Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Grace O'Malley: The Pirate Queen

The English & The Lady Pirate

English soldiers from Galway attacked Grace at Hen's castle. She did not have many men with her and was facing a dismal situation. Unwilling to surrender, Grace ordered her men to strip the castle's lead roof and to melt the lead. She also sent a man through an underground tunnel with a message for help.

When the English attacked again, the melted lead poured over the castle walls upon their heads. The English troops quickly withdrew to regroup. This allowed Grace and her men time to escape from the castle to reach their awaiting ships. They sailed away to join up with the gathering Irish reinforcements. Upon her return to Hen's castle, Grace and her followers handily defeated the English troops. However, this defeat did not deter English attempts to capture her.

Another attempt occurred in 1574 when Captain William Martin set sail with an expedition to capture Grace. They managed to trap her and her men at Rockfleet Castle. For several days Martin and his forces laid siege by land and sea. But Grace was not to be defeated. Through the sheer force of her iron will, she turned the tide of the battle by leading a counter-attack against the English. The vicious and unexpected assault forced Martin and his troops to flee in defeat.

Sir Henry Sidney
Sir Henry Sidney

The O'Malley and McWilliam clans met with Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland, and finally submitted to England by swearing allegiance to the English crown. Grace O'Malley was no fool. She knew it was only a matter of time before the English would either kill or capture her. She had to come up with a way of keeping the baying English hounds off her heels. Emily Arnold McCully in The Pirate Queen tells how Grace met with the English in Dublin and reluctantly gave a pledge of good behavior and loyalty to the crown. Sidney described Grace as "'a most famous feminine sea captain.' "

Book cover: The Pirate Queen
Book cover: The Pirate Queen

Despite pledging her loyalty, Grace still had no intention of stopping her raids.