She could sail a ship from the time she could walk. When she was barely a teen, she took the wheel as captain of her first vessel. She spent her young life learning the ways of the sea. Who was this brave and courageous leader? Grace O’Malley. Ambitious and successful, Grace O’Malley accomplished many daring things throughout her life and changed the course of others.
At the O’Malley castle on Clare Island in 1530, Grace O’Malley, also known as Gráinne Ní Maille or Granuaile, was born. As the only daughter of Eoghan O Maille, chieftain of the Mayo Clan, Grace often sailed with her father’s fleet on trading voyages (Murray par 1-2, León 60). Grace always knew that she wanted to be a sailor but was discouraged repeatedly for she’s a female. Spending her young life learning the ways of the sea, she grew to be a sailor (“Grace O’Malley” par 1-3). Having her own fleet of ships, she took the wheel as captain of her first vessel when she was barely a teen (“Grace O’Malley par 1-3, León 62).
Around 1546, Grace O’Malley married Dónal O’ Flaherty, nicknamed Dónal of the Battles and the heir of Dónal Crone, in one of the neighboring counties called County Galway (Murray par 2, León 62-63). She had three children with Dónal, two boys, Owen and Murrough, and one girl, Maraget (“Grace O’ Malley par 4-7). She continued to captain ships, make raids on vessels, and lead an active, seafaring life. She often has her toddlers on board (León 63).
Grace ran both the O’ Flaherty and the Mayo fleets. Once, she commanded over 200 fighting men and three raiding ships. Then, Queen Elizabeth overthrew the leader of the O’ Flaherty Clan, and since Dónal was the heir, he was no longer next in line. Suddenly, there was an attack on Dónal’s fortress! In the battle, Dónal was killed but Grace kept fighting and won (León 63-64). However, Grace couldn’t inherit his property after he was killed and was forced to rely on the O’ Flaherty’s clan. Grace didn’t like it and left (Murray par 2, “Grace O’Malley” par 4-7).
Grace rejoined her family in County Mayo, where she met Iron Richard Bourke in 1566 (León 64-65). Legend has it that Grace only married Richard because she needed to strengthen her hold on the west coast and needed the Rockfleet Castle to complete her empire, which consists of five castles and several island in Clew Bay. She and Richard had one child, named Tibbot or Theobald (“Grace O’ Malley par 4-7).
Grace built her empire, consisting of five castles and several islands in Clew bay, after Dónal died. She still needed the Rockfleet Castle so she married Richard Bourke and got it (“Grace O’ Malley” par 5). Using her fleets to help Richard, she raided ships and attacked seaports. This success made Richard the MacWilliam-the leader of the Bourkes in County Mayo and also the most powerful lord in Western Connacht (Murray par 2). Richard died in 1583 of a natural cause (León 64-65).
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