Shanore Blog

The Pirate Queen and the Ring

A pirate is always a great Halloween costume, and women who are looking for a costume idea that combines the glamour of a princess with the fun of a pirate should consider Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s legendary pirate queen.  Grace O’Malley, also known as Gráinne Ní Mháille and Granuaile, was both fierce and regal, a woman born centuries before her time in many ways.

Granuaile was born in approximately 1530, probably in Clew Bay, County Mayo, to the chieftain of the O’Malley clan.  Her father was not the sort of chieftain to sit around; he was a sea-faring man and trader who taxed those who sailed his waters off the western coast north of Galway.  Young Grace was keen to enter the family business, and when her father told her she could not sail with him because her long hair would catch in the ship’s ropes, she promptly cut it off.  That is how she earned the nickname Granuaile, which is a combination of her name Grainne and the Irish word for being bald or having very short hair.  Her dad relented and brought her.  This was the start of her sea-faring career and epic determination to get what she wanted.


Grace O’Malley became famous as the woman who refused to curtsey to Queen Elizabeth I when they met in 1593.  She carried a dagger to the meeting, which was frowned upon by Elizabeth’s security detail, and spoke fluent Latin with the queen.  When her first husband was killed in battle, she remarried … on her terms.  Under Brehon law, a marriage could be made for a set amount of time, and Grace married her second husband for one year.  Then she effectively divorced him and kept his castle.  Apparently she found it particularly homey because she was not short of castles.  The pair eventually reunited, after O’Malley gave birth to son while at sea and on the same voyage fought off an attack of Barbery pirates.  She led an army of up to 200 men at times and sailed the high seas until she was in her late sixties.

GOM2The infamous queen took a trick or treat approach to paying visits.  She was passing through Dublin in 1576 and felt it would be rude not to stop by and visit to Lord Howth in his castle north of the city.  When she arrived, servants informed her that the family would not receive her because they were busy having their dinner.  Decidedly unimpressed, she promptly abducted their grandson and held him for a sort of ransom.  She released him only when Lord Howth promised to receive unexpected guests who popped by during meals and in fact to have an extra place set at every meal just in case.  We can only speculate whose side etiquette experts of the day might have taken.  He gave Granuaile a ring to symbolize his pledge.  And no doubt he was relieved when she settled for that instead of taking his castle.



  1. Although she was probably a bit rough around the edges, she had a way of teaching others their manners and showing em their place. I like her. We would have been friends, although I would have probably lost most of jewelry to her – LOL! – but I would also learn how to hide my good pieces well, very well. lol =0)

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