Grace O’Malley, Granuaile, Ghrainne Mhaol, The Sea Queen of Connaught - she was known by many monikers - she was a pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in sixteenth century Ireland. She was born in 1530 in Co. Mayo, the daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara O’Mhaille, chieftain of the O’Mhaille clan who were a seafaring family who taxed all those who fished off their coast. When she was a young girl, her father refused to allow her to sail, she dressed in boys clothes and cut off her long hair to prove she could sail, hence earning her the name Grainne Mhaol or ‘Bald Grace’. At the age of sixteen she married Donal an-Chogaidh O’Flaherty, heir to the leadership of the O’Flaherty clan, an excellent alliance as Donal was expected to one day rule Connaught. She bore him three children but Donal was later killed in battle, Grainne retuned to O’Mhaille territory taking many of O’Flaherty who remained loyal to her. In 1566 she married Richard an-Iarainn Burke, reputedly to satisfy her deisre for greater holdings and prestige. They married under Brehon law ‘for one year certain’, after the year had elapsed Grainne dismissed him and seized Rockfleet Castle. Around the time of Donal O’Flaherty’s death, reports began to pour into the English administration accusing O’Mhaille of piracy. She was conducting her operations from her base on Clare Island, she recruited fighting men from both Ireland and Scotland, terrorising ships and attacking castles all along the Western and Southern coasts of Ireland. The Tudor conquest of Ireland in the mid-sixteenth century began to encroach upon the power of Grainne. In 1593, when members of her family were taken captive, she sailed to London to petition their release. She gained an audience with Queen Elizabeth, who was apparently very taken with her and granted their release and other concessions in return for a guarantee that she cease her support for Irish rebellions and piracy against English ships. Grainne agreed but when the British Crown reneged on some of their promises, she returned to piracy and rebellion.
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