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  • Grace O'Malley was the pirate queen

  • of Ireland in the mid 1500s.

  • The stories surrounding this badass, swashbuckling mother

  • of four are legendary, from giving birth to a child

  • and immediately fighting a battle at sea,

  • to being a staunch defender of Ireland's independence.

  • Grace O'Malley was a badass mother.

  • Today, we're just talking about the life of Grace O'Malley,

  • Ireland's pirate queen.

  • But before we dive in, click on that Like and Subscribe button

  • and let us know in the comments below what

  • other historical women you would like to hear about next.

  • All right, we're off to the Emerald Isle.

  • Grace, unlike some pirates, was born

  • into a life of relative comfort in County Mayo, Western

  • Ireland, and not into some gnarly group of ragtag pirates,

  • but upper middle class pirates, if there were such a thing.

  • Her father, Owen Blackoak O'Malley,

  • perhaps the most Irish name ever spoken,

  • was the chieftain of her family's clan

  • and had a reputation for being quite the seafarer.

  • Their family motto, a thing families

  • had back in those days, was terra marique putens,

  • or valiant by sea and land.

  • Grace was technically carrying on the family business

  • of pirating, since most of the family's coin

  • came from pillaging and plundering.

  • With Grace's family really being into sailing and taking

  • things that didn't belong to them,

  • Grace learned how to navigate the seas at quite the young age

  • and grew into an important position within her clan.

  • Long before Channing Tatum classic and Best Picture Oscar

  • snub She's the Man told us that women can sometimes

  • cosplay as a man to accomplish a task,

  • Grace O'Malley was pulling the same move

  • as Amanda Bynes just wanting to play soccer with the guys.

  • Rumor has it that Grace developed a taste for the sea

  • so intense she insisted her father allow her

  • on his voyages at sea, but her parents, being good parents,

  • refused to let her go on account of children traditionally

  • not belonging on dangerous sea voyages.

  • Grace, a rebellious spirit at heart,

  • didn't take no for an answer.

  • According to legend, she chopped off her hair

  • and disguised herself as a dude and snuck onto the ship.

  • Even pirates had to find some way

  • to rebel against their parents.

  • Pirates are people too, everybody.

  • This move gave Grace a new nickname, Grace the Bald.

  • Being born into a family who already had wealth and power,

  • it sure didn't stop her from marrying

  • men who would prove to be beneficial to her legacy

  • and increase her power.

  • In fact, since Grace was the daughter of a chieftain,

  • she was the one who brought money into the relationship.

  • Grace was first married at the old age of 15

  • to Donal O'Flaherty, a man with many ships, which she would

  • acquire when O'Flaherty was killed

  • at sea while fighting, the leading cause of death for most

  • pirates.

  • A widow at only 23 years old, Grace

  • found herself with a fleet of ships, a castle, and a cavalry

  • of loyal followers that she brought back with her

  • to her hometown of Mayo.

  • She was living large.

  • In their eight years of wedded bliss,

  • Grace birthed three children with Donal, two girls

  • and a boy, but she wasn't a regular mom.

  • She was a fierce fighter and a respected widow,

  • one who picked up on the sea traits of her husband.

  • In 1566, Grace married for a second and final time

  • to Richard Burke, a strategic move on Grace's part

  • since Iron Burke was a talented land fighter with yet

  • another castle for Grace.

  • Grace and Burke were only married for a year

  • before legend has it Grace screamed

  • out the window, Richard Burke, I dismiss you.

  • Which, no, was not a legal way to end a marriage,

  • even in those days.

  • The two remained legally married according to English law.

  • The two remained friendly exes and allies

  • and co-parents to their son Tibbot na Long,

  • or Toby of Ships.

  • We get it, Grace.

  • You really liked ships.

  • Speaking of Toby Ships, his legendary birth story

  • is one for the books, and certainly one any good mother

  • would bring up no less than four times a day

  • if Toby were to give her any crap.

  • In 1566, Grace was at sea with her fleet

  • when Toby decided now was the time

  • to make his grand entrance.

  • The birth of her son was the second most eventful thing

  • to happen to her that day.

  • Soon after her ship was attacked by corsairs.

  • But did Grace sit this one out due to the very credible

  • medical excuse of I just pushed out a baby?

  • She tucked the baby away safely, went full mama bear,

  • and led her men to victory.

  • Maternity leave, nah, Grace likes

  • to get right back into the workforce.

  • When Grace lost her father, Owen O'Malley in 1553,

  • she took over as chieftain of the O'Malley

  • clan, a rarity in that era to have a female leader.

  • Grace took over her father's ships, diving headfirst

  • into the family business, but it wasn't the only thing

  • family gave her.

  • Her marriage to Donal O'Flaherty in 1546

  • was also the beginning of a crucial family alliance,

  • and she was so respected by her husband's men,

  • they continued to loyally fight for her

  • after the death of Donal.

