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Authors: Anne Chambers

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Chapter 24


On her return, Granuaile confronted Bingham with the queen's letter. She demanded that he release Tibóid immediately and give her back her ships.

Bingham was furious. He realised that Granuaile had pulled the wool over the queen's eyes. She had played the part of the much-wronged, old woman well at court.

Despite everything he had done to defeat this terrible woman, here was his own queen undoing all his hard work and allowing Granuaile to return to her plundering ways while pretending to be loyal to the queen.

He well knew the trouble Granuaile was still capable of causing. He ignored the queen's orders as long as he dared.

Granuaile threatened that she would return to court and report his insubordination.

Eventually Bingham knew he had no alternative but to agree to her demands. He released Tibóid in November.

Tibóid had suffered greatly while in prison. He had been tortured so badly, he could barely stand.

Once Tibóid was safely out of Bingham's clutches, Granuaile prepared to return to sea. She started to build new galleys.

But Bingham vowed to stop her. Just as her galleys were ready to sail in the spring of 1594, he pounced.

He stationed a troop of soldiers beside her castle and ordered them to accompany Granuaile on every sea trip she made.

Granuaile realised the game was up. With English soldiers tailing her ships there was little she could do. Despite all the queen's power, Bingham was still master in Mayo.

Soon food began to run out as Bingham's soldiers once again plundered the land around Clew Bay, leaving it bare.

With starvation staring her and her followers in the face, Granuaile knew she had to take action.

In March 1595, under cover of darkness, with her family and crew, her galley stole out of Clew Bay and headed south.

Granuaile sailed along the Munster coast until she reached Carrick-on-Suir, home of Black Tom, the earl of Ormond.

There, in his newly-built Elizabethan manor house, Granuaile told the powerful earl how Bingham had disobeyed the queen's orders.

With Black Tom's help, she wrote again to Lord Burghley.

She told him of the treatment she had received since her return from court. She also claimed that Sir Richard Bingham had tried to have her killed.

It was Granuaile's intention to go straight to London from Carrick-on-Suir to present her letter in person to Lord Burghley. The earl of Ormond even wrote her another letter of introduction.

But before she could set sail for London, political events in another part of Ireland intervened.

Chapter 25


In the summer of 1595, the Ulster chieftains Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell went into open rebellion against Elizabeth.

They wrote letters to the King of Spain offering him the ‘Crown of Ireland' if he helped them to get rid of the English.

The rebellion was mainly confined to parts of Ulster. Many Gaelic chieftains feared O'Neill and O'Donnell as much as they feared the English, but in the coming war they would be forced to take sides.

To stop the rebellion spreading to other parts of Ireland, the queen ordered her officials to back off from terrorising chieftains like Granuaile and her sons.

She had Bingham removed as governor of Connaught and on his return to England he was thrown into prison.

A new governor of Connaught, Sir Conyers Clifford, was appointed in his place.

With her greatest enemy out of the picture, it was not long before Granuaile was back on the sea.

Her ships were sighted off the coast of Clare as she led a plundering mission on the lands of the earl of Thomond.

In 1596, at the age of 66, Granuaile sailed to Scotland to lead an attack on MacNeill, chief of Barra, because he had raided her lands in Mayo.

As the war between the Ulster chieftains and the English intensified, both sides recognised the importance of Granuaile's sea power. There were no other galleys in Ireland at the time.

At first she and her two sons sided with the Ulster chieftains.

Towards the end of 1596, however, a feud erupted between the Mayo Bourkes and Red Hugh O'Donnell, which forced Granuaile, her son and most of her Bourke relations to change sides from O'Donnell to the English.

This was not the first time that a feud had occurred between the O'Donnells and the Bourkes. There had been bad blood between the two clans for many generations. More recently O'Donnell had failed in his promise to support Tibóid in his attack on Bingham.

To show the Bourkes who was boss, Red Hugh O'Donnell raided and plundered Mayo. Against Brehon Law, as well as the wishes of the Bourkes, he tried to force them to accept a MacWilliam chosen by him.

Granuaile on her galley.

Granuaile's son Tibóid, the strongest Bourke leader, was having none of it. He refused to accept O'Donnell's MacWilliam and ran him out of Mayo.

O'Donnell hit back at Tibóid. He captured him, took him as a prisoner to Tirconail and raided his territory around Clew Bay. Granuaile was powerless to stop him.

Tibóid escaped and returned to Mayo. He found that O'Donnell had devastated his lands and that of his relations. Famine again stalked Mayo and the people were on the verge of starvation.

Granuaile and Tibóid were forced to live on board their ships.

The English governor, Clifford, was also anxious to have Granuaile and her son as allies in the war between the English and the Ulster chieftains. He offered them a deal.

