Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog


journal photo

Friday, February 13th 2009

2:44 AM

The Pirate Queen is based on a novel by Morgan Llywelyn

life and art: What really happened.

Piracy on the High C's A new Broadway musical sexes up the life of Grace O'Malley.

This post is being moved forward to today's date of the original time of post;

Tuesday, May 15th 2007

The Pirate Queen.About a minute after my travel book, The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea, hit bookstores three years ago, I began to get mail from swashbuckling readers craving more about pirates.


I'd written about my travels around the North Atlantic looking for stories of women and the sea. Although there were several chapters about 16th-century sea captain Grace O'Malley, there were also less-glamorous stories of Orkney herring lassies and Icelandic fishers. My publishers and I had changed the title to pump up the sales reps: "Everybody loves the idea of women pirates," said marketing. But I also felt that Grace O'Malley was a wonderful role model for any woman who's ever dreamed of running away to sea.


This brings me to the new Broadway musical The Pirate Queen, based loosely on the life of Grace O'Malley and created by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Sch├Ânberg, of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon fame. If you're a pirate fanatic, you won't find what you're looking for at the Hilton Theatre. And if you want to understand the historical context of this bold Gaelic sea captain, you should read a biography. On the other hand, if you've ever wondered what Irish set dancing would look like if the dancers were also waving around cutlasses or oars, this is the production for you. It's also, perhaps in spite of itself, an inspiring story with two strong women at its core.

No higher resolution available.
The story of this remarkable woman, by the name of Grace O'Malley, who has been extensively researched by Barbara Sjoholm, and others, is one large credit, to the persevering the history of women in leadership. Stories like this is normally only written about the notorious men of the sea, and it is pretty amazing and remarkable to me,... by how much the sea scares myself.

You might say that this story, after reading it, has enlighten myself,.. to possibly seek out some truths of an art object in my collection,... as for the art collector that I happen to be,... and for the bringing of more understanding of this heavy sculpture, made of bronze, of different metals, iron, brass and copper wires, all of which makes up a woman who looks like she would be and represents this sea going person of times past.

This very heavy bronze and metal sculpture as discribed, has been in my collection for years now. The remembrance of its purchase, where and when the work of art was purchased, and with what else was purchased from the same seller alone with it,... re-assures me of my beliefs that it was made by a 17th century artist.  An artists who I believe was the son of a metal smith,... from Spain, and was preserving history in art form,... while the stories were still fresh in everyone's mind. Yet there is not one thing on record about it, in books of this artist. The front name plate, that is now bear, presumedly was used for its name, and of its artist,... but the name plate looks to have been removed or lost,... it is missing. It looks to me as though it may have also been re-mounted on a different platform, on a heavy slab of beautiful oak stained wood, used as its base.

I might also mention that I do a lot of re-editing, and should do a lot more,.. after my entres are put up on my blogs, for possibly a more understandable discription,..... for my mind works much faster than my one finger I use for typing.  Some,.. or should I say,.. most times I fail to proof read properly.  Anyway,... I do believe I'm getting quite a few of my points across to the readers.
Back to: The Story
The Pirate Queen is based on a novel by Morgan Llywelyn, Find out more:

The Pirate Queen takes elements from the extraordinary life of Grace O'Malley. The following is the summary of her life by her biographer Anne Chambers...

"'...a most famous feminine sea captain...with three galleys and two hundred fighting men. She brought with her her husband, for she was as well by sea as by land well more than Mrs Mate with him. This was a notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland." - Sir Henry Sidney, English Lord Deputy, 1576.

This tantalising depiction is one of many I found imprisoned within the intricate calligraphy of Elizabethan penmanship, in manuscripts brittle and faded by the passage of four centuries. The words were written about Grace O'Malley (Granuaile) one of the most remarkable women in recorded history.

Born in 1530 Grace O'Malley was the only daughter of Dubhdara ( Black Oak ) O'Malley and his wife Margaret, chieftain of the territory of Umhall on the west coast of Ireland. The O'Malleys were a maritime clan; their association with the sea reaches back to pre-history. From a young age Grace excelled in the seafaring attributes of her family - trading the clan's produce of salted fish and beef, hides, tallow and frieze cloth in Ireland, Scotland and Spain, augmented by some time-honoured piracy and plundering.

