Grace O’Malley was the daughter of the O’Malley Clan’s chieftain, whose holdings were located off the west coast of Ireland in the 16th century.
Grace wanted to be on the sea from the time she was little. She would beg her father to take her with him when he went trading overseas. But of course, Grace was told that a ship was no place for a girl. Grace was determined to prove that she could do what it took to be a sailor, so she cut her hair short and dressed as a boy. After much pushing, Grace finally convinced her father to let her accompany him overseas.
Grace was a hard worker, and she did everything she could to learn about the sea. She married twice. Both were matches that initially gained her more power and holdings, particularly near the sea. Her first husband died in battle, and she proposed marriage to her second in order to create a more impressive stand against the invading English.
Upon the death of her father, Grace inherited the family trading business. She taxed anyone who wanted to fish off her land or sail through her waters. If anyone refused to pay, Grace and her men would help themselves to whatever they wanted. They pillaged ships and castles, kidnapped notable people for ransom, and retaliated against any who offered her insult.
She caused so much trouble that the English tried to put a stop to her exploits, but Grace beat their initial attacks. She was an impressive strategist, which is clear from the way she negotiated her own advantageous marriage and convinced her father to let her engage in traditionally boy activities, but she also must have been an exceptional fighter, since she literally led her men into battle again and again.
Alas, Grace’s influence and power didn’t last. As England’s power in Ireland continued to grow, Grace’s power lessened. It is unclear when and how she died, but to this day, her descendants celebrate her life at the Westport House Estate, which was built upon the old foundation of O’Malley’s castle, with an adventure park, a statue, exhibits, and tours.