Sources of Information: Wikipedia and The life and Legacy of Grace O’Malley by Charles River Editors.
Born around 1530, Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille) has emerged in Irish History as a fearless leader, political pragmatist, ruthless plunderer, mercenary, rebel, pirate, shrewd and able negotiator, protective matriarch of her clan, protector and defender against Elizabethan England’s attempt to seize and control Ireland, and (following the Nine Years War) a leader in initiating raids against England’s enemies. She has become known as “The Sea Queen of Connacht.”
Her nickname, Granuaile (Gran-U-A-ile), was given to her by the Irish peasants whose cause she supported. This name has its origins in the fact that she chopped off her hair when she took to the sea as a young girl.
Gráinne was the daughter of Eoghan O’Malley (Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille), chieftain of the O’Malley Clan. As a young woman, she followed in the footsteps of her father. Upon his death, Gráinne inherited his large shipping and trading business (sometimes accused of being a piracy trade). The income from this business, the land inherited from her mother, and the property and holdings from her first husband, Dónal O’Flaherty (Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh), allowed her to become very wealthy (reportedly owning as much as 1000 head of cattle and horses).
Though she spent plenty of time on land with family and estates, her life and legacy have been defined by the time she spent sailing. However, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when discussing the life and career of Gráinne, whose native Ireland was undergoing a dramatic transformation as England’s Tudor rulers began trying to seize control of it.
Despite this difficulty, Gráinne became a powerful ruler in her own right, which led to conflict with England, during which she proved a more than able opponent. She is best remembered for her piracy against the English, but that eventually led to negotiations between the famous folk hero and Queen Elizabeth I.
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, O’Malley sailed to England to petition Elizabeth I for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth at her court in Greenwich Palace.
Given her background, heritage, and life, Granuaile was a natural candidate to become an Irish folk hero, a powerful symbol of courage, defiance, and independence.
Gráinne was born around 1530 during the reign of Henry VIII of England. 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 O’Malley’s life as the Tudor conquest of Ireland gathered pace.
Gráinne’s family was based in Clew Bay, County Mayo. Her father was chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and a direct descendant of Máille 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 protect their territory. They controlled most of the South-West County of Mayo and recognized as their nominal overlords the Bourkes, who controlled much of what is now County Mayo (the Bourkes were originally Anglo-Irish but by her lifetime completely Gaelicized).
As a clan chieftain, Eoghan was very powerful and one of only a handful of Irish chiefs who had not yet knuckled under to English domination and King Henry VIII.
Her mother, Margaret or Maeve, was also a Ní Mháille. Margaret was just as independent as her husband, Eoghan. Unlike most women of her age, she had personal wealth in the form of land. She had inherited this property from her own mother and would in turn pass it on to her daughter, Gráinne.
Although Gráinne was the only child, she had a half-brother, called Dónal na Piopa (Donal of the Pipes), who was the son of her father.
The O’Malleys made their living from the sea, sailing up and down the western coast of Ireland trading merchandise within their own country, as well as Scotland and even far away Spain. They also taxed all those who fished off their coasts, which included fishermen farm as far away as England. In addition, they were known to practice a little piracy on the side, attacking and plundering ships that made their way into their territory.
Because the ocean was both their home and their livelihood, they built several castles along the coast, which enabled them to dominate most of what is now South-West County Mayo in Ireland.
The O’Malley leader bore the ancient Irish title of “An Ó Máille” (“The O’Malley”).
According to English law at that time, Henry VIII was King of England, but only Lord of Ireland. Henry’s treatment of his subjects, especially those in Ireland, was extremely bad. Around the time Gráinne turned 13, Henry instituted a new policy concerning the Irish. Called “surrender and re-grant,” it was based on idea that all the lands of the English Isles were dependent on the English monarch for government and protection. Those chieftains who gave up their lands to Henry and recognized him as King of Ireland instead of the previously titled Lord of Ireland retained control of their property and clans. However, they would also be required to live by English law and show up for all parliament meetings.
This practice began the Tudor conquest of Ireland by means of a policy of subtle effectiveness. As the chieftains and lords accepted the terms and titles of the English king, so they became obligated to abandon the Irish laws and customs that had endowed them with their positions of power in the first place. Their acceptance of the English terms ran contrary to the Gaelic principles of election and land tenure. Some chieftains felt coerced into acceptance, others did so out of greed or disillusionment with the impermanence of the Gaelic system, which allowed for little continuity, but most accepted only for as long as it suited their own purpose.
