I Am Woman! Watch Me Sail!

When considering famous pirates, there’s the infamous Captain Hook from Peter Pan, the dashing Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and the cunning Captain Long John Silver from Treasure Island to name a few.  As you examine these characters, you notice that these are all male pirates, but have you ever thought about what a female pirate would be like.  Yes, they do exist, although less common than male pirates.  And one of the most famous female pirates was Grace O’Malley.  She was a woman who lived no ordinary life and a fair amount of it dealt with pillage and plunder!

Grace O’Malley was born in Ireland in 1530.  As every child has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up, so did Grace.  Her dream was to ride the high seas as a sailor.  And as every child has obstacles to overcome, Grace had her fair share of discouragement, due to her gender.  But Grace was determined to get what she wanted.  She even went to extreme lengths of cutting her hair and dressing as a boy to prove that she had the chops to live a sailor’s life.  Convinced by her persistence, Mr. O’Malley eventually allowed his daughter to accompany him on many overseas trading missions.  And on one of the missions, Grace proved to her father that he did not make a mistake in bringing her aboard, as she saved the vessel from an attack of English pirates.

Grace O’Malley Poet Shirt:

Grace O'Malley shirt

As any good apprentice does, Grace continued to diligently learning the ropes of the sea and grew up to be a fine sailor, eventually owning her own fleet of ships.  And though she came from a wealthy background, Grace still had the yearning for living on the edge and took up piracy by taking on Turkish, Spanish, and English pirate ships.  As time marched forward, Grace made a name for herself as a fearless leader through her victories in battle.  She was truly living the dream!  In fact, rumor has it that Grace gave birth to her first son at sea.

Grace O’Malley Skirt:

Grace O'Malley skirt

As far as personal life goes, Grace was married twice.  Her first husband was Donal O’Flaherty, who came from a seafaring family, similar to the O’Malley’s.  This was a perfect fit for Grace and she wasted no time soaking in knowledge and experience to better her sailing expertise.  Her efforts paid off and she quickly earned the respect of the O’Flaherty clan and was soon put in charge of their fleets.  Grace and Donal were married for nineteen years until he was killed in battle.

After Donal’s death, Grace remained with the O’Flaherty clan for a while, but eventually got restless and wanted to pave her own way.  She went back to the O’Malley clan and rose to power as a Chieftain in no time.  Shortly after this, Grace married her second husband, Richard Burke.  This marriage began as a political move on Grace’s part to gain greater control of the west coast islands of Ireland.  However, what started off as usury ended up being a seventeen year marriage until Richard passed away.  Between both marriages, Grace had three sons and one daughter.

In 1593, after years of fighting the English, they captured Grace’s brother and son.  Grace knew she had to do something, but what?  Exercising her bravery, Grace went to visit Queen Elizabeth to ask for the release of her family.  The Queen agreed to Grace’s demands, but did not fully live up to her word.  Grace returned to Ireland and sometime later, she was captured by Sir Richard Bingham, a ruthless governor, appointed by the Queen.

Bingham imprisoned Grace and was planning her execution.  Fortunately, Grace was saved by her son-in-law, who offered himself as a hostage in her place.  Bingham released Grace, but vowed to make her suffer.  Over the course of time, Bingham played a huge part in stripping Grace of her wealth and power, forcing her into poverty.

Grace’s later years were spent leading rebellions and died around 1603 at about 70 years of age.  Her story is not one that you hear every day and she was a unique and brave woman, who had adventures that most of us merely dream of!  If you are feeling inspired and are ready to dress for adventure, check out your options at:  http://www.historicalclothingrealm.com/

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