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Celtic Woman - Granuaile's Dance

History of Granuaile

Born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland, Grace O'Malley (also known as Granuaile) distills the essence of an indomitable woman whose galleys ruled the seas of Western Ireland during the times of the Elizabethan conquests. She was raised at Ballynahinch Castle. Even at a young age, Grace knew she wanted to sail the high seas. After repeatedly being discouraged, she cut off her long red hair, dressed in boys clothing and stowed away on her father's ship. Because of this persistence, she was allowed to go to sea with her father.

Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain with her father, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Although Grace had been instructed to hide below deck, she instead climbed up onto the sail rigging. It was there she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father. The brave Granuaile leapt off the rigging onto the pirate's back. This distraction allowed her father to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates. Her bravery was duly noted and would become the first of many such heroic events for Grace O'Malley.

Grace married twice. Her first husband was Donal O'Flaherty, son of a chieftain and next in line for that post. As the O'Flaherty's were also a seafaring clan, Grace was soon in charge of their fleet of ships. Although unusual for a woman to lead men, Grace earned the respect of all who followed her through her shrewdness and knowledge of the sea. Donal had a reputation as a 'hot head' and his temper eventually cost him his life. He and Grace were married nineteen years and resided at Clare Island.

After being forced to leave the O'Flaherty clan, Grace enlisted the aid of her loyal followers and moved back in with the O'Malley clan, eventually becoming its Chieftain.

Grace next married Richard Burke in an effort to strengthen her hold on the west coast of Ireland. Her empire included five castles and several islands in Clew Bay however she needed Rockfleet Castle to complete her stronghold on the area.

At 56 years old, Grace was captured by Sir Richard Bingham, a ruthless Governor appointed by Queen Elizabeth. She was imprisoned and sentenced to hang. At the last minute her son-in-law offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the promise that Grace would never return to her rebellious ways. Bingham was responsible for taking away all of Grace's assets, forcing her into poverty.

During this time, her son and brother-in-law were thrown into prison. This was the final straw that prompted Grace to go to London and demand an audience with the Queen. It is not known why Queen Elizabeth agreed to meet with Grace. Fluent in Latin, and therefore able to converse with the Queen, Grace explained that her past actions were not of a rebelliousness but rather acts of self-defense. She explained that her rightful inheritances were denied her from both husbands and she asked for Elizabeth to returned them to her. She also pled the case for her son and brother-in-law to be released from prison. In return, Grace promised to use her strength and leadership to defend the Queen against her enemies by land and sea.

The Queen, surprisingly, agreed and ordered both son and brother-in-law to be released. In addition, all possessions were returned to her.

Granuaille was certainly a fearless leader, fierce fighter and a remarkable woman. In her 70 years she and her family remained resolute in their loyalty to their clan and to Ireland. It is said that from her death in 1603 and onward, no Irish chieftain has been able to preserve the old Gaelic way of life as Granuaille and her family had done in her lifetime.


More Informational Links on Grace O'Malley:


Grace O'Malley - Irish Pirate


Grace O'Malley - An Irish Legend


Grace O'Malley - Irish Society


Grace O'Malley - Official Web Site by Anne Chambers

Rockfleet Castle

Grace O'Malley Statue

Grace O'Malley & Queen Elizabeth I Painting

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