However, due to the nature of travel and communication, there was much less direct supervision of the Irish people by the English crown. Therefore, the Irish people were left to the supervision of their own countrymen, princes and lords who had ruled the land for generations.
Because of this, dominant families such as the O’Malleys were able to exert their influence with little interference from England. Both Gráinne and her family would take advantage of this situation.
According to Irish tradition, Gráinne was a bit of a renegade from birth. One story claims that while she was still very young, she wanted to go on a trading expedition to Spain with her father. Upon 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: [ˈɡrɑːnʲə veːl] — “Bald Grace”). The name stuck and over time evolved into Granuaile (Gran-U-A-ile), as she was often known. Her father, though embarrassed by her appearance, still knew when he was beaten and allowed her to go with him.
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 common practice among Anglo-Saxon nobility at the time. Such practice was believed to expose girls to the skills and culture of other families and make them more well-rounded and marriageable.
It is also believed that Gráinne was probably formally educated. Such education was typically given to the daughters of nobility at that time. While mathematics and the sciences were not considered necessary for young women, they were taught at least some foreign languages. When Gráinne met with Elizabeth I at their historic meeting in 1593, she was able to converse with the queen in fluent Latin. Because of her extensive travels and trade, she may have spoken a smattering of Scottish, English, Spanish and French as well.
Marriage to O’Flaherty
Gráinne was married in 1546 to Dónal O’Flaherty (Donal of the Battle), tánaiste or heir to the Ó O’Flaherty title and clan, which would have been a good political match for the daughter of the Ó Máille chieftain. The two newlyweds soon settled into Donal’s castle near Slyne Nead on the coast of Bunowen (Connemara in County Galway), a beautiful setting for the two to begin their life together. Looking across the Killary fiord, Gráinne could see the lands at Umhall that would one day be hers. There was also a deep harbor from which Donal could sail his boats.
As the O’Flaherty tánaiste, Dónal would one day to rule Iar Connacht, the area roughly equivalent to modern Conamara.
O’Flaherty’s Castle in Bunowen, Cannemara
Though Gráinne may have missed her sea traveling adventures, she was at this stage in life content with her role of wife and mother. Gráinne bore three children during the early years of her marriage to O’Flaherty:
- Owen — The eldest child and son, Owen was known to be extremely kind and forgiving. Unlike his parents, he was easygoing and not aggressive at all. When he 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 her mother. She was strong-willed and determined in her ambitions. She married and had several children. Gráinne and Margaret’s husband were supposedly very close, and more than once Gráinne’s son-in-law saved her from death.
- Murrough — Murrough was said to take after his father as he enjoyed warfare. Aggressive by nature, he always seemed to be looking for a fight. Unfortunately, he was also sexist, many times beating 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 Gráinne heard of this, she swore she’d never speak to Murrough again for the rest of her life, though she would often insult him.
Unfortunately, Donal’s own aggressive nature soon caught up with him, and sometime in the early 1550s he was killed in a battle with a nearby clan, the Joyces. Following his death, Granuaile immediately seized hold of the leadership of her local clansmen. She started by extracting revenge against those who had killed her husband, sailing her ships up the coast to recapture the castle he had died defending.
According to Irish law and tradition, Granuaile was entitled to one-third of Donal’s estate as well as her own dowry upon his death, but Donal’s clan claimed that they could not afford to return the dowry, or even to give Granuaile her share of the estate. This appears to have been true, since Granuaile took no measures to force the payment due to her. It is likely both the dowry and the estate had already been spent on Donal’s many battles.
Without the dowry and her share of the estate, Gráinne decided to return to piracy for revenue. She returned to Mayo and took up residence at the family castle or tower-house on Clare Island. Though she did not inherit from the estate, many of her husband’s people remained loyal to her and her sons. They happily followed her back to her father’s home.
Clare Island, associated with Gráinne
As it turns out, Bunowen castle proved to be an excellent port from which Gráinne could begin her new life as a pirate. It provided an excellent view of Clew Bay, allowing those in its tower to see any ship that passed, and the castle itself was so situated that most of those passing never even noticed it until it was too late and the pirates were upon them.
