Why Grace O’Malley is The Ultimate Warrior

Why Grace O’Malley is the ultimate warrior and why a she deserves a movie or TV series.

Grace O’Malley, the legendary Irish pirate queen, epitomizes the quintessential warrior throughout history.

With her warrior legacy and connection to Westport Estate, we can only imagine how epically she would have mastered new our outdoor adventure park – Westport Adventure.

Inspired by the recent success of ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ and the thriving genres of adventure and fantasy in screen hits like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and The Witcher, Grace O’Malley’s tale of pirates, queens, war, love, revenge, and feminism holds immense potential for a Hollywood blockbuster or binge-worthy television series.

Here’s our top 10 list of why Grace O’Malley is the ultimate warrior (and why a Grace O’Malley movie or TV series should be a thing):

Pirate Queen Grace descended from a  renowned and well-established seafaring family.
Pirate Queen Grace descended from a renowned and well-established seafaring family.

1. Famous O’Malley Clan

Estimated to be born around 1530, Grace was the only daughter of O’Malley clan chieftan Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille and his wife Maeve Ní Mháille. Unlike traditional Irish farming lords, The O’Malley’s were a renowned and well-established seafaring family who controlled the southwest of Mayo and its coast from their castle on Clare Island. Additionally, in Westport, Blacksod and Achill, the O’Malley’s purpose-built castles facing the sea to protect their territory. Not only did they travel across the oceans to trade, but they also controlled the sea routes along the west coast of Ireland, taxing fishermen and traders, with rumours of piracy antics surrounding the clan.

Grace O'Malley earned herself the nickname  Gráinne Mhaol meaning bald Grace.
Grace O’Malley earned herself the nickname Gráinne Mhaol meaning bald Grace after she shaved her head.

2. Bald Grace         

According to legend, Grace O’Malley desperately wished to join her father and his crew at sea however, she was not allowed to set sail with him, with two versions as to the reasoning why. Some say it was because she was girl, others say it was because her hair would tangle in the ship’s rope. Either way, a persistent Grace shaved her head, and impressed by his daughter’s determination, her father Eoghan permitted her onboard. Her shaved head earned her the nickname Gráinne Mhaol meaning bald Grace.

Pirate Queen Grace defied gender norms throughout her life.
Grace was champion of Ireland and it’s people.

3. Champion of the Irish People

Henry VIII was king when Grace was born, making him ‘Lord of Ireland,’ meaning Ireland wasn’t an official English territory, with the English only controlling a region around Dublin called ‘The Pale.’ In 1535, Thomas Fitzgerald, the 10th Earl of Kildare, led a rebellion to retake Dublin. The uprising failed and lead to the tightening of English control and Henry declaring himself King of Ireland, a first for an English ruler bestowing this title upon themselves. In her lifetime, Grace would see Henry and his daughter Queen Elizabeth’s Tudor conquest of Ireland, which was a great threat to the O’Malley clan. 

Grace's life exemplified the profound significance of family, as she passionately defended and fought for them.
Grace’s life exemplified the profound significance of family, as she passionately defended and fought for them.

4. Fought for her Family        

At the age of 15, Grace was married to Donal O’Flaherty who was heir to the powerful neighbouring O’Flaherty chieftain. During this marriage, she gave birth to two sons and a daughter and learned more about seafaring, politics, and piracy from her husband, as well as helped manage his affairs. Following her husband’s murder, she proved herself to be a valiant leader when she successfully led Donal’s men in defence of their castle from the Joyces, a rival clan, shortly after becoming a widow.

Pirate Queen Grace defied gender norms throughout her life.
Pirate Queen Grace defied gender norms throughout her life, proving herself as a capable leader.

5. Defiance of Gender Norms

Despite being a woman and having a brother, Dónal an Phíopa Ó Máille, Grace inherited her father’s title, land, seafaring activities and leadership when he passed away. Despite Brehon Law stating that the title of clan head could only be inherited through the male members of the family, Grace broke the mould by becoming the legal retainer of the families land and seafaring, proving herself a capable leader when she avenged her deceased husband.

Grace became a fearless leader and a vengeful warrior, earning a reputation to exact revenge on any attacks on her.
Grace became a fearless leader and a vengeful warrior, earning a reputation to exact revenge on any attacks on her.

6. Fearless Leader

The men that fought with her during the fight against the Joyce clan remained loyal to her and followed Grace as she embarked in a life of piracy on the high seas. She became a fearless leader and a vengeful warrior and earned a reputation to exact revenge on any attacks on her. During her time at sea, it was rumoured Grace fell in love with a shipwrecked sailor who was later murdered. In an act of revenge, Grace led an attack on Doona Castle, killing her lover’s murderers and earning her the name ‘The Dark Lady of Doona.’

Grace O'Malley ended her marriage to Richard Burke with the famous last words 'Richard Burke, I dismiss you.'
Grace O’Malley ended her marriage to Richard Burke with the famous last words ‘Richard Burke, I dismiss you.’

7. ‘Richard Burke, I dismiss you’

Grace remarried during her lifetime to powerful Irish Chief Richard Burke. It is believed this marriage may have been strategic due to Richard’s Rockfleet Castle. The trial-marriage, a common practice in Ireland, only lasted one year, with O’Malley ending the union with the famous words ‘Richard Burke, I dismiss you.’ Despite this less-than-friendly ending, Grace retained his castle and remained allies with Richard for almost 20 years.

Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley led her army to victory, mere moments after giving birth.
Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley led her army to victory, mere moments after giving birth.

8. She Gave Birth During an Attack at Sea – And Still Led Her Army to Victory

During her time with Richard, she gave birth to a son Tibbott however, this was no ordinary birth. While at sea and during an attack by Barbery Coast Pirates, Grace gave birth to Tibbot. Wrapping her child in a blanket, it is said she joined her army on deck to rally and lead them to victory, mere moments after giving birth.

See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
A 1793 drawing of Grace (left) meeting Queen Elizabeth in 1593. See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

9. Negotiating with Queens and Monarchs

In 1593, Grace met Queen Elizabeth at Greenwhich Palace. Sir Richard Bingham, English governor of Connaught, became a lifelong enemy of Grace. While Bingham captured Grace and nearly had her sentenced to death, it was his capturing of her brother and sons that saw her set sail for England to meet with Queen Elizabeth. During this historic meeting, Grace refused to bow as she saw herself as Queen of her land, which Elizabeth accepted. Their conversation is rumoured to have taken place in Latin as Elizabeth did not speak Irish and Grace did not (or would not) speak English. A testament to Grace’s powers of negotiation, the encounter was a success with Elizabeth granting all of Grace’s requests on the condition she ceased rebellion against the crown. It is documented that both during and after their meeting, there remained a sense of admiration between the two queens.

The story of Grace O'Malley is remembered at Westport House.
The story of Grace O’Malley is remembered at Westport House.
The legacy of Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley lives on.
The legacy of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley lives on.

10. A Legacy of Endurance

Her legacy lives on not just in songs, tales and legend, but also through her descendants who can be directly traced back to the Pirate Queen herself. Indeed, our own Westport House here in Westport Estate is constructed on ancestral castle foundations belonging to Grace, with her family inhabiting the house until 2017.

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