The Irish Pirate Queen

The Roaring Kelly Band performs again at HJ O’Connor’s in Delray Beach this Saturday, October 22 starting at 4pm for a rollicking happy hour.  In recognition of our municipal neighbor Boynton Beach, and the  Haunted Pirate Fest we present here information about our famous Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille or anglicized as Granuaile, pronounced gran ya wail).  She remained throughout her life a regular royal pain for the English, and remains a powerful symbol of independence for generations of Irish men and women.

Born in 1530, Grace O’Malley learned the ways of the sea from her father, a successful shipping merchant and disregarded the “proper” female role as homemaker as she went on to become a ferocious leader and sea captain. Her fleet of sailing ships would exact a toll in gold or trade goods from English ships passing her coastal lands.  Fed up with this pesky female and her predatory rabble, the English laid siege to her castle but she fought them off by pouring molten lead on the English troops. She then assailed them on their ships at sea as they sought a retreat.  As the saying goes, “Women who behave, rarely make history.”

Grace was destined to meet another powerful woman, Queen Elizabeth I of England. In July 1593, The Pirate Queen sailed to London to request the release of her sons and half-brother from captivity. Aside from a minor faux-pas in which Grace threw a noblewomen’s handkerchief into the fire, Elizabeth took a liking to her, and granted Grace’s request on the condition that she stop causing trouble for English troops.

The contract was a triumph as her relations were released and Grace was promised reparation of her wealth as well as title to her rightful land. Despite the favor and promise of Elizabeth I, the ruthless royal governor appointed by the crown kept her treasure. Back in Ireland, Grace then led a double life, agreeing and appearing to support the authorities all the while engaging in her customary role as a swashbuckling bandit. She successfully protected the independence of her lands and shipping during the time when much of Ireland fell under the English rule. This appearance of cooperating with England while simultaneously supporting rebellion became a powerful message for the Irish people and one celebrated in the centuries after the death of the famous Irish Pirate Queen.

The Roaring Kelly Band welcomes all pirates and land-lubbers on board for a rousing hooley with our hard-driving reels, vicious jigs, jumping hornpipes, lilting waltzes and rowdy drinking songs at 4pm on Saturday, October 22 at HJ O’Connor’s in Delray Beach.  Aaarrrrgh!

Excerpt: Smithsonian Magazine