a. Should We Call Grace O'Malley a Pirate? (KS1)
2. Grace O'Malley in the Literacy Hour
Historical fiction & fantasy
3. Poetry & Song
4. Reference: Grace O'Malley
5. Reference: Historical background
The name ‘Grace O’Malley’ conjures up for some an image of an amazon- type woman, ruthless and domineering, performing incredible deeds with no particular end in mind; for others the name is associated with a figure of fiery patriotism, whose sole aim in life was to expel the foreign invader from native soil.
The O'Malleys existed as an independent clan, paying and receiving tribute. They were, however, unusual among Gaelic families in that they earned their living from both land and sea. They traded raw materials in exchange for luxury goods, ferried Scottish mercenaries, fished, plundered, engaged in opportunistic piracy, and levied a toll on all shipping in O'Malley waters.
Like her father, Grace was black-haired, dark-skinned and strong. Twice married, she had two sons and a daughter by Donal O'Flaherty, and one son, Tibbot-na-Long or Theobald of the Ships, her favourite, by 'Iron' Richard Burke.
According to one horrified Tudor official, she ‘hath impudently passed the part of womanhood and been a great spoiler and chief commander and director of thieves and murderers at sea’. Such was Grace’s power that in 1593 Elizabeth I agreed to meet her in London to consider requests for money and permission ‘to invade with sword and fire’ the queen’s enemies.
The only Gaelic woman ever to appear at court, ‘the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high, before the English Queen she dauntless stood ... well used to power [and] dominion over men of savage mood’. Her petition was successful, but Grace died ten years later outwitted and impoverished by Tudor officials who never forgave her earlier ‘betrayals’.
Sources & evidence
‘the Irish annalists, whether out of chagrin that a mere woman could figure
Her memory was largely kept alive through her re-invention in song and literature as a nationalist symbol.
However, while much that is remembered of her has gained the status of myth, there remains enough evidence of Grace as a historical person to merit a re-evaluation of her role. Evidence from the English State papers and manuscripts suggests that she played no small part in Irish affairs at that time.
Her name is recorded for posterity in the Elizabethan State Papers; her exploits are reported in official state dispatches of such notables as Sir Henry Sidney, Sir Nicholas Malby, Sir Richard Bingham, Sir John Perrott, Lord Justice Drury and Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her name finds its way into the Sidney, Salisbury and Carew manuscripts, the Dictionary of National Biography and a fascinating and informative narrative of her life and lifestyle occurs in her own replies to the eighteen articles of interrogatory put to her by the English government in 1593.
Such records show that, while the mythical figure of Granuaile in song and story has a certain magic, the real Grace O’Malley is more interesting still. She was ‘an exceptional woman, alive, vital and daring, who lived life to its limits, and who possessed all the requirements necessary for survival in that era. A woman who plied her family trade with all the expertise it required, and who above all elseput her own interests and those of the small remote domain over which she ruled first, in the never-ending struggle for survival.’
Tudor conquest of Ireland
The arrival of the Normans did not result in the subjugation of Ireland: the Normans superimposed their control on the existing society and coexisted with it. The great Gaelic lordships retained their autonomy and the Normans adjusted easily to the local and regional power structures of the country. By 1500 government control over the country was feeble and haphazard.
A century later, the situation was transformed. The significance of the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) is that the Tudors consolidated the position of central government in a manner hitherto unknown, and gradually curtailed and ultimately subdued the power of the local lords.
This revolution in government affected England and Wales as well as Ireland, but in the Irish case the process was most painful and was achieved only through a series of conflicts, most notably the Nine Years War (1594-1603), and plantations. The apparatus of government was extended, the bureaucracy developed, common law supplanted local custom and Brehon Law. The extension of Tudor control meant that the days of independent figures like Grace O’Malley were numbered.
Apart from the extension of government control, the Reformation was the other great development of the sixteenth century. The fact that the two came together guaranteed that the new religious ideas would receive a hostile reception in Ireland.
Tudor images of Ireland
While excluding from its strictures the civil subjects of the Pale, Image of Ireland is heavily laden with anti-Irish, anti-Catholic views. Most notably, the friars are shown exhorting and absolving the rebellions of the Gaelic lords. The woodcut of the MacSweyne’s alfresco feast emphasises the barbarity of the proceedings - the lack of a proper table, the proximity of the slaughtering and cooking, and the less than delicate manners of all concerned.