Before long, Gráinne and her men were regularly attacking ships sailing in and out of the nearby port at Galway. Their deeds became so notorious that at one time the citizens had ascribed above the town gate, “From the ferocious O’Flahertys, Good Lord deliver Us.” Just as her father had before her, Gráinne extracted a toll from any ship that passed through her waters. Using swift and maneuverable galleys, she and her men would seem to appear out of nowhere, forcefully board a merchant vessel, and demand a portion of the cargo as a sort of “protection money.” Their intimate knowledge of every cove and bay along their native shores made them nearly impossible to catch.
Eventually, the local merchants and fishermen were complaining to the English Council in the capital city of Dublin. It is only fair to note that not all of Gráinne’s business activities were illegal. She also hired her ships out to transport “gallowglass” fighters, who were Scotsmen hired each summer by Irish chieftains to help fight battles over land and property. Gráinne would use her fleet of galleys to bring them to Ireland in May and then return them to Scotland the following September.
As time went on, Gráinne added to her own crew, recruiting men from many different Irish clans. The fact that they were willing to leave their own families and lands to follow this woman is a testament to two factors. First, the political situation in Scotland at that time saw laws being enacted by the Tudors that had weakened family ties and left many clan members feeling adrift in a new type of society. Second, there was Gráinne herself, who apparently possessed an ability to lead and motivate people who previously had no affiliation or loyalty to her.
Marriage to Burke
By 1566, Gráinne had married a second time, this time to Risdeárd Bourke (Richard Burke), known as “Iron Richard” (the title was the result of wearing a coat of mail inherited from his Anglo-Norman ancestors). His nickname may also have come from the fact that Burke controlled the ironworks at Burrishoole, where his principal castle and residence was located.
Traditionally it is said that the Bourke marriage was motivated by O’Malley’s desire to enlarge her holdings and prestige. Bourke was owner of Rockfleet Castle (also called Carraigahowley Castle), which was strategically situated near Newport in County Mayo. He also owned other lands such as 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.
Rockfleet Castle in County Mayo
From all appearances, it seams Gráinne married Bourke for his money and his castle. Rockfleet Castle, the traditional home of the Bourke family, was located near Newport, a well-situated port that would provide an excellent harbor for her ships. Bourke also owned property along the coast that included a number of hidden harbors from which pirates could attack their prey.
Gráinne took an interesting path in marrying Risdeárd. Instead of vowing to remain wed “until death do us part,” she married according to Brehon law, an Irish tradition that allowed them to commit to each other for only a year. When the year was up, they were supposed to make a more permanent commitment to each other, but Gráinne had other plans; she and her crew took possession of the castle at Rockfleet and refused to come out. Instead, she simply stood at a high window and yelled out to her husband below, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” This was sufficient to divorce him, and since she had possession of the castle at that time, she was able to retain it as her personal property. From that day forward, Rockfleet Castle remained in the possession of the O’Malleys.Though they were no longer married according to Irish law, the English continued to consider them husband and wife. It also appears that they continued to operate as allies throughout the rest of Risdeárd’s life. Later, after his death, Gráinne referred to herself as his widow. Another reason why the English continued to recognize Granuaile and Risdeárd’s marriage is that they had a child, Theobald, together. According to legend, he was actually born on Gráinne’s ship during a battle against the Algerians. In her answers to questions from Queen Elizabeth I, Gráinne again stated that she was his widow.
The pair had one son, Theobald (nicknamed “Tibbot of the Ships” [Irish: Tiobóid na Long]). He was born around 1567. Tibbot was later knighted as Sir Theobald Bourke, and was given the title of first Viscount of Mayo in 1626 by Charles I. Richard Bourke also had at least four other children from other marriages: Edmund, Walter, John, and Catherine.
Gráinne 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 also relates that the legendary reason for her 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 she was. Hugh was the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant Gráinne had rescued. Being very attractive and not older than her oldest son, she took him as a lover. Hugh de Lacy sailed with her around the islands near her home and enjoyed his life with Gráinne. However, he made the mistake one day of going deer hunting near Doona Castle, the home of the infamous MacMahon clan. When they discovered him on their property they shot him dead for poaching. It is unclear how exactly Granuaile heard of what happened, whether it was via a messenger or even perhaps having the boy’s dead body brought to her, but she flew into a rage when she found out and immediately plotted to avenge his death.
As a young woman, O’Malley was involved in the business of sailing ships and international trade. She learned the business from her father who conducted 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, 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 O’Flaherty’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.
