Grainne (Grace) O’Malley, the main character in Pirate Woman by Viola Russell

What is your story?

I’m Grainne (Grace) O’Malley, the main character in Viola Russell’s Pirate Woman. I am a chieftain’s daughter, born in Ireland in 1530. My countrymen call me a Pirate Queen, and I share a birthdate with another queen, Elizabeth I. In many ways, I followed a conventional path. My father married me to a chieftain, Donal O’Flaherty, and I bore him three children. After he died, I wed Richard Bourke, an even more powerful chieftain, but this marriage was of my choosing. I knocked on his door and made a business deal with him. Little did I know it would turn into much more.

In almost every other way my life was conventional. At eleven years old, I cut my hair and sneaked aboard my father’s ship. After my marriages, I continued my life of piracy and also developed the legitimate shipping interests of my father and my two husbands.

My whole life has been one of survival. I’ve outlived two husbands and the death of my lover Bruce. When my family members faced death at the hands of British authorities, I negotiated their release with Queen Elizabeth, winning over her feared lord deputy. My goal in life was to see my family and clan survive in the face of fierce competition among clans and in the face of British oppression. In that respect, I won, but often, winning came at a steep price. I saw my children take their places in Irish society, and I piloted my own ships into my 70s.

Where do you live?

I live in the West of Ireland. My father was a chieftain, and my shipping interests–both legitimate and not so legitimate–covered almost every inch of Ireland and Europe.

Do you embrace conflict?

Because of the British presence in my land and the competition among the clans, conflict was part of my daily life. I spent time in prison and fought soldiers at my castle. I sent enemy chieftains running and regretting that they ever crossed me. While I didn’t want the conflict, I sometimes loved the chase, and outfoxing the Brits–as well as rival chieftains–also excited me.

Do you run from conflict?

Running is something I could never afford to do. The nature of my business placed me in the path of conflict. I challenged my father’s authority and constantly challenged my husbands. When my husband Donal was murdered, I faced marauders at the castle with my children–and sent many of the marauders to God. When the Crown threatened to put my sons and brother to death, I faced the most powerful queen in Britain’s history.

How do your enemies see you?

My enemies see me as a foul hag. They have accused me of everything from promiscuity to witchcraft, but they only hate me because I outsmart them.

What are your achievements?

I have elevated my father’s clan and that of my husbands. I elevated the O’Flaherty clan with little help from my husband Donal. He made one stupid move after another, and eventually, his clan named me as representative of the family. My children married into prominent families, and my son Tibbot proved to be a credit to the clan. I also have captained my ships into my 70s.

Do you have a hero?

There were several heroic men in my life. I worshipped my father. He was fearless but loving and adored me. Bruce, my first love, was brave and gave his life for me. Richard, my second husband, was an amazing warrior who also had nerve and cunning. He was my equal in every way.

What do you want?

I want my clan and family to survive. To achieve that goal, I’ve sacrificed my personal safety and spilled blood.

What do you regret?

Regret is pointless. Time cannot be altered. I may wish that certain things were different. I wish I had realized the depth of my feelings for Richard earlier. I wish my son Owen hadn’t been murdered by soldiers in front of his children. And maybe–in another life–Bruce and I would be an ordinary couple raising sheep in the countryside.

Who was your first love?

Bruce Donnel, one of my father’s gallowglasses/mercenaries, was my first love. In a different life, Bruce and I would have lived as lovers and never had to be parted.

Have you ever had an adventure?

I’ve had numerous adventures. My son Tibbot was born at sea. As a girl, I sneaked aboard my father’s ship and killed a man during a raid. I was thrown into prison and escaped death as I awaited the noose.

What is your favorite beverage?

I love whiskey and keep a flask upon me aboard ship. At home while dining, I drink wine like a proper chieftain’s wife.


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