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Ireland’s Pirate Queen

You can expect a steady stream of pirates at your door this Halloween.  Pirates are a staple of Halloween, along with vampires, superheroes, witches, zombies and ghosts.  Part of the fun of dressing up as a pirate is that there are endless variations.  Boys and girls, men and women can be pirates.  No one is too old or too young, and your creativity is the only limit to how distinctive your pirate costume can be.  But if you are going to be a pirate, why not be one of history’s most exciting pirates?  And yes, of course history’s most exciting pirate was Irish.  She was also a queen, a ruthless warrior and a shrewd political strategist.

Grainne Mhaol is also known by the Anglicized version of her name, Grace O’Malley and by her nickname Granuaile. She was the only daughter of Eoghan O’Malley, nicknamed Black Oak, chieftain of the O’Malley clan.  The O’Malleys were notorious pirates who lived on Clare Island, County Mayo. Young Grainne desperately wanted to go to sea with her father, and despite her mother’s objections, her epic pester power eventually won out.  She took on her father’s role upon his death, and became one of the most famous women of the 16th century.

She Persisted, and She Bowed to No One

Granuaile was as shrewd as she was fierce.  She didn’t take a backseat to anyone.  In addition to her title, she inherited lands from her father.  And her first marriage increased her territory.  Yes, her first marriage.  A woman ahead of her time in many ways, Granuile had a series of husbands and lovers.  She was passionate in love and war, and the two overlapped in her life.  When her rivals the MacMahon family killed her lover Hugh de Lacy, she attacked. The pirate queen led her troops to invade the MacMahon’s seat of power, Doona Castle, and killed them. She did more than attack rivals for revenge. Grainne Mhaol was fond of some bling too.  She wasn’t averse to acquiring some gold or diamonds from ships entering Galway Bay.

If you are dressing up as Grace O’Malley, one accessory is essential.  You’ll need a dagger.  Granuaile once met with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate some dealings, and the English queen got quite a surprise.  Granuaile arrived not to curry favour, but to play hardball.  She famously wore a dagger, and she refused to bow to Elizabeth.  Why would one queen bow to another?  Granuaile did not entertain any suggestion that she was less than Elizabeth’s equal.  Elizabeth probably would have been grateful if she’d been able to get rid of Granuaile with a few pieces of candy.

The ancient Celts disguised themselves on Samhain to look as fearsome as the spirits and ghouls they expected to encounter.  A Grainne Mhaol costume absolutely lives up to that standard.  In a world of brides of Frankenstein, zombies and dainty princesses, be a Granuaile.  Why be like all the other pirates with a bandana on your head, a parrot on your shoulder and a hook hand when you can rock a dagger and be a pirate queen?

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