O’Flaherty had taken a fortress in the Lough Corrib from the Joyce clan. Because of O’Flaherty’s attitude, the Joyces began calling that particular fortress “Cock’s Castle.” When they heard of his death, they decided to take back the castle. However, O’Malley successfully defended it and apparently the Joyces were so impressed with her abilities in battle that they renamed it Hen’s Castle (Caisleán na Circe), 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. 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 O’Malley ships were behaving like pirates. Because Galway imposed taxes on the ships that traded their goods there, Gráinne decided to extract a similar tax from ships traveling in waters off her lands. O’Malley’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, O’Malley 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, who were engaged in a re-conquest of Ireland at the time, O’Malley went to the Lord Deputy of Ireland and offered two hundred fighting men to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland.
Gráinne also attacked other ships as far away as Waterford on the south central coast of Ireland, as well as closer to her home port in northwestern Ireland. In addition to ship attacks, Gráinne also attacked fortresses situated along the shoreline. These attacks included Curradh Castle at Renvyle, O’Loughlin Castle in the Burren, and the O’Boyle and MacSweeney Clans in their holdings in Burtonport, Killybegs and Lough Swilly.
O’Malley 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 by the standards of that age.
Many folk stories and legends about O’Malley have survived since her actual days of pirating and trading. There are also traditional songs and poems written and sung about her.
The Incident at Howth Castle:
A widespread legend concerns an incident at Howth, which apparently occurred in 1576. During a trip from Dublin, Gráinne attempted to pay a courtesy visit to Howth Castle, home of Lord 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 grandson and heir, Christopher St Lawrence, 10th Baron Howth. 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 her a ring as pledge on the agreement. The ring remains in the possession of a descendant of Gráinne and, at Howth Castle today. This agreement is still honored by the Gaisford St. Lawrence family, descendants of the Baron.
Built in 1464 and added to many times over the centuries, Howth Castle is set in the floral gardens and grounds of over 250 acres near the village of Howth overlooking Dublin Bay, 9 miles north of Dublin City. The book ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ by James Boyce is based around Howth Castle and the surrounding area.
The Seizure of Doona Castle:
The legendary reason for Gráinne’s seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy (County Mayo) was that the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant she had rescued. When the guilty members of the MacMahon Clan landed on the holy island of Caher for a pilgrimage, Gráinne 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, O’Malley then sailed for Ballycroy and attacked the garrison at Doona Castle, overpowering the defenders and taking the castle for herself.
Interruption at Prayers:
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 O’Malley and fled to a church for sanctuary. She 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. Her reply is not included in the legend.
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 favor that still existed among the Irish people.
Revolutionary Activity and Meeting with Elizabeth I
In 1593, in his letter to Elizabeth I protesting O’Malley’s claims against him, Sir Richard Bingham claimed that O’Malley was “nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years”. Bingham served as Lord Governor of Connacht, with the task of increasing control over the local Gaelic lords that had been effectively self-governing.
Gráinne used every opportunity to limit the power of the Kingdom of Ireland over her part of the country. She also supported Irish rebellions during the Nine Years’ War. This was was fought between King Louis XIV of France and a European-wide coalition (called the Grand Alliance), led by the Anglo-Dutch Stadtholder King William III, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, King Charles II of Spain, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, and the major and minor princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The Nine Years’ War was fought primarily on mainland Europe and its surrounding waters. But it also encompassed a theatre in Ireland and in Scotland, where William III and James II struggled for control of the British Isles, and a campaign between French and English settlers and their respective Indian allies in colonial North America.
In 1579, Gráinne’s castle at Clare Island was attacked by an expedition from Galway led by Sheriff William Martin. However, the English force was put to flight and barely escaped.
Meeting with Elizabeth:
In the later 16th century, English power steadily increased in Ireland and O’Malley’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, O’Malley sailed to England to petition Elizabeth I for their release.
Elizabeth I famously sent O’Malley a list of questions, which she answered and returned to Elizabeth. O’Malley then came to England and 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. O’Malley refused to bow before Elizabeth because she did not recognize her as the Queen of Ireland.
It is also rumored that O’Malley 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 O’Malley 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, the queen did not seem to worry.
Some also reported that O’Malley 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. O’Malley bemusedly informed Elizabeth and her court that, in Ireland, a used handkerchief was considered dirty and was destroyed. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as O’Malley spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish.
After much talk, the two women came to an agreement. Included in the stipulations for each party,
- Elizabeth was to remove Sir Bingham from his position in Ireland and
- Gráinne was to stop supporting the Irish Lords’ rebellions.
