Gráinne Ní Mháille (c. 1530 - c. 1603), Gráinne O'Malley or Grace O'Malley, was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and a pirate in 16th century Ireland. She is commonly known by her nickname Granuaile or Gráinne Mhaol.
Ní Mháille is an important figure in Irish folklore, and a historical figure in 16th century Irish history, and is sometimes known as "The Sea Queen Of Connaught". Her name appears in contemporary documents as Grany O'Maly, Grany Imallye, Granny Nye Male, Grany O'Mayle, Granie ny Maille, Granny ni Maille, Grany O'Mally, Grayn Ny Mayle, Grane ne Male, Grainy O'Maly, and Granee O'Maillie. Biographies of her have been written primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries by the historian Anne Chambers. The Irish song "Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile" is about her. Her story is currently being made into a feature film.
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 conquest of Ireland gathered pace.
Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille was Gráinne's father, and his family was based in Clew Bay, County Mayo. He was chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and a direct descendant of its eponym, Maille mac Conall. The O'Malleys were one of the few seafaring families on the west coast, and they built a row of castles facing the sea to keep an eye on their territory. They controlled most of what is now the barony of Murrisk in South-West County Mayo and recognized as their nominal overlords Mac William Íochtar Bourkes, who controlled much of what is now County Mayo (the Bourkes were originally Anglo-Irish but by her lifetime completely gaelicised).
Her mother, Margaret or Maeve, 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.
The O'Malleys 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: (??r??n?? ve?l); 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. Because of her extensive travels and trade, she may have spoken some English, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic, and French as well.
Marriage to O'Flaherty:
Ní Mháille was married in 1546 to Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Donal of the Battle), tánaiste or heir to the Ó Flaithbheartaigh (O'Flaherty) title, which would have been a good political match for the daughter of the O'Mháille chieftain. As O'Flaherty tánaiste, Dónal an Chogaidh one day expected to rule Iar Connacht, the area roughly equivalent to modern Conamara.
She bore three children during her marriage to Dónal an Chogaidh:
Owen: The eldest child and son, known to be extremely kind and forgiving. When Owen was in his late twenties, or early thirties, Richard Bingham tricked him and, as a result, Owen was murdered and Bingham and his troops took over Owen's castle.
Margaret: Sometimes called 'Maeve', Margaret was much like Ní Mháille herself. She married and had several children. Ní Mháille and Margaret's husband were supposedly very close, and more than once Ní Mháille's son-in-law saved her from death.
Murrough: Murrough was said to take after his father, Dónal, as he enjoyed warfare. He was also sexist, many times beating up his sister, Margaret, and refusing to listen to his mother because of her gender. Many sources report that Murrough, who seems to have had no sense of loyalty, betrayed his family and joined forces with Richard Bingham after the murder of Owen. When Ní Mháille heard of this, she swore she'd never speak to Murrough again for the rest of her life, though she would often insult him.
Later, the warring Dónal was killed in battle, and Ní Mháille recaptured a castle from the Joyces that had been his (now Hen's Castle in Lough Corrib). She returned, afterwards, to Mayo and took up residence at the family castle or tower-house on Clare Island.
After Dónal's death, Gráinne left Iar-Connacht and returned to O'Mháille territory, taking with her many O'Flaherty followers who were loyal to her.
Marriage to Burke:
By 1566 Ní Mháille had married a second time, this time to
Risdeárd an Iarainn Bourke, called "Iron Richard", an appropriate corruption of his Irish name as he is reputed to have always worn a coat of mail inherited from his Anglo-Norman ancestors. The nickname may also have come from the fact that he controlled the ironworks at Burrishoole, where his principal castle and residence were.
Traditionally it is said that the Bourke marriage was motivated by Ní Mháille's desire to enlarge her holdings and her prestige. Bourke was owner of Rockfleet Castle, also called Carraigahowley Castle, which was strategically situated near Newport, as well as other lands like Burrishoole, with sheltered harbors in which a pirate ship could hide. Bourke held a high position as chieftain of a senior branch of his sept. Because of his sept leadership he would eventually be eligible for election as Mac William, the second most powerful office in Connacht.
According to tradition they married under Brehon law 'for one year certain', and it is said that when the year was up Gráinne divorced Risdeárd and kept the castle. Legend says that when the one year had passed, Ní Mháille and her followers locked themselves in Rockfleet Castle and Gráinne called out a window to Burke, "Richard Burke, I dismiss you." Those words had the effect of ending the marriage, but since she was in possession of the castle she kept it. Rockfleet remained for centuries in the O'Mháille family and is today open to the public.
