Grainne Ni Mhaille By Rebecca Reidy


The Pirate Queen


Grainne Ni Mhaille was born in Mayo in 1530. Grainne Ni Mhaille is also known as Grace O Malley (Anglicised) and was left the family business when her father, Eoghan Dubhdara O Mhaille passed away. From the beginning of Grainne’s life, she was determined to be different than other girls. She refused to sit at home peeling potatoes or minding children. She made her father bring her on his voyages. Once her father, Eoghan refused to allow her to come as her long red hair would get caught in shipping equipment which in return she responded by cutting her hair all of!(as men should know never to tell a woman what to do!). This is where she then got the nickname Grainne Mhaol which when translated means bald. Grainne grew in popularity from her notorious ways and female independence in the shipping and trading industry. Although she was many times accused of piracy, she was not punished until later in life.

She married at the age of 16 to Donal a Chogaidh O Flaithbheartaigh, which in English is Donal the Battle Flaherty. Donal was very well known for his courageous and strategic battles and therefore both families believed it would be smart to combine the two clans. Grainne and Donal had three children together. The first child, Owen was well known to be honest and trustworthy. The second child was Margaret. The last son, Murrough was known as being sexist and dishonest. Grainne and Donal conquered castles such as Joyce Clan Castle which was a huge victory for them. Although the Joyce’s rebelled later, Grainne got her men to melt the lead from the roof of the castle and poor it onto them when they tried to overtake. In result the castle was renamed Hen’s Castle in honour of Grainne. The English soldier’s also tried to overtake the castle but Grainne and her men opened arms and they retreated. Donal was later murdered by the Joyce Clan. When he died Grainne retreated to Clare Island which was an advantage for her shipping industry.

She then married a man named Risdeard an Iarainn De Burca, Richard Iron Bourke lived in Rockfloat Castle near Newport, Mayo. He had his own iron industry. They married under Brehon Law and she only married him for his land and to gather more loyal followers. They had one child together Tibbot na Long De Burca (Tibbot of the ships Bourke) as Grainne delivered him on her travels back from Portugal. On that day, there ship was attacked by Turkish Pirates. Grainne was rested below deck and heard the attack. She left Tibbot below deck and rose to kill the Turkish Pirates alongside her men.


It is also said that Grainne and Richard had a divorce as she barricaded herself into the Rockfloat Castle and simply said “Richard Burke, I dismiss you”(if only it was that easy today). In the English paperwork it is still said that they are married although when Grainne went to Queen Elizabeth the first, to show a petition of the release of her sons and half-brother, she claimed only to be a widow. In 1583 Richard died and Sir Richard Bingham became governor of Connacht. In the meantime most clans had submitted loyalty to the Crown and O Mhaille clan refused commitment.

Desmond of Earl’s loyalty was being questioned by Sir Richard Bingham and therefore requested the capture of Grainne so that she could be hanged in account of her piracy. He complied. She was imprisoned for piracy for 18 months by Lord Justice Drury and was granted release on the terms that she would give up piracy. It was her son-in-law who helped the persuasion of her release.

In 1593, Grainne’s two sons Tibbot and Murrough and also her half-brother Donal na Piopa were captured by Sir Bingham. Grainne made a petition and presented this to Queen Elizabeth in Greenwich Palace. Queen Elizabeth agreed to the meeting and granted Grainne’s wish and demanded Sir Richard Bingham release her family and also he was removed from his position in Ireland.


After a short period of time Sir Richard Bingham returned to Ireland which then created the nine year war as Grainne felt injustice and retaliated. When Bingham brutally killed her eldest son Owen, and then compelled her second son Murrough to align with him, she attacked Murrough’s castle, driving off his cattle herds. Bingham eventually cornered her and threw her into prison. The chieftains of Mayo submitted hostages to save her, but Bingham confiscated her cattle and horses.

She did not see much of this war as she passed away in her sleep in 1603 in her castle on Clare Island. She may have been determined, tough or a typically bad ass! But she is an inspiration to all Irish people, that with a bit of stubbornness, you can make whatever you want happen.




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