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Grace O’Malley

Fearless leader by land and by sea, the ‘most notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland’ Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught, reigned from her castle here on the grounds of Westport House.

Westport House is now built upon the ruins of the ancient castle, and Grace’s dungeons can still be seen today..

In celebration of this heroic ancestor, Westport House has integrated much of this woman into the Estate by:

  • Theming the Pirate Adventure Park in her honour
  • Commissioning a bronze statue of her by the artist Michael Cooper placed in the grounds
  • Installing a permanent exhibition dedicated to Grace O’Malley detailing her life and times which located in the basement area of the house – next to the “dungeons” which are the remaining foundations of her 16th century castle upon which the house is built
  • Creating a child-friendly guided tour that chronicles her relationship with the house in a way that is both educational and entertaining for Children (available to groups of 15+ and must be pre-booked)
  • Installing a themed exhibition in the dungeons that showcases her maritime life and times

This inspirational woman has been chronicled through the years by many in the written word, song, dance and on screen. And particularly so by the historian, Anne Chambers. Paraphrasing from her website, the official website for Grace O’Malley, we will provide some highlights of her life but we urge you to visit for more information, details or to buy her biography.

Born c. 1530 the daughter of a Gaelic chieftain, she excelled in the traditional seafaring attributes of her family – sea-trading to Ireland, Scotland and Spain, with some piracy and plundering on the side – before she assumed the more traditional role of wife and mother in a politically-arranged marriage.

As a child, legend has it that she cut off all her hair to disguise herself as a boy to steal onto one of her father’s ships as he set sail. You see, in the 16th century, it was considered bad luck to have women on board at sea. It is from this that her name Grainne Mhaol (or bald Grainne) comes.

As a wife, convention did not deter her from superseding her more reckless first husband in his role as chieftain, or from avenging his death. Neither did it deter her from divorcing her second husband, from taking a lover or from reuniting with her husband who would seem to have been content to walk in her shadow.

When Gaelic law spurned her as a female chieftain, she endured the same danger and hardship as her followers. Her ability and success rendered the salic code, which debarred women leaders, redundant. Her daring and charisma made her leader of an army of 200 men and captain of a fleet of ’galleys’.

On the military front she personally lead her ’army’ on the battlefield against individual English military generals who tried to curb her power, eventually becoming matriarch, not merely of her own followers and extended family, but of neighbouring clansmen, whose chieftains had either died in the numerous conflicts of the period, or had abandoned their obligations to protect their dependent followers.

In 1593, with a catalogue of rebellion, piracy and other ’disloyal’ activities as long as her arm registered against her at the English Court, bearing the tags ’nurse to all rebellions for forty years’ “a director of thieves and murderers at sea’ she boldly sailed her galley from her castle on Clew Bay on the west coast of Ireland to Greenwich Palace to negotiate face-to-face with her perceived enemy Queen Elizabeth I. Granuaile persuaded the English queen to fly in the face of the advice of her own military men in Ireland and not only kept her head but ensured her family’s future security and her own freedom until her death in 1603.

Above all else she emerges as a woman who broke the mould and thereby played a unique role in history.

There is so much to this fascinating character, please visit for more information.