She could sail a ship from the time she could walk. Before most adults could even sail a ship, she became 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 and bold undertakings throughout her life that changed the course of others.
At the O’Malley castle on the 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 often repeatedly discouraged because of her gender. Despite the wishes of others, Grace grew to be an accomplished 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 named Owen and Murrough, and one girl, Maraget (“Grace O’ Malley par 4-7). Often while having her toddlers on board, she continued to captain ships, and making raids on enemy vessels. Grace led an active seafaring life (León 63).
Grace ran both the O’ Flaherty and the Mayo fleets. She once commanded over 200 fighting men and three raiding ships. When Queen Elizabeth came to power in England, she overthrew the leader of the O’ Flaherty Clan, and Dónal was no longer next in line. In an unexpected turn of events, invaders organized an attack, sending troops to storm Grace’s castle. During the battle, Dónal was killed but because of Grace’s determination, she kept fighting and won, rendering their attack a failure (León 63-64). However, Grace could not inherit his property after he was killed and was forced to rely on the O’ Flaherty’s Clan. Because of Grace’s independence, she disliked the reliability of their relationship 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. By using the Rockfleet Castle in order to complete her empire, she now had territories that consisted of as many as five castles and several islands in Clew Bay. She and Richard had one child named Tibbot or Theobald (“Grace O’ Malley par 4-7). 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 the most powerful lord in Western Connacht (Murray par 2). Richard died of a natural cause in 1583(León 64-65).