Gráinne Ní Mháille was chieftain of the Ó Máille clan in the west of Ireland, following in the footsteps of her father Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille. Commonly known as Gráinne Mhaol (anglicised as Granuaile) in Irish folklore, she is a well-known historical figure in 16th-century Irish history, and is sometimes known as ‘The Sea Queen of Connacht’. She was well-educated and regarded by contemporaries as being exceptionally formidable and competent.
Upon her father’s death she inherited his large shipping and trading business (a trade sometimes referred to as mere piracy). Through income from this business, land inherited from her mother, and property and holdings from her first husband, Dónal an Chogaidh (Dónal ‘the warlike’) Ó Flaithbheartaigh, O’Malley was very wealthy (reportedly owning as much as 1,000 head of cattle and horses). In 1593, when her sons Tibbot Burke (Tiobóid de Búrca) and Murrough O’Flaherty (Murchadh Ó Flaithbheartaigh), and her half-brother Dónal an Phíopa (‘Dónal of the Pipes’) were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, O’Malley sailed to England to petition for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth I at her court in Greenwich Palace.
The historic meeting with Queen Elizabeth I and the ‘pirate queen’ took place at Greenwich Castle. Their conversation was carried out in English, as Grace spoke no Latin and Elizabeth spoke no Irish. The encounter was a success for Grace as Elizabeth granted each of her requests on the condition she ceased all rebellion against the crown.
However, several of O’Malley’s other demands (including the return of the land that Bingham had stolen from her) remained unresolved. Furthermore, Elizabeth eventually reinstated Bingham in Ireland. Upon Bingham’s return to power, Grace realised that the meeting with Elizabeth had been useless, and her clan supported the Irish insurgents during later clashes with the English.
Westport House in Co Mayo, Ireland, was the seat of the 11th Marquess of Sligo and his family, direct descendants of O’Malley. The current house was built close to the site of Cahernamart (Cathair na Mart – “fort of the slaughtered cows”), an O’Malley fort. The original house was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who was at the Siege of Limerick (1650–51), and his wife Maude Bourke. Maude Bourke was O’Malley’s great-great granddaughter.
Pádraig Pearse rewrote the lyrics to Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile as a rallying call to Irish nationalists leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising removing Séarlas Óg (Young Charles), referring to Bonnie Prince Charlie and dating to the third Jacobite rising of 1745-6, and replacing it with Gráinne Mhaol.