elizabeth sent Bingham back to Ireland. Upon Bingham’s return, Ní Mháille realized that the meeting with Elizabeth had been useless, and went back to supporting Irish rebellions.”


If you want to know more about Grace O’Malley read Robin Maxwell’s The Wild Irish which tells the story of Grace’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth I. Excellent book!!!!

source:  www.robinmaxwell.com and Wikipedia    

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