“Rapturous Life Defiant”

Below is a tribute poem to Grania Uaile (Grace O’Malley)…Queen of Clew Bay, Irish chieftain, pirate, trader and seafarer. I have been told by my mother that she is an ancestor of ours.  Historians have varying perceptions as to her virtues and vices, but no one can deny that she was a fierce and strong woman who fought for the people she loved. Definitely a woman ahead of her time.

Oh, no; ’twas not for sordid spoil
Of barque or seaboard borough
She ploughed, with unfatiguing toil,
The fluent, rolling furrow;
Delighting on the broad back’d deep,
To feel the quivering galley
Strain up the opposing hill, and sweep
Down the withdrawing valley.

Or, sped before a driving blast,
By following seas up-lifted,
Catch, from the huge heaps heaving past
And from the spray they drifted,
And from the winds that tossed the crest,
Of each wide-shouldering giant,
The smack of freedom and the zest
Of rapturous life defiant.

Sweet when crimson sunsets glow’d
As earth and sky grew grander,
Adown the grass’d unechoing road,
Atlanticward to wander,
Some kinsman’s humbler heart to seek
Some sick bedside, it may be,
Or, onward reach, with footsteps meek,
The low, grey, lonely abbey.

~Sir S. Furguson

Some interesting folklore:  Even though she had long, dark hair, Grace is often called ‘Grace the Bald’. It is said that when Grace was a young girl, she asked her father if she could sail with him. He refused to take her, because she was a girl.  However, Grace was determined to go with him, so she cut off all her hair and dressed in boys’ clothes.  She went back to her father and said, ‘Now will you take me?’

And so the adventures began…

One memorable story shows how Grace dealt with her enemies. Grace and Sir Richard Bingham were deadly enemies. He had been sent to the west of Ireland by the Queen of England to control the Irish. He made life very difficult for Grace, taking her lands and cattle. Once, Bingham locked her away in jail. Grace became so angry that, in 1593, she wrote to Queen Elizabeth I to complain about Bingham and his nasty ways. Elizabeth agreed to see Grace. It is also saidi that during that meeting with Queen Elizabeth, Grace sneezed in the presence of the Queen and her lords and ladies. A member of the court, in an act of politeness, handed Grace an attractive and expensive lace handkerchief. She took the delicate cloth and proceded to blow her nose loudly then tossed the kerchief into a blazing fireplace. The members of the court were aghast that she would be so rude to toss an expensive gift so easily into the fire. The Queen then scolded her and said that the handkerchief was meant as a gift and should have been put into her pocket. Grace replied that the Irish would never put a soiled garment into their pocket and apparantly had a higher standard of cleanliness. After a period of uncomfortable silence, (during which the members of the court expected the Queen to have Grace executed for her rude behavior) nervous then roaring laughter followed. The Queen was amused.

She was also a mother who protected her own.  Grace’s son Tibbott (Toby) was born aboard her ship. She defended her new-born son from an attack from Barbary Pirates.

Grace was definitely used to living life on the edge and taking risks. Another interesting tidbit:  Grace loved to play cards – one of her nicknames was ‘Grace of the Gamblers’.

In another story, Grace arrived at Howth Castle and requested hospitality. When she was refused because the “family was at supper” she kidnapped the young heir and held him until Baron Howth promised that the gates of his castle would never again be closed to unexpected visitors and to have an extra place set at every meal.

http://www.libraryireland.com/HealyEssays/Grania1.php

http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/grace-o-malley-16th-century-pirate-queen-ireland-001773

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