Almost five centuries ago, an 11-year-old Irish girl pleaded with her father. Eager to emulate this intrepid sailor, she begged him to board her ship and join his next expedition. His request was denied. The reason he gave: His long red hair got caught in the ship’s ropes.
The next time this captain saw his daughter, she was almost bald. The cheeky girl had mowed her own hair and was on the verge of blazing a new path for Irish women. These are the daring first steps of a future pirate queen.
Her name was Grace O’Malley. Yet the Gaelic nickname that has long bellowed across the rough seas of Ireland was Granuaile (Gron-ya-wail), or “Bald Grace”. The fiercest woman in Irish history, she traded with Queen Elizabeth I, rebelled against the English army and for decades commanded ships that plundered the oceans near Ireland, even during a strong pregnancy.
Now this extraordinary pirate tale is about to reach a wider audience. A Granuaile tourist trail is being developed by Mayo County Council and Failte Ireland, the country’s national tourism body. Anna Connor, the council’s tourism development manager, said signage will guide visitors through Mayo’s majestic countryside to sites that Granuaile has created.
Covering 2,156 square miles, Mayo is the third largest of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland, similar in size to Northumberland, but with less than half of its population already skinny. Located on the west coast of Ireland, Mayo is renowned for its sacred mountains, serene beaches, rivers rich in salmon, enclosures full of cattle, and quaint fishing villages. The native Gaelic language is still widely spoken in traditional communities.
Granuaile is one of Mayo’s heroes, and his story is particularly relevant now as Ireland marks the centenary of its independence from Great Britain, with commemorative events held throughout 2021. Connor says the trail Granuaile will pay tribute to a woman who was “one of the last Irish rulers to defend against English rule in Ireland.” “
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The trail will include the picturesque town of Westport, where Granuaile was born in 1530; the beaches of Clew Bay, where his ships docked; its castles on the mountainous islands of Clare and Achill; and Clare Island Abbey, where she was buried at age 73.