The meeting seemed to have done some good for Richard Bingham was removed from service. However, several of O’Malley’s other demands (including the return of the cattle and land that Bingham had stolen from her) remained unmet and within a rather short period of time, Elizabeth sent Bingham back to Ireland.
Upon Bingham’s return, O’Malley realized that the meeting with Elizabeth had been useless, and went back to supporting Irish rebellions 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.
Gráinne’s life has inspired musicians, novelists and playwrights to create works based on her adventures.
Gráinne has often been used as a personification of Ireland.
There have been several songs recorded about the Pirate Queen:
- 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’Malley.
- A year later, in 1986, Shaun Davey released a concept album entitled Granuaile that was thematically based on O’Malley’s life.
- The Indulgers’ 2000 album “In Like Flynn” includes a song entitled Granuaile, centered on the legend of Ní Mháille.
- The Saw Doctors mention O’Malley in their 1997 song “The Green and Red of Mayo”.
- Patrick Pearse rewrote the Jacobite song Óró sé do bheatha abhaile to figure her as the metaphorical savior of Ireland, rather than Charles Edward Stuart (as per the original song).
- Cathie Ryan wrote a song called “Grace O’Malley” for her album, “Somewhere Along the Road”.
- The Canadian folk-punk band The Dreadnoughts have a song (titled Grace O’Malley) on their 2009 album, Victory Square.
- The world rock band Dead Can Dance have a song on their 2012 album, Anastasis, titled “Return of the She-King”, which was inspired by O’Malley.There have been many theater productions written about O’Malley:
There have been many theater productions written about O’Malley:
- The escaped prisoner in Lady Gregory’s play, “The Rising of the Moon”, sings folk ballads about O’Malley and styles himself as a “friend of Granuaile”.
- A musical drama written in 1989, Grannia, tells the story of O’Malley from childhood to her meeting with Elizabeth I. It won the 1990 Moss Hart Award.
- 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.
- American actress Molly Lyons wrote and starred in a one-woman show titled “A Most Notorious Woman”, detailing the life of O’Malley.
- Maggie Cronin’s first one woman show, “A Most Notorious Woman” directed by Paddy Scully, premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1989 and was revised in 1995.
- The musical play “The Pirate Queen” debuted at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater in October 2006, with American stage actor Stephanie J. Block as Grania (Gráinne). The play was based on Morgan Llywelyn’s 1986 novel about O’Malley’s life, Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas.
- In June 2007 the Knock School of Irish Dancing did a dance drama based on O’Malley’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).
There have been several books written about O’Malley:
- 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.
- Grace O’Malley, Princess and Pirate was a novel written in 1898 by Robert Machray.
- Romance author Bertrice Small portrays O’Malley in several of her books, particularly in Skye O’Malley, where she is a kinswoman to the main character.
- Alan Gold’s book The Pirate Queen: The Story of Grace O’Malley, an Irish Pirate (2004) tells of her life from age 14 until her meeting with Elizabeth I.
- The Wild Irish: A Novel of Elizabeth I & the Pirate O’Malley, by Robin Maxwell, tells O’Malley’s story from birth up until a few years before her death.
- Irish author O.R. Melling portrays O’Malley in her novel The Summer King.
- Morgan Llywelyn’s novel “Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas” tells the story of Grace O’Malley.
- In 2004, A Most Notorious Woman, based upon Maggie Cronin’s one woman show by the same name, was published by Lagan Press, Belfast.
- A children’s book titled The Pirate Queen was also written about the subject.
- In August 2012 writer Tony Lee announced that the fourth book in his ‘Heroes & Heroines’ series of graphic novels (with Sam Hart) would be called Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O’Malley.
Additional Cultural Highlights include:
- Since 1948, the Commissioners of Irish Lights have sailed three vessels named Granuaile. Their current sole light tender, commissioned in 2005, is the most modern serving the coasts of Britain and Ireland.
- The Irish sail training vessel Asgard II had a figurehead of Granuaile. Unfortunately, it sank in 2008.
- In Tampa, FL, Grace O’Malley is the inspiration for Ye Loyal Crew of Grace O’Malley, one of many crews that participate in the legendary Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
- Episode 12 Season 3 of the cartoon series Archer features a reference to O’Malley.
- A low budget dramatization of the life of Granuaile was being filmed in Galway and Wexford by Loose Gripp productions during summer 2013.