Despite the divorce story, Ní Mháille and Bourke appear as mentioned as husband and wife in English documents of the period, so appeared to remain married, at least allied, as far as the English were concerned. In her answers to the questions from Queen Elizabeth I, Ní Mháille said she was Risdeárd's widow.
They had one son, Theobald Burke, nicknamed Tiobóid na Long (Tibbot of the Ships) in Irish, who was born about 1567. Tibbot was later knighted as Sir Theobald Bourke, and was created first Viscount Mayo in 1626 by Charles I. Bourke had at least four other children, Edmund, Walter, John, and Catherine.
Ní Mháille was accused of promiscuity, and it was said that she may have had a son out of wedlock. Biographer Anne Chambers points out that despite hints at these facts in certain state documents, allegations such as these were frequently made against women who acted in a manner contrary to the social norms of the day.
The Chambers biography relates that the legendary reason for Ní Mháille's seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy was because the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, a young boy who was easily fifteen years younger than her, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant Ní Mháille had rescued.
Even as a young woman Gráinne Ní Mháille was involved in the business of sailing ships and international trade. She probably learned the business from her father, Eoghan "Dubhdara" Ó Máille, who plied a busy international shipping trade. It is known that she always wanted to join his fleets, but he always refused. Bunowen Castle, where she lived with her first husband, Dónal an-Chogaidh O'Flaherty, was situated on the most western point in Connacht, and was apparently the first base for her shipping and trade activities. By the time of Donal's death in the early 1560s, she commanded the loyalty of so many O'Flaherty men that many of them left the area when she did, and followed her to Clare Island in Clew Bay, where she moved her headquarters.
Dónal an-Chogaidh O'Flaherty had taken a fortress in the Lough Corrib from the Joyce clan. Because of Donal's attitude, the Joyces bagan calling that particular fortress "Cock's Castle." When they heard of his death, they decided to take back the castle. Grainne defended it against them successfully, and apparently the Joyces were so impressed with her abilities in battle that they renamed it Caislean an-Circa, the "Hen's Castle," the name by which it is still known. The English later attacked her at the Hen's Castle, but despite being outnumbered O'Malley withstood the siege. According to legend, she took lead from the roof of the fortress and melted it, then poured it onto the heads of the attacking soldiers. She summoned help by sending a man to light a beacon on the nearby Hill of Doon. Some time before she had ordered the signal beacons set up for just such a purpose. Help arrived and the English were beaten back, never to attack the fortress again.
Around the time of her first husband's death came the initial complaints to the English Council in Dublin from Galway's city leaders that O'Flaherty and Ní Mháille ships were behaving like pirates. Because Galway imposed taxes on the ships that traded their goods there, the O'Flahertys, led by Ní Mháille, decided to extract a similar tax from ships traveling in waters off their lands. Ní Mháille's ships would stop and board the traders and demand either cash or a portion of the cargo in exchange for safe passage the rest of the way to Galway. Resistance was met with violence and even murder. Once they obtained their toll, the O'Flaherty ships would disappear into one of the many bays in the area.
By the early 1560s, Ní Mháille had left O'Flaherty territory and returned to her father's holdings on Clare Island. She recruited fighting men from both Ireland and Scotland, transporting the gallowglass mercenaries between their Scottish homes and Irish employers and plundering Scotland's outlying islands on her return trips. In an apparent effort to curry favor with the English, which were engaged in a re-conquest of Ireland at the time, Ní Mháille went to the Lord Deputy of Ireland and offered two hundred fighting men to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland.
Ní Mháille attacked other ships at least as far away as Waterford on the south central coast of Ireland, as well as closer to her home port in northwestern Ireland. She did not limit her attacks to other ships. She attacked fortresses on the shoreline, including Curradh Castle at Renvyle and the O'Loughlin castle in the Burren. She also attacked the O'Boyle and MacSweeney clans in their holdings in Burtonport, Killybegs and Lough Swilly.
In 1577, she met with Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, who already knew of her since she had met his son, Sir Philip Sidney, in 1576. Although Philip Sidney would have been a very young man at the time, Ní Mháille evidently made an impression on him since he mentioned her in favorable terms to his father.
Ní Mháille was wealthy on land as well as by sea. She inherited her father's fleet of ships and land holdings, as well as the land her mother had owned. Around the time of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth I of England, she owned herds of cattle and horses that numbered at least one thousand, which would have meant she was wealthy.
