The Pirate Queen of Ireland
Grace “Grania” O’Malley was born around 1530. She was the daughter of Dudara “Black Oak” O’Malley, a powerful Irish chieftain who ran dozens of ships in a herring fleet. Just before Black Oak died he arranged a political marriage, giving fifteen-year-old Grace as a bride to Donal-an-Cogahaidh, a son of the O’Flaherty clan. The marriage ended 100 years of animosity between the two clans, and created as powerful a political alliance as Ireland would know for another few hundred years. Donal-an-Cogahaidh was mortally battle-axed while trying to take an island fortress called Cock’s Castle, and Grace was left a widow with three kids to look after. Irish law wouldn’t allow Grace to be named the Chieftain, so she allowed her uncle to assume the post and ruled through him.
Her first act as the de facto Queen of the Irish Sea was to assemble her father’s fishing fleet and set sail to earn wealth and respect as a pirate. Years of sailing at her father’s side had left Grace with an intimate knowledge of the coves, reefs and currents around the British Isles, and she attacked those Isles, stealing and burning with impunity. Almost immediately she attacked and took command of Cock’s Castle where her poor oafish Donal had bitten the dust. She didn’t lose a man.
Anyone, male or female, raised by a hairy Irish chief called Black Oak, would surely learn how to drink, and Grace took to the craft with relish. Her father had instilled her with an uncommon thirst for all the whiskey she could get her bonny-wee hands upon. Even though custom would not allow Grace to be called Chief, Irish women were allowed to drink as much as they chose and were permitted — nay, expected — to join the men-folk in battle.
Alcohol was also right at the top of her list of good things to steal. It was as much a part of clan life as bread, as was typical in just about any pre-industrial society you care to name. After every successful raid, Grace doled out the hooch and led the toasts at banquets that sang on ‘til sun-up.
Some years later, Grace married the chief of another powerful clan, a fellow called Richard-in-Iron because he always wore a chain mail shirt. Richard gave Grace a son, whom she named Tibbott-ne-Long. She gave birth to the boy aboard her flag ship, abating her birth pains with whiskey, as was the custom.
Less than twelve hours later Grace’s ship was attacked by a Turkish corsair. Her men gave a good go at fending off the Turks, but were outmanned and outnumbered, and sent word below to their captain that all was lost. Grace handed Tibbott to a servant, drank several long swallows from a bottle of whiskey, wrapped a blanket around herself and entered the fray. The Turks stared wide-eyed at the sight of Grace storming from the hold, a pistol in each hand, her red hair billowing wildly in the wind and smoke. She fired both weapons point blank into the Turkish sailors, drew a sword from her belt and screamed: “Take this from an infidel hand!”
Grace’s ferocious arrival turned the tide of the fight. She put such a fright into the Turks that they fled back to their corsair, with Grace’s men foaming at their heels. An hour later Grace was the owner of a fine corsair and a slew of Turkish captives, whom she hanged at dawn the next day. The party that followed echoed from the very heavens.
Grace lost none of her fire as she aged, eventually running afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s navy. She was arrested for piracy, but petitioned the Queen for leniency in such flowing and complimentary prose that something stirred in the Queen. She summoned Grace for an audience behind closed doors, at the end of which Grace and all her men were released and given property along the coast of Ireland. Elizabeth also knighted Grace’s son, Tibbott, and he became Sir Theobold Burke in 1603. The same year his mother, Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland, died.