Grainne Ni Mhaille, also known by the anglicised version of her name, Grace O‚ÄôMalley, was an Irish pirate during the 1500s. She was from the Western coast of Ireland and came from a wealthy seafaring family and her father, Eoghan Dubhdara O Maille, was the leader of the O‚ÄôMalley clan. Growing up, Grace preferred the life she saw her father lead ‚Äì one of travel and adventure ‚Äì over her mother’s domestic duties, and she sought to join her father on his ship.
She proved to be very capable aboard her father’s ship; she could lead the men and she was good at spotting storms before anyone else. She was promoted to second in command to her father as recognition of this. She was even promoted above some of her elder brothers. She was nicknamed Grace the Bald by the crew, due to her short hair. There is a myth that she cut off her hair to force her father to let her join his crew.
Grace was married twice, The first marriage was to Donal of the Battle, who lived in a castle named The Cock‚Äôs Castle. The couple has three children together. When he was killed by the Joyce Clan who then seized the castle, she raised an army and successfully recaptured the castle. The castle was renamed The Hen‚Äôs Castle in her honour, a name it still has today. Her second marriage was to ‚ÄòIron Richard‚Äô Bourke. It is believed she married him to enlarge her own holdings.He held a strategically important castle known as Rockfleet Castle. They had one son together. Legend has it she divorced him after a year and kept the castle, but there is no evidence for this.
Grace was a wealthy woman who inherited land from both her parents, and from her father she also inherited a fleet of ships. She used her power, wealth and determination to get more. The empire her father left her already included a tax on fisherman and merchants who used the O’Malley waters, but Grace increased this tenfold. She sent men out to collect this increased ‚Äòtax‚Äô and if anyone refused, her men would board their ship and violently take it (and more) anyway. After a time Grace gave up the pretence that it was tax, when in reality it was piracy.
When two of her sons and her half brother were taken prisoner by Sir Richard Bingham, the Governor of Connacht, she sailed across to England to seek their release. directly petitioning Elizabeth I. They spoke in Latin, as Elizabeth couldn‚Äôt speak Irish and Grace couldn‚Äôt (or wouldn‚Äôt) speak English. They came to an agreement: Elizabeth would remove Bingham from his post in Ireland and Grace would stop supporting Irish Lords in their rebellions. Sadly, their truce did not last long, and some of the other stipulations of Grace’s were not met and Bingham soon returned to Ireland. Grace realising the truce was over, joined the Irish rebels in the Nine Years War.
She reportedly died at Rockfleet castle in 1603, the same year Elizabeth I died.
Girl Museum Inc.