16. A Fearless Irish Female Pirate
Sixteenth-century Irish heroine Grace O’Malley (circa 1530 – circa 1603) fought the English on land and preyed upon them at sea. They vilified her as “a woman who hath imprudently passed the part of womanhood“, and she was mostly ignored by contemporary chroniclers. Yet, her memory lived on in native folklore, and nationalists eventually lionized her as an icon of the Irish fight for freedom. It was a struggle that took place against the background of two Irelands in those days, with two distinct cultures.
There was Dublin and its environs, an English enclave ever fearful of the hinterland comprising the rest of Ireland. The rest of Ireland was the land of the native Irish and the Gaelicized Old English, whom the English viewed as uncivilized and wild, given to raid and strife and interminable violence. O’Malley was born and raised in Connaught, in western Ireland, part of the “wild Irish” hinterland, which consisted of numerous autonomous territories. Its rulers and inhabitants frequently feuded, raided each other, rustled cattle, captured and lost castles and strongholds, and otherwise vied for advantage and dominance. All were part of a clientele system, in which the weak aligned with the strong, offering tribute in exchange for protection.