  • Sure, the daughter from a family of well-known seafarers

  • inherited a little piracy when she took over for her father

  • as chieftain, but once she took the helm,

  • she went pirate heavy on England in response

  • to them taxing the hell out of Ireland.

  • The English had raised taxes on the goods her company traded,

  • so Grace decided two could play at that game,

  • turned around and imposed her own sea tax on passing ships.

  • Her castles were built in strategic locations

  • where her eyes could rear window the seas

  • and monitor for passing ships.

  • If she saw one, she'd lead her ships

  • to overtake the passing ships and explain that safe passage

  • costs money now.

  • If the ship was non-compliant, they'd raid the ship.

  • That's textbook pirate stuff right there.

  • She didn't stop at English ships though.

  • Any ship that passed through was susceptible to Grace's raids,

  • whether Irish, Spanish, or Turkish.

  • If that ship was passing, that ship was paying.

  • Though little is known about her formal education,

  • we do know that Grace was a well traveled youth and most

  • likely spoke several languages.

  • Historians agree Latin was her second language.

  • She used it in her interactions with Queen Elizabeth.

  • It's also believed she spoke some Scottish gaelic, Spanish,

  • English, and French as well.

  • In 1593, Grace sought the help of another badass woman

  • in power over some issues she was

  • having with Richard Bingham.

  • She traveled the Irish sea to London

  • to petition Queen Elizabeth, one of our favorites,

  • to help her with Sir Richard Bingham, who

  • was the English governor of Western Ireland,

  • and in whose head Grace O'Malley lived rent free.

  • Richard was being a real Dick ever since he grew paranoid

  • that Grace was attempting to resist Irish rule.

  • After a rebellion in Western Ireland in the 1580's, Sir

  • Richard took some of Grace's property

  • and threw her into a prison.

  • None of this was great, and surely she

  • was unhappy being a prisoner with confiscated land.

  • However, when Richard took her sons as captives,

  • he officially crossed the line.

  • O'Malley chose to forgo the formal greeting

  • of bowing before an English queen

  • since she didn't recognize her authority.

  • Despite this petty slap in the face,

  • the queen granted her request to intervene with the governor,

  • so long as Grace swore not to rebel against the crown.

  • Grace was a loyal woman not to be messed with,

  • so when somebody came for her man,

  • she came back for them in full force.

  • In the 1560s, she took on a lover.

  • She rescued a survivor from a shipwreck

  • and the two started a passionate love affair,

  • as one does in times of crisis.

  • O'Malley's whole pirate thing began

  • to alienate and anger a bunch of rival Irish clans,

  • including the pesky MacMahons.

  • When they learned that Grace had taken on a lover,

  • the MacMahons saw an opportunity.

  • They tracked him down when he was out on a hunting trip

  • and murdered him.

  • Grace was understandably extremely pissed,

  • but because this was Grace O'Malley,

  • writing a stern letter or sulking quietly in a corner

  • was just not her style.

  • She tracked down the men who slaughtered her boo

  • and slaughtered those jerks right back.

  • After she was done, she seized the MacMahons' Donna Castle.

  • Sir Richard Bingham didn't stop being a thorn in Grace's side

  • after her meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

  • If anything, things escalated, pretty brutally.

  • He started targeting her explicitly,

  • because in his mind, he saw her as someone fueling

  • the rebellion in Ireland.

  • He took things way too far, however,

  • when his brother John somehow lured

  • Grace's son Owen out of his castle to steal his cattle.

  • Amazingly, this situation got very out

  • from under John, who tied Owen up and eventually murdered him.

  • Despite Sir Richard Bingham's brother straight up murdering

  • her son, she still had to work with the English

  • from time to time, if it made political sense.

  • England and Ireland have a complicated history,

  • which by the 16th century had reached a bit of an apex.

  • England was super into Ireland at that point for hundreds

  • of years, and the Tudor administration only

  • saw the clingy controlling ways grow exponentially.

  • Grace wasn't a fan of their interference

  • and sought out independence from the English constraints,

  • but O'Malley was also shrewd in her ways, lending ships and men

  • to England in 1577.

  • Despite her hesitance to bend to English rule,

  • she wasn't completely unreasonable

  • when it came to offering some assistance to the English crown

  • if it somehow benefited her.

  • In 1577, she offered three galleys and 200 men

  • to Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney, who

  • reflected on this later in a letter

  • to the Queen's secretary in 1583,

  • calling her a famous, feminine sea captain, which was probably

  • meant as a compliment.

  • He said she offered her galleys and her fighting men

  • if he commanded them to Scotland or Ireland.

  • So what do you think?

  • Would you want to square off against Grace?

  • Let us know in the comments below, and while you're at it,

  • check out some of these other videos from Our Weird History.

Grace O'Malley was the pirate queen

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