Initially, as custom dictated, at fifteen her father arranged a politically-motivated marriage to Donal-an-Cogaidh (Donal of the Battles) O'Flaherty, chieftain of Ballinahinch in Connemara. Grace bore him three children, Owen, Murrough and a daughter Margaret. As his name implies, Donal was given more to inter-clan feuding than to the management of his far-flung domain. His clansmen turned to Grace for leadership and, while Gaelic law may have debarred women from becoming chieftains, Grace was accepted as de facto chieftain in place of her husband. Donal's warring disposition finally contributed to his downfall and his death gave rise to one of the many stories that created the legend of Granuaile. He was killed defending Cock's Castle in Lough Corrib against the Joyce clan. With their enemy despatched, the Joyce's thought the castle was theirs for the taking. But they had reckoned without Donal's wife. Grace led the O'Flaherty clansmen in a reprisal attack, regained the castle and demonstrated such personal courage that it was hurriedly renamed Hen's Castle (the name it still bears).

Despite her leadership and bravery Donal's cousin was appointed her husband's successor. Having tasted power Grace was not to be denied by either law or convention. She returned to Umhall and settled in Clare Island Castle at the mouth of Clew Bay. Many of her husband's followers followed her. From her base on the island the legend of Granuaile the 'Pirate Queen' was born.

Across the Irish Sea another women, Elizabeth Tudor, imbued with a similar desire for freedom and power, surmounted the many obstacles placed in her path to become Queen of England. It was perhaps fitting that both 'queens' would eventually meet.

With a 200 strong army and a flotilla of galleys described as 'rowed with thirty oars and sail...on board 100 good shot' Grace launched herself on a career of mercenary work and piracy which, she later euphemistically described to Elizabeth as 'maintenance by land and sea.' The merchant ships from England, Spain and France, laden with wine, Toledo steel, salt, silk and alum made rich pickings. The slow-moving merchantmen were no match for her highly manoeuvrable galleys or for her knowledge of the indented and dangerous west coast. The merchants of Galway city complained about her to England. When an army was despatched to capture 'this chief commander and director of thieves and murderers at sea' after enduring a 21-day siege, Grace successfully routed the besiegers. She ferried in the infamous gallowglass, mercenary soldiers from the Scottish isles, employed on a seasonal basis by Irish chieftains to fight in their inter-clan rivalries and disputes.

To achieve even part of what she was later accused of by successive English generals and administrators in Ireland, as well as being an accomplished mariner, Grace was as daring as the men she lead. Operating in the harsh, all-male environment of the sea was not for the faint-hearted. Piracy in any time or clime was a grim and dangerous occupation. To control her multi-tribal crews, to overcome their prejudices and chauvinism, she had to lead from the front. She also had to possess a charisma that ensured their loyalty to her.

In 1566 Grace married again. This time she did the choosing. Rockfleet Castle, with its safe anchorage, as much as its owner, the warlike but pliable Richard Bourke, was her target. Legend states that she married Richard 'for one year certain' in a trial marriage permissible by Gaelic law. After one year, with her men in possession of Rockfleet and her ships anchored in its fine harbour (the hawser of her favourite galley tied to her bedpost!) on her husband's return Grace divorced him by the simple formula of shouting from the ramparts, 'Richard Bourke I dismiss you'. They were later reconciled and together they became a formidable partnership. Richard was in line to become the MacWilliam, a title that carried prestige and wealth.

Their only son Theobald known in history as Tibbot-ne-Long (Toby of the Ships) was born in 1567. As his nickname implies he was born on board his mother's ship. While Grace nursed her new-born son, her ship was attacked by Algerian pirates who frequently infested the coastal waters of Ireland. Without Grace, her crew lost heart. Her captain begged her help. Soundly cursing him for not being able to manage without her for one day, she stormed up on deck and led her men to victory.

When the expansionary and colonisation policies of her great contemporary Queen Elizabeth I of England began to impact on Ireland, Grace's leadership qualities in the military arena came into play. Her struggle for personal supremacy mirrored the wider struggle for survival of the archaic world of 16th century Gaelic Ireland that bred and bore her. Elizabethan eyes viewed Ireland's disordered political state with fear, as a threat to England's security from attack by her Continental enemies, but also with avarice, for its fertile lands and extensive forests. The conquest of Ireland became essential to satisfy both ambitions

As the English administration, which was confined to a small area around Dublin, began to push out into Gaelic-held areas like Umhall, with sword in hand, Grace led rebellions against individual English military generals when they tried to curb her power, earning both their anger and their awe in the process; 'a notable traitor' 'a great spoiler' 'one of power and forces' 'a notorious offender' 'no small lady'; their reports of her 'naughty disposition to the State' stockpiled on the desk of Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State. Grace sailed into Galway to meet Sir Henry Sidney, the Queen's Lord Deputy, to ensure he was under no illusion that she would make a better ally than a foe. When the English attempted to deprive her husband of the MacWilliam title, her galleys arrived from Scotland packed to the gunwales with gallowglass and enough fire-power to make Elizabeth relent. Richard became the MacWilliam and for a few years they enjoyed the perks and privileges of the prestigious title. When Richard died in 1583, Grace quickly established her rights to Rockfleet Castle. A wealthy woman in her own right, as well as her ships and her army, she inherited land from her mother and had accumulated, according to her own testimony 'a thousand head of cattle and mares.'