Many folk stories and legends about Ní Mháille have survived since her actual days of pirating and trading. There are also traditional songs and poems about her.
A widespread legend concerns an incident at Howth, which apparently occurred in 1576. During a trip from Dublin, Ní Mháille attempted to pay a courtesy visit to Howth Castle, home of the 8th Baron Howth. However, she was informed that the family was at dinner and the castle gates were closed against her. In retaliation, she abducted the Earl's son and heir, the 10th Baron. He was eventually released when a promise was given to keep the gates open to unexpected visitors, and to set an extra place at every meal. Lord Howth gave Ní Mháille a ring as pledge on the agreement. The ring remains in the possession of a descendant of Gráinne Ní Mháille, and at Howth Castle today, this agreement is still honoured by the Gaisford St. Lawrence family, descendants of the Baron.
The legendary reason for Ní Mháille's seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy was because the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant Ní Mháille had rescued. When the guilty members of the MacMahon clan landed on the holy island of Caher for a pilgrimage, Ní Mháille captured their boats. She and her men then captured the MacMahons and killed those responsible for her lover's death. Still not satisfied with her revenge, Ní Mháille then sailed for Ballycroy and attacked the garrison at Doona Castle, overpowering the defenders and taking the castle for herself.
Her attack against the MacMahons was not the first time she interrupted someone at their prayers. Legend tells of another chieftain who stole property from Ní Mháille and fled to a church for sanctuary. Ní Mháille was determined to wait out the thief, maintaining that he could starve or surrender. The thief dug a tunnel and escaped, however, and the hermit who took care of the church broke his vow of silence to scold her for attempting to harm someone who had sought sanctuary. Gráinne's reply is not included in the legend.
In 1593, in his letter to protesting Gráinne Ní Mháille's claims against him, Richard Bingham claimed that Ní Mháille was "nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years". Bingham was Lord President of Connacht, with the task of increasing control over the local lords that had been effectively self-governing.
Ní Mháille had every reason, and used every opportunity, to limit the power of the Kingdom of Ireland over her part of the country. Her castle at Clare Island was attacked by an expedition from Galway led by Sheriff William Óge Martyn in March 1579. However, they were put to flight and barely escaped.
Meeting with Elizabeth:
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.
Despite the meeting, Ní Mháille later returned to her old ways, though nominally directing her raids against the "enemies of England" during the Nine Years War. She most likely died at Rockfleet Castle around 1603, the same year as Elizabeth, though the year and place of her death are disputed.
More than 20 years after her death, an English lord deputy of Ireland recalled her ability as a leader of fighting men, noting her fame and favour that still existed among the Irish people.
Westport House in County Mayo, is home to the 11th Marquess of Sligo and his family. They are direct descendants of Gráinne Ní Mháille / Grace O'Malley.
Gráinne Ní Mháille had several castles in the West of Ireland and it was on the foundations of one of these that Westport House, was actually built. There is still an area of her original castle in the basement of the House (the Dungeons), which is on view to visitors.
The original House was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who was at the Siege of Limerick, and his wife Maude Bourke. Maude Bourke was Gráinne Ní Mháille's great-great granddaughter.
There is a Bronze statue of Gráinne Ní Mháille by the artist Michael Cooper - the Marquess of Sligo's brother-in-law - situated on the grounds of Westport House.
Westport House also contains a comprehensive exhibition on the life of Gráinne Ní Mháille compiled by author Anne Chambers, the World's leading authority on Granuaile.
Gráinne's life has inspired musicians, novelists and playwrights to create works based on her adventures. Perhaps the best known is the concert piece "Granuaile" (1985) by Irish composer Shaun Davey.
Seattle-born actress Molly Lyons wrote and starred in a one-woman show titled "A Most Notorious Woman", detailing the life of Granuaile. It has been produced internationally in theatres & festivals from Seattle to Dublin, T'blisi to Vancouver.
James Joyce used the legend of Gráinne Ní Mháille ("her grace o'malice") and the Earl of Howth in chapter 1 of Finnegans Wake, but added the kidnapping of another fictional son, Hilary, to match his Shem and Shaun theme. Christopher/Tristopher is turned into a Luderman (happy Lutheran) and Hilary into a Tristian (sad Christian).
