Gráinne Ní Mháille
On that black night, a threatening blanket of clouds sealed the sky. The seaside village winked with lights and plunged into the shrouding darkness.
Grace O’Malley wiped her hands on her apron and looked at her husband, whose features seemed to be slipping away out of focus. Margaret, Grace’s youngest daughter, was fighting over something with Owen. “Where is Murrough?” thought Grace. “Time to bed!” She yelled and went out.
A chilling wind blew through the pines, shaking off cones. The well oiled lantern threw off ebony shadows. Following its flickering beam, Grace stepped into the dark barn. A smell of sweet hay tickled her nostrils.
She walked along the stalls and pens, feeling being intently watched. The horses were unusually nervous, stomping and snorting. To calm her creeping fear, Grace stroked the velvety muzzles of the gallant steeds.
Her heart pounding, Grace locked the barn, but the strange feeling never left her, even when she was back to the soothing warmth of her kitchen. “You look terrified Gráinne, did anything happen?” asked her husband. “No, it's just that...nothing,” she stuttered.
Upstairs her fears alleviated. “Murrough is in the woodshed playing with friends,” explained Margaret “ I went in, but he chased me away, and called me a snotty creep” “Oh that boy!” sighed Grace. “Maeve, if you don't stand up to yourself you'll never win.” “Anyway, to bed my lass.” Margaret dove into her bed and closed her eyes. Grace kissed her and softly crooned long forgotten by now Gaelic song:
Nach doiligh domhsa mo chailín a moladh,
Ní hé amháin mar bhí sí rua,
Bhí sí mar gha gréine ag dul in éadan na ngloiní,
Is bhí scéimh mhná na Finne le mo chailín rua.……….
Around midnight, Grace woke up, startled. There was a persistent rapping at the front door. “Is it a dream?” The rapping was real.
In the darkness, Grace slipped downstairs and peeked through a window crack. Mysterious shadows moved around the yard. She slightly opened the door and angrily called “Murrough, come right in! I’ll tell your father!” A tall figure leapt towards the door. Alas, it was not Murrough. She slammed the door shut. Panic rising inside her, Grace dashed upstairs: “The Joyces!” Her hoarse voice drowned in a loud hammering on the front door and sounds of the crashing crown-glass windows. “Take fleet to the sea!” bellowed Donal running downstairs with the sword and dagger in his hands.
Grace shook the children awake. Murrough was still absent. A scuffling sound issued out of the closet. “By golly…...” Grace picked up a candle stick and swung the door open… Murrough sat on a pile of cloth. “Whatever the matter, such a ruckus! I will not get up and clean the stalls!” “Murrough!” growled Grace, “Follow me!”
Dumbfounded, Murrough quickly got up and followed Grace. Straining their ears towards the muffled sounds of the fight, they tiptoed into the hallway. “a haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathair……” Grace muttered, jerking aside a tapestry that covered a sturdy oak door, opening with an effort.
The gray stone walls of the passage were very damp and cold. Grace knew they were beneath the kitchen. They could hear stomping and victorious shouts of the Joyces. She grabbed Maeve and started to run, stumbling on her skirt.
In about twenty minutes, Grace heard the lapping of waves as she and children pulled themselves through the trapdoor into a prickly evergreen thicket. The moon had peeked out. An open heath spread as far as the eye could see. O'Malley fleet peacefully rocked on the water.
The salty breeze pulled and tangled Grace’s hair as she hastened toward the wharf. The glow of flames licking their house made her heart sink. “Donal....” Her face distorted with pain and her teeth clenched, “If you don’t stand up to yourself, you'll never win!”
Stepping onto the slippery dock opened a whole new chapter in Grace's life.
Grace O’Malley was the daughter of the O’Malley clan chieftain. At age 16 she married Donal O'Flaherty, a man of violent temper, who was killed in a fight against the Joyce Clan. Even though she was entitled to a third of her husband's property, her petition for her rights was rejected. Grace spent the rest of her life pirating, plundering, and fighting to regain her wealth. By the time when the Irish Chieftain system was prohibited by the English rule, Grace, called the Pirate Queen, built a tremendous wealth for herself and her clan.
Once again the wheel of fortune spun against Grace; the O'malley fleet was defeated, and she herself was captured. By appealing for a direct audience with Queen Elizabeth, which was granted, Grace regained her castle and estate, where she lived for the rest of her life, giving over the command of her fleet to her son. She died at an old age in Rockfleet Castle.
“Nach doiligh domhsa mo chailín a moladh….”
Oh, my red haired girl,
she was like a ray of sun reflected through glass,
and she had the beauty of a Finne woman.”
Her mind was drifting away to the past. 73 year-old Grace O'Malley, Her Majesty Queen of Pirates, lay in her room on a sumptuous bed. A salty, chilling wind blew from the sea, causing the tall grasses to roll back like giant serpents. The candles on the massive gold candelabras illuminated her proud face. Opening her eyes, Gráinne gazed at her grown-up children. She lifted up her head, beckoning Owen to step forward. In a stately voice she uttered an ancient Celtic blessing, concluded with her favorite “mantra”: “If you don't stand up to yourself, you’ll never win”. The next day the O'Malley fleet didn’t go out to sea.
The room was stifling. Grace’s breath was heavy and spazmatic. With effort she asked her daughter to open up the windows for the salty breeze, and help her to sit up. Looking at the moonless sky, with a triumphant smile Gráinne Ní Mháille joined the cosmic darkness on that black night.