As hostilities between England and Spain intensified, the conquest of Ireland took on an even greater urgency. In 1585, the arrival of Sir Richard Bingham as Governor of Grace's home province of Connaught, opened a decisive chapter in her life. Up until then she had successfully outmanoeuvred the English administrators who had crossed her path. Zealous and inflexible, Bingham's opinion 'that the Irish were never tamed with words but with the sword,' became the hallmark of his rule. He reserved a special animosity towards Grace, whom he accused of being 'nurse to all rebellions in Ireland for forty years.'

Three times Grace rebelled against Bingham's cruel reign in Connaught. Bingham retaliated by killing her eldest son Owen O'Flaherty. When he compelled her second son Murrough to align with him, such was Grace's fury, that she attacked Murrough's castle and drove off his cattle herds. Bingham eventually cornered her and threw her into prison and, as she later complained to Elizabeth, he 'caused a new pair of gallows to be made for her last funeral.' The chieftains of Mayo submitted hostages to save her, but Bingham confiscated her cattle and horses as ransom.

The land bore the scars of the constant war as Bingham determined to bring the chieftains of Connaught to their knees. In 1588 when the remnants of the Spanish Armada crashed onto the rocky headlands of Grace's territory, fearful that the Spanish castaways would unite with the Irish leaders, Bingham's campaign intensified. The sea once more became her refuge as she ferried in the gallowglass from Scotland. One by one the Mayo chieftains fell before onslaught or submitted to Bingham.

Grace held out to the last. But in 1593, when Bingham captured her youngest son, Tibbott, she realised that time, as well as Bingham, had finally caught up with her. Individual and divided loyalties against a unified and determined enemy left Irish leaders, like Granuaile, with little option but to seek the means to their own and their family's salvation. And Granuaile did it with more style than most. Knowing that she would get no justice from Bingham, she decided to put her case, over his head, to Queen Elizabeth. Her correspondence to the Queen displays a deft and able mind, more than a match for the Machiavellian subterfuge of the Elizabethan Court. When Bingham threatened to hang her son, leaving nothing to chance, Grace followed her correspondence to Court.

Using every diplomatic and political weapon in her arsenal, including a letter of introduction from Elizabeth's relation the Earl of Ormond, she sailed her galley from her castle in Clew Bay to England, up the Thames, hell-bent on a face-to-face showdown with Elizabeth. The famous meeting gave rise, over succeeding centuries, to many stories and legends. But the actual correspondence I unearthed emanating from that meeting is testimony to the sheer audacity of Granuaile in persuading the English queen to fly in the face of the advice of her own military general in Ireland. Granuaile not only kept her head and saved her son but she also ensured her family's future security, as well as her own freedom, until her death in 1603.

Until recent times, Grace O'Malley's unique contribution to political, social and maritime history was ignored. Like many of her sisters it could be said that she was another victim of the male orientation of historical record. But in her case more than mere chauvinism ensured her dismissal. In the past, Irish heroes were required to fit a specific mould and Grace O'Malley, as one of her detractors wrote of her, 'a woman who overstepped the part of womanhood' who broke the rules, who allowed neither political, social nor religious convention to deter her from her chosen path, simply did not conform and so was air-brushed.

Since the publication of her biography, 25 years ago, through many and diverse artistic forms, from sculpture to TV documentaries, and especially by her recent inclusion in school history curricula in Ireland and abroad, Granuaile's factual story will endure.

Now through The Pirate Queen musical, Grace O'Malley is set to charter new waters and my personal voyage in the company of this great Irishwoman is destined to continue, as she sets out to capture the imagination of the world, as she did mine.

author of the biography GRANUAILE: IRELAND'S PIRATE QUEEN (GRACE O'MALLEY) 1530-1603 Wolfhound/Merlin Publishing. Dublin
(American HB Edition MJ FINE)
GRANUAILE: SEA QUEEN OF IRELAND (for young people) The Collins Press (Cork)
SHADOW LORD: Tibbott Bourke - Son of the Pirate Queen Ashfield Press (Dublin)

0 Comment(s).

There are no comments to this entry.

Post New Comment

No Smilies More Smilies »