The play Bald Grace by Marki Shalloe debuted at Chicago's Stockyards Theatre in 2005 and was featured at Atlanta's Theatre Gael (America's oldest Irish-American theatre) in 2006. A musical drama written in 1989, Grannia, story and lyrics by Thomas A. Power and music by Larry Allen, also tells the story of Ní Mháille from childhood to her meeting with Elizabeth I. It won the 1990 Moss Hart Award.
Romance author Bertrice Small portrays Ní Mháille in several of her books, particularly in Skye O'Malley, where she is a kinswoman to the main character, who is based largely on her. There is also a more recent book (2004) by Alan Gold titled The Pirate Queen: The Story of Grace O'Malley, an Irish Pirate that tells of her life from 14 till her meeting with Elizabeth I. The Wild Irish: A Novel of Elizabeth I & the Pirate O'Malley, by Robin Maxwell, tells Ní Mháille's story from birth up until a few years before her death. The Wild Irish focuses mainly on Ní Mháille's life, but is highly fictional - the main part of the story is Ní Mháille telling her life story to Elizabeth I on the night of their meeting. A children's book titled The Pirate Queen was also written about Ní Mháille.
Irish author O.R. Melling portrays Ní Mháille in her novel The Summer King (part two of the Chronicles of Faerie) as a ghost who haunts Achill Island, and later as her live self when heroes Laurel and Ian go back in time to win her as an ally.
In 2005, theater camp Stagedoor Manor premiered a play, The Heart Rising, focusing around a family of Irish immigrants to America. The show included Gráinne as a common thread throughout the many generations of the family.
The latest artistic project is the musical play The Pirate Queen by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltby, Jr. and John Dempsey, which originally debuted at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre in October 2006, with American stage actor Stephanie J. Block as Grania (Gráinne). The Pirate Queen is based on Morgan Llywelyn's 1986 novel about O'Malley's life, Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas. Morgan Llewellyn's book, in turn, takes from Anne Chambers' biography, who was credited as consultant. The musical moved to Broadway in March 2007, but closed in June due to lack of interest on the part of theatre-goers and less-than-stellar reviews.
In June 2007 the Knock School of Irish Dancing did a dance drama based on Ní Mháille's story. The production was called Grainne O'Malley, The Pirate Queen and was performed by the entire Knock School at the Winspear Center in downtown Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).
In 2005 the Commissioners for Irish Lights named their new vessel Graunaile.
The Irish sail training vessel Asgard II had a figurehead of Granuaile; it sank in 2008.
Since 1948, the Commissioners of Irish Lights have sailed three vessels named Granuaile. Their current sole light tender is the most modern serving the coasts of Britain and Ireland.
In 1986, famed Irish composer and music producer Shaun Davey released a concept album entitled Granuaile that was thematically based on Ní Mháille's life. The album featured a 22-piece chamber orchestra and his wife, Rita Connolly, on all lead vocals. The duo have performed the work live periodically over the years.
In Tampa, FL, Grace O'Malley is the inspiration for Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley, one of many krewes that participate in the legendary Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Founded in 1992, the women of Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley participate in the parades as well many philanthropic activities in the community and through out the state of Florida. At over 250 members, YLKGOM is noted for being the first all female krewe and members are only accepted throught a selective lottery and through legacy from mother to daughter. For the parades as well as their charitable activities, the woman wear Elizabethan dress with strict rules to maintain authenticity of the costumes.
The Indulgers' 2000 album "In Like Flynn" includes a song entitled Granuaile centered on the legend of Ní Mháille.
The traditional song "Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile" is an entire song that praises her, and among many lines, says, "'Sé do bheatha, a bhean ba léanmhar" ("Welcome O' woman who was so afflicted").
In the NCIS episode 'Blowback', one of the arms dealers the NCIS field agents had attempted to track down used the name Grace O'Malley as an alias.
As of 2008, a feature film based on Gráinne Ní Mháille's story is in development. It will be penned by Anne Chambers, author of the biography Granuaile: Ireland's Pirate Queen, and Sarah Lawson, who will also produce the film under her company, Lawson Productions. Its predicted release is 2009, and is backed by the Irish Film Board.
In 1985 Irish composer Shaun Davey composed a suite of music which is a blend of Classical and Irish Folk Music for singer Rita Connolly, based on the life and times of Grace O'Mally, The album was recorded using a 35 piece chamber orchestra joined by uilleann pipe soloist Liam O'Flynn, acoustic guitar, Irish harp and percussion, and special guest Donal Lunny on bouzouki.
In 1997 the Saw Doctors mention Granuaile in their song "The Green and Red of Mayo".