Confidence in the power of both Gaelic chieftains and the bards themselves gave way to foreboding as ‘English ways' became more prevalent and then to lamentation at the passing of both the old order and theinfluence of the bards. As an Ulster poet complained in the early seventeenth century:
Where have the Gaels gone?
We have in their stead an arrogant, impure crowd,
What is meant by the Tudor conquest?
The process, generally seen as getting under way in 1534 and lasting until 1603, involved conflicts of increasing scale: the Kildare rebellion, the war of the Geraldine League, the revolt of Shane O’Neill, the Desmond and Baltinglass revolts, and the Nine Years War.
Why was the conquest undertaken?
The original objective in 1534 was merely the reform of the Pale under the closer direction of Whitehall. This departure coincided with England’s break with Rome, which left her diplomatically isolated and strategically vulnerable.
Creating own momentum & problems
The creation of the kingdom of Ireland (1541) necessarily entailed consideration of administrative centralization across the whole island. When the related integrative policy of surrender and regrant faltered, the placement of garrisons in Leix and Offaly caused the O’Mores and O’Connors to appeal to France. The line of the Pale was breached, the frontier was now moving, and the process continuous.
The commissions of martial law to local commanders introduced by Sussex in 1556 escalated the level of violence involved. A new English colonialism justified by old chauvinist ideas and new religious prejudices was generated, with land-hungry younger sons acquiring confiscated Irish estates as a means of providing an income and gentry status.
Role of lords deputy: reform or conquest?
Canny asserts that Sidney produced a blueprint of plantations and provincial presidencies for the establishment of Tudor rule. Brady insists that the government’s intention was always the establishment of the common law by reform not conquest, and concentrates on Sidney’s alternative policy of composition. Crawford emphasizes the role of the privy council. This executive body had an obvious interest in making English sovereignty effective. At local level the object was shire government with sheriffs, justices of the peace, jailhouses, and visiting assizes. Most of Ireland was shired on paper by the mid-1580s, but it was physical control of the country after 1603 that enabled the system to operate.
Expeditions into the interior against errant Gaelic lords were pointless. The only effective strategy was the establishment of garrisons followed by spoliation of the people, their crops, and their livestock, bringing starvation and eventual submission. These tactics were very expensive to maintain and were employed only in the Desmond and Nine Years wars.
Massacres took place at Rathlin, Belfast, Mullaghmast (2), and Smerwick. Hostages were frequently taken to guarantee ceasefires during wartime and to secure compliance during peacetime. Irish revenues never sustained the cost of the standing army, which had always to be subsidized from England.
The Irish lords also increased and modernized their forces. They employed large numbers of redshanks (light infantry usually hired for the summer months from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during the summer) and then utilized the supply system these developed to increase local infantry recruits. Firearms aided Irish guerrilla tactics, and assisted in victories such as Glenmalure (3) and the Yellow Ford (4), but the infrastructure needed for siege warfare was lacking.
Success or failure?
Irish nationalism and Irish alienation from English rule were chiefly a consequence, rather than a cause, of the Tudor conquest.
Moreover, the new kingdom of Ireland, controlled from London but without a substantial input into the political process there, proved a serious and continuing source of instability in the developing British state. It left a series of unresolved tensions between King James’s three kingdoms which later came back to haunt the Stuart monarchy, precipitating its collapse and the creation of a republic (1638-51).
Canny, N., The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland (1976); Beady, Ciaran, The Chief Governors. The Rise and Fall of Reform Government in Tudor Ireland (1994); Crawford, J., Anglicizing the Government of Ireland: The Irish Privy Council and the Expansion of Tudor Rule 1556-78 (1995); Ellis, S., Ireland in the Age of the Tudors 1447-1603. English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule (1998).
1. Nine Years War (Apr. 1593-Mar. 1603), also known as Tyrone’s rebellion, after the state’s main antagonist in the conflict, Hugh O’Neill, 2nd earl of Tyrone. It arose from Fitzwilliam’s partition of Monaghan, which broke up the MacMahon lordship and threatened other Ulster lordships with a similar fate. The state’s other main antagonist, Red Hugh O’Donnell, was O’Neill’s son-in-law. Their alliance transcended traditional rivalry in Ulster and came to include many other Gaelic lords in an oath-bound confederacy which initially took the form of a secret conspiracy.
The first action of the war was an exercise in manipulation and deceit by O’Neill. After the ejection of a sheriff from Fermanagh, O’Neill fought on the side of the government while simultaneously directing his brother Cormac, