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Grainne (Grace) O'Malley: 1530-1603(?)

Her story reads like the most brazen and unlikely sort of adventure fiction, but there's history as well as myth in the legend of the Irish noblewoman who led a band of 200 sea-raiders from the coast of Galway in the sixteenth century. Twice widowed, twice imprisoned, fighting her enemies both Irish and English for her rights, condemned for piracy, and finally pardoned in London by Queen Elizabeth herself, Gráinne was one of the few sea-raiders to retire from the sea and die in her own bed, though where she's buried remains a mystery.

Grainne's father controlled the coastal territory along Co. Mayo and the off-lying islands. He did much business on the sea, trading with Spain and Portugal. This was illegal according to English law, but much more economical because of cheaper prices. Fishing was an important source of livelihood, as was the selling of fishing permits to the French and Spanish. The O'Malley's also acted as guides for ships sailing through the islands, as the waters there were treacherous. Grainne must have accompanied her father on many of these trips, as she later demonstrated extreme skill in ship navigation and the leadership of sailors.

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, Gráinne sailed to England to petition Elizabeth I for their release. Elizabeth apparently took to Gráinne, who was three years older, and the two women reached sufficient agreement for Elizabeth to grant Gráinne's requests provided that her support of many Irish rebellions and piracy against England ended. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as Gráinne spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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