Cue the Duckboats | Championship Collection for Banner 18SHOP NOW


For St. Paddy's Day, Bend the Knee for Grace O'Malley, the Badass Pirate Queen of Ireland

Happy Irish Christmas, ya filthy drunken Hibernians.

For the second St. Patrick's Day in a row, the parades were all canceled. And the celebrations, if any, will be muted. You might be able to get into a pub, but depending on where you live, they'll probably be a plexiglass jungle of separated tables and servers in masks. And because the science now says live music is a leading cause of death, no pipes will bagged, no tins will be whistled. So instead, hoist a pint in your own home and take a brief dive into one of the great stories in all of world history, the one of Grace O'Malley, Ireland's 16th century pirate queen. 

I don't know what it's like to be a female politician. Maybe it's the hardest thing in the world. But before any mayor or governor complains about how challenging it is, they should take a lesson about the one the Gaelics called Granuaile. She refused to give any fucks and chiseled her name permanently upon the world. The daughter of the Irish chieftain Owen "Black Oak" O'Malley during the rule of British King Henry VIII in Clew Bay in County Mayo, as a young girl she demanded her father take her on a voyage he was taking to Spain, but he refused. He used the excuse that it would be too dangerous because her long hair would catch the ships ropes. So she cut all her hair off and went anyway. As a matter of fact, her name derives from the nickname "Gráinne Mhaol," which means bald. 

As she grew up, O'Malley took over the family business, which was robbing and pillaging on the high seas. Her first husband was killed by a rival clan, so she took up with a shipwrecked sailor. He too was killed by another clan, so seeking vengeance, O'Malley killed his murderers with an attack on Doona Castle that earned her another nickname, "The Dark Lady of Doona." She remarried, this time to Risdeárd an Iarainn Bourke. A name which, because this was the peak of the nickname game in world history, translates to "Iron Richard." She went on to have four children. And in one instance, no sooner had the baby been delivered and the cord cut then she immediately set sail and led a pirate raid. 

The longer O'Malley's career went on, the more power and influence she gained. And the more unwanted attention she got from the British Crown. In particular Sir Richard Bingham, who was the Lord President of Connacht, which put him in charge of controlling the local leaders. He said of her that she was "nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years." And while she was willing to go about her pirate queening and ignore the little twerp, that became hard to do when he took her two sons and half brother hostage. 

So, in order to redress her grievances with the British crown, a meeting was arranged between O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth I. For the occasion, she put on her best gown, but broke protocol by refusing to bow. And, in a more serious breach of etiquette, came strapped with a dagger. The first was because, as she put it, why would she, since they were both queens. The second, was for her own protection, her being a pirate and all. Elizabeth was reportedly impressed and had no problem with her counterpart bring a blade to a summit meeting. Since Grace didn't speak English and Liz didn't speak Gaelic, they communicated in the fluent Latin they each spoke. (Which is a real life version of that scene in Braveheart where the princess' aid thinks he can talk shit about William Wallace right in front of him, only to found out he speaks Latin like an ancient Roman.) Still, O'Malley's best moment at the meeting was when she sneezed and a noblewoman handed her lace handkerchief. Which she graciously accepted, blew her nose with and then threw into the fireplace. When asked why, she gave the fluent Latin equivalent of "Because where I come from we don't put disgusting snot rags back into our pockets. What's wrong with you animals?" 

As a result of the meeting, Elizabeth agreed to get the Lord of Connacht off her back and her loved ones returned to her. To return the favor, O'Malley pledge her support and she, her family and her followers fought on the queen's behalf in the Nine Years War. (I've never really understood how conflicts like that one or the 100 Years War got their names. Like what did they call them while they were actually fighting them? Was it just "The War" until it ended and they could put a number on it? Or did it change year to year?) And the two kingdoms peacefully coexisted to the end of both monarch's lives. Ironically (and to be fair, some historians dispute this because record keeping was pretty shoddy), it's widely believed that Grace O'Malley and Elizabeth I died in the same year, 1603. And the pirate queen was laid to rest at her family's castle on Clare Island in the middle of Clew Bay. 

So on this most sacred of holidays, let's toast to this his fearless, powerful, certifiably badass bitch. Pirate. Wench. Mother. Warrior. National leader the likes of which the world has ever seen since. Slainte', Granuaile.