The Irish Pirate Queen

D. Shea

Dr. Daniel Shea, Professor of English and speaker at the iROC presentation on April 4, 2013. (photo by Mount Saint Mary College)

by Carrie Victoria

Dr. Daniel Shea, Professor of English, appeared as a speaker at an iRoc session on April 4, 2013, in the Mount Saint Mary College Curtin Memorial Library. When hearing the name of his presentation, “The Chief Commander and Director of Thieves and Murderers at Sea,” one would assume, “Oh, but he has to be talking of a man!” Chief Commander? Director of Thieves and Murderers? Who else could accomplish such things?

Grace O’Malley – that’s who! A woman who came to be known as the Pirate Queen. Sir Henry Sidney said of O’Malley, “This was a notorious woman in all coasts of Ireland.”

Grace O’Malley remains a mystery today. No one knows the exact dates of her birth or date; however, it is known that she died in 1603. Also, no one knows what she looked like. The only clues to her appearance lie in pictures in children’s book and pub signs.

Dr. Shea’s interest in O’Malley’s began when he noticed that her name popped up a lot. In his research, he has found that O’Malley overstepped the boundaries.

After giving birth on a ship during a pirate attack, Grace O’Malley joined in on the fight and shot some of the invading pirates. She participated in trial marriages, in which the married couple can get divorced after a year if they decide they don’t like each other. She poured lead over people’s heads as a method of execution, and she had 200 men following her through battle. The Pirate Queen asked the England queen if she could borrow a handkerchief during a visit to Queen Elizabeth. After blowing her nose, she threw the handkerchief into the fire – a bold move.

Obviously, Grace O’Malley was no ordinary woman.

Dr. Shea’s research offered a deeper look into the character of Grace O’Malley who appears in contemporary novels and children’s books today. O’Malley lived as a daring woman who did not accept traditional gender roles, who conquered the coasts of Ireland as the Pirate Queen.