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Irish Pirate Women

By SilentOwl

Gráinne Uí Mháille

Born in 1530 in County Mayo, possibly she grew up to become a famous and feared pirate, sea trader, and clan chieftain. She was the daughter of Owen O’Malley (Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille) and as a young child she always yearned to join her father at sea but he continually discouraged her as the sea was no place for a female. According to legend Gráinne decided to disguise herself by cutting off her long hair, dressing as a boy and boarding her father’s ship. This earned her the nickname of “Gráinne Mhaol”, (Mhaol means bald) so in English that equates to Bald Grace. The nickname stuck and she has been known as Gráinne Mhaol ever since.

The O’Malley clan controlled all the area of Clew Bay and expected taxes to be paid to them by all who sailed or fished the sea around the coast off Mayo and they were generally left alone by the English and Anglo-Irish lords, however, under the rule of the Tudor crown this was to change. The O’Malley had built a line of castles along the west coast and this allowed them to keep an eye on their vast territory both on land and sea. The lord who was in nominal control, Mac William Lochtar Bourke’s (an Anglo-Irish family) left them alone, (by this time the Bourke’s had become more Irish then the Irish themselves and were completely Gallicised).

Gráinne Uí Mháille was educated and could speak in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, English, Latin, French and Spanish. In actuality the greater majority of the Irish population spoke more languages and were better educated than those across the water due to the fact that the Irish were forbidden from speaking in Irish and the common person had better access to a basic education. However, as we know that was all to change.

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