Caught in a trap between both sides, in August 1597 Granuaile, Tibóid and most of their Bourke, O'Malley and O'Flaherty relations agreed to the terms Clifford offered.

Tibóid was to be granted most of the lands of the MacWilliam in Mayo. He would continue as leader of his mother's army and ships and was given enough money to re-stock his lands and feed his people.

With O'Donnell still snapping at their heels they had little option but to agree.

Hugh O'Neill later tried to patch up the quarrel between O'Donnell and Granuaile and Tibóid. He too realised how important their influence, as well as their sea-power, would be in the war against the English.

But by then it was too late.

Inter-clan feuding had once more proved to be the weakness of Gaelic unity. It was now every chieftain for himself.

Chapter 26


Granuaile was now in her late sixties. Her seafaring days were coming to a close.

Old and weary, she lived out her last years in the frugal comfort of her stout fortress of Carraigahowley. By this time she had handed over control of her army and her ships to her son Tibóid.

Despite the agreement he had made with the English, Tibóid continued to put his and his clan's needs first during the nine years' war between the Ulster chieftains and the English.

Like many other chieftains, he changed sides with the ebb and flow of events, as one side got the upper hand of the other, in the long-drawn out war, before the final battle of Kinsale in 1601.

At Kinsale, with 3,000 of his fellow countrymen, including his half-brother, Murrough O'Flaherty, Tibóid eventually fought with the English against his old enemy O'Donnell.

What Granuaile thought about her sons and her relations fighting with the English we do not know.

What we do know, however, is that we cannot judge their actions by standards that do not apply to the times they lived in, or to the situation they found themselves in.

The sixteenth century was, above all else, a time of survival. There was no ‘United Ireland' to fight for. Each chieftain saw it as his only duty as to protect himself, his clan and his land. His loyalty was to his clan, not to his country.

Many chieftains still preferred to fight against their neighbours, rather than unite against the English. Many, like Hugh O'Donnell and the Bourkes, harboured ancient grudges which turned some chieftains, like Tibóid, against them.

Granuaile lived to hear of the defeat of O'Neill and O'Donnell at Kinsale. She perhaps also realised that more than just a battle had been lost there.

Kinsale brought the curtain down on the old Gaelic way of life into which Granuaile had been born and reared. It signalled the end of an ancient lifestyle and the world of clans, chieftains and gallow-glass, a world that had not moved with the times and had been left behind by the rest of the world.

After Kinsale a new political age dawned in which both her sons prospered. Both had chosen the winning side.

But it was also an age that had no place for a warrior woman like Granuaile.

She died in 1603, the same year as Queen Elizabeth I.

Alike in character, and in their role as leaders in a man's world, each represented a culture that had little in common. When these cultures collided, there could only be one winner.

Granuaile is buried in the little abbey church on Clare Island, looking out on the Atlantic, a fitting resting place for a sea queen.

Over the centuries her memory has been kept alive in folklore, legend, poetry and song.

Today she has, at last, become part of Ireland's history too.

Chapter 27


Granuaile's youngest son, Tibóid, survived the battle of Kinsale and returned to Mayo.

He lived and prospered under the new English system of government which after Kinsale gradually replaced the old Brehon system of his ancestors.

In the early years of the new century, Tibóid left his seafaring days behind him. He moved inland from Clew Bay to the lands around Lough Mask which once had been part of his father's MacWilliam estate.

He lived at nearby Kinturk Castle, which he inherited from his foster-father, Myles MacEvilly. He also owned Kilboynell Castle which was subsequently renamed Castle Bourke. He received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth's successor, James I, in 1603.

But Sir Tibóid continued to live more like a Gaelic chieftain than an English lord. He continued to be an influential figure in Connaught and represented County Mayo in the Parliament in Dublin.

By shrewd dealing and competing successfully against the wave of English planters who descended on Connaught in the years after Kinsale, Tibóid became one of the few Gaelic chieftains to hold on to and even increase his estate.

This he did by being as cunning and able as those who wanted to take his land from him, and by adapting to the changed political and social circumstances in which he found himself.

At his death, he was the single largest landowner in Mayo, with an estate of over 60,000 acres of land.

In 1627 Tibóid was made the First Viscount Mayo by King Charles I. He died in 1629 and is buried in Ballintobber Abbey, County Mayo.

He had four sons and three daughters by his wife, Maeve O'Connor Sligo.

His eldest son, Myles, succeeded him to the title and to most of his estate, the rest of which he divided between his three other sons.

There were eight Viscounts Mayo before the title was made extinct around the turn of the nineteenth century.

Today, Granuaile's descendants, through her son Tibóid, are living in Westport House, County Mayo, built near the original O'Malley Castle of Cathair-na-Mart.

