In Eyre Square, the center of the old city of Galway, there hang 14 banners with the names of the tribal families of the region. On one of those banners is the name O’Flaherty. The O’Flahertys were the most notorious of the 14 families. Their men were known to be drinkers, fighters and ruthless killers. It’s said that when you were going to bed at night to say your prayers, after thanking God for all your blessings and forgiveness of your sins, you’d finish the prayer by saying, “God preserve us from the ferocious O’Flahertys,” because it was a real possibility, that on their way home from a night of drinking and carousing, if they passed by your house, the O’Flaherty boys might decide on a whim to break and and kill the lot of you.
Now what does that have to do with a Galway girl? Well, it has to do with the woman one of the O’Flahertys married. There was a young lady named Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol) nearly as infamous as the O’Flahertys. Little Grace was the daughter of a pirate. And rather than play with dollies and stay at home with her Mam, Grace craved to follow after her father’s footsteps. Her father of course, thought this was ridiculous and told her to settle down and be a good girl. Grace was having none of it.
So great was her desire to go to sea, that she cut off all her hair, stole the clothing of a neighbor boy and sneaked onto her father’s ship just as it was about to go out of port. It was only after they were far away from land that Grace revealed herself to her father. Her father, naturally, was angry, but he also saw Grace’s determination and ferocity. So he set about to take the girl under his wing and teach her the ways of pirating. Grace eventually took over the family business and became known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland.
Grace outlasted two husbands. The first -O’Flaherty- was killed after sustaining grievous wounds in a fight. The second -Richard Burke- was a wealthy lord and landowner. However, after just a year of marriage, legend says that O’Malley and her followers locked themselves in Rockfleet Castle and she called out a window to Burke, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” This effectively rendered them divorced. But she retained much of his holdings.
Later, after having dealings with Queen Elizabeth I, it’s said that the English Monarch developed a soft spot for Grace. Grace claimed that both of her husbands had abused her during their married lives and this evoked pity from the Virgin Queen, so much so that as Grace attained old age, the queen bestowed a pension upon the Pirate Queen of Ireland.
So let’s hear it for the Galway Girl. Cunning and fierce, wealthy and powerful. And as wicked as they come!