Sunday, March 15, 2015

Granuaile: Ireland's Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley c.1530-1603 by Anne Chambers

I was looking for the SteelBonnets, the story of Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers in the Half-Price in Skokie. I was fortunate and found it.

But in addition, I found Granuaile, Ireland’s Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley c. 1530-1603, written by Anne Chambers.

For others more familiar with history and the women who shaped it, Grace O'Malley is probably old hat but for me?

As the old James Brown song goes, “It’s a Man’s World.” So when I see something that says, “Hey, in a time and era where women were not expected to be pirate queen’s, here we go!”, I was intrigued to say the least.

I’d never read any work by Anne Chambers before. This one read easy. It’s broken up into chunks of Grace’s life, her family’s life and history, and more importantly, the context of the time.

Grace’s family motto was “powerful by land and sea”. They were “lords of the seas around Ireland.” This included ‘the right to levy tolls for safe passage and the right to sell fishing rights to foreign fleets.”

Anne notes that “unlike most coastal families, the O’Malleys were themselves intrepid seafarers, whose seafaring was not confined to Ireland.” By having this skill set, the O’Malleys are already a step above many others who only use their coastal rights to set charges. They are in the action.
Being so in the action, the “plundered as far as Spain and Scotland.” Being so far afield from home sets a precedent that comes into play later. If one can get to Spain and Scotland from Ireland, one’s reach and grasp are further than those lords who only know Ireland itself.

I like books like this when the author gives the reader a bit of an idea of what people were doing. Here we see “Herring was the principal species caught, with hake, cod, ling, turbot, salmon, and shellfish. The fish was usually salted, sometimes dried and packed in wooden barrels for export. Hides, tallow, freize cloth, deer and sheepskins, furs such as pinemarten, considered a highly fashionable accessory in the sixteenth century, coney, fox and otter were other important commodities from the west of Ireland which found a ready market abroad.”

That’s a lot to take in, but provides a huge swatch of information at the same time. It was no simple thing that the O’Malleys did.

The tone of the book, in its era, in its time, reminds me of another time and another place.

In the late 14th century, Italy was no whole country. It was a collection of independent city-states. This made the country easy pickings for Spain and France, among others, who sought to conquer Italy and even sacked the Holy City of Rome.

The Ireland that Granuaile inhabits, is much the same. There is no collective so powerful that it rules the country entire. Being a pirate queen, one who’s known to have visited Spain and Scotland, she is reputed to have sought out mercenaries and allies from those places. Dangerous charges indeed.

Due to Ireland having no central government capable of fully resisting the might of England, the country falls over the course of Grace’s life. She goes from suffering mightily under the hands of one of England’s lords, one Richard Bingham, to eventually serving Queen Elizabeth.

Anne Chambers wastes few words in discussing the similarities and differences between the two. Granuaile physically taller, but not possessing the same level of sophistication as Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, proud queen and ruler, but no husband. The ‘Virgin’ Queen. Grace? Two husbands and children.

Both women in an era and time that did not allow women to seize such destiny unless they were of bold nature and cunning wit.

Both proved to have it.

In Grace's case though, Anne argues that the Pirate Queen hasn't received her due for numerous reasons. The first of which, is she was not a 'patriot' of Ireland. In a time where only very recently have relations between England and Ireland been 'civil', to capitulate to England during the start of the takeover must have seemed traitorous at best.

Folklore and mythology mixed with oral history didn't let that tradition or information die out though.

Anne also makes a comparison between Grace and her ancient ancestors, suggesting that women had a much larger and more prominent role in Ireland, indeed, in much of the world, before the spread of Roman civilization which brought with it Christianity. 

And Christianity pushed those other goddesses to the back along with the leadership roles that women had.

I'm not a historian, not even an armchair one, but that's an idea that on its surface, seems to have merit and is well worth looking into (as I'm sure many have already done.)

In addition to the text, Anne includes numerous aids for the reader. These include the following:

·          a map of Ireland circa 1530 broekn up by principal lordships,

·         a O’Mally Coat of Arms,

·         an image of a regular galley, as well of one of Granuaile’s,

·         a map of Ireland 1609.

·         Map of Galway City 1611

·         Numerous black and white paintings

·         Photographs including Clare Island Castle, Kildawnet Castle, Howth Castle, Carraigahowle Castle, 
a     among others.

The appendixes are full of great tools to immerse the reader into the time of Grace including poems, paperwork, and other bits that provide a unique look into the life of someone who lived from 1530-1603.

Anyone looking for an example of how even in ‘history’, one can push against the tides and accomplish great deeds needs look no further than Granuaile.