Granuaile's other surviving son, Murrough O'Flaherty, continued to live at Bunowen Castle in Connemara. He died in 1626 and was buried in the Abbey of St Francis in Galway city.

Her grandson, also named Murrough, was dispossessed of his lands by Cromwell.

His descendants lived on in Connemara for many generations, eventually becoming mere tenants of their former ancestral lands.


. 1530
Born in the lordship of Umhall, County Mayo, daughter of chieftain Owen (Dubhdara) and Margaret O'Malley from whom she learned her seafaring expertise.
Given in marriage to Donal of the Battles O'Flaherty, tanaiste of the clan O'Flaherty of Bunowen, in Connemara.
Gives birth to two sons, Owen and Murrough, and a daughter, Margaret.
Donal killed in an inter-clan dispute. Grace avenges his death and assumes leadership of his clan on behalf of her sons.
Returns to Umhall and settles on Clare Island from where she starts her career of ‘maintenance by land and sea', with her father's ships and a private army of 200 men. Her fame as a leader and an expert mariner grows.
Rescues Hugh de Lacy from the sea and they fall in love. She takes a terrible retribution on the MacMahons when they kill Hugh.
When the English administration begins to push into Mayo, she marries Richard-in-Iron Bourke, whose castle, Rockfleet, is less exposed than Clare Island. When she has moved her ships and army into Richard's castle she divorces him.
Her son Theobald (Tibóid-ne-Long) Toby-of-the-Ships is born aboard her ship. She defends her new-born son from an attack from Barbery Pirates. On her return to Rockfleet she becomes re-united with Richard-in-Iron.
With Grace's help, Richard-in-Iron becomes tanaiste (elected successor) to the MacWilliam of Mayo, the premier chiefdom in Mayo.
The MacWilliam of Mayo submits to Queen Elizabeth of England. Richard-in-Iron's position as his successor is under threat.
With her army and navy, Grace impresses Elizabeth's minister, Sir Henry Sidney in Galway with her power.
Grace plunders the lands of Desmond and is captured by the Earl of Desmond, who imprisons her in Limerick Jail.
To save his own neck, Desmond hands her over to the English Governor.
Grace is thrown into the dungeons of Dublin Castle.
Richard-in-Iron rises in rebellion. Grace is released from prison by the English.
Grace plunders English ships. She routes an English army sent to beseige her at Rockfleet.
The MacWilliam dies and his son succeeds him by English law. Grace and Richard go into the rebellion to secure their rights. Grace's ships bring in the infamous Scottish mercenaries, the Gallowglass. The English are no match for them and agree to deal. Richard becomes the MacWilliam of Mayo.
Grace and Richard try and stop the English from taking their lands.
Richard-in-Iron dies. Grace immediately takes Rockfleet Castle as her base.
Sir Richard Bingham is appointed English Governor. He sets out to destroy Grace and her family.
Grace leads a rebellion against Bingham.
Bingham's brother kills Grace's eldest son, Owen.
Under the guise of a truce, Bingham lures Grace to his head-quarters. he proclaims her a traitor and condemns her to death. She is rescued by her son-in-law.
Grace flees to Ulster to consult with O'Neill. With his ally, O'Donnell, he is plotting to unite the Irish for the first time and, with help from the king of Spain, to drive the English out of Ireland.
The Spanish Armada is driven by bad weather to its doom. Bingham exacts revenge on Grace and her relations for helping the Spanish. They retaliate and Bingham declares all-out war.
Bingham accuses Grace of treason and of being ‘the nurse to all rebellions in Ireland' and reports her to Queen Elizabeth.
Bingham pressurises Grace's second son, Murrough, to ally with him. Furious, Grace attacks Murrough.
By adopting a ‘scorched earth' tactic, Bingham finally defeats Grace.
In desperation Grace writes to Elizabeth to complain about Bingham.
Bingham seizes her youngest son Tibóid and charges him with treason, a crime punishable by death.
Grace makes a momentous and dangerous decision. She will sail to London and put her case to Elizabeth face-to-face.
She is successful. Against Bingham's advice Elizabeth grants Grace an audience at her glittering Court at Greenwich. Showing a shrewd negotiating ability and daring, Grace outmanouvers the Queen, secure her son's release and boldly elicits the Queen's permission to continue her career by land and sea.
Bingham is recalled to England and Grace returns unhindered to her old career by sea.
At the ‘great age' of 67, Grace is still actively leading her men by sea. She attacks MacNeil of Barra off the Scottish coast.
The Battle of Kinsale and the end of the Gaelic world of Grace O'Malley.
Grace dies at Rockfleet.
BOOK: Pirate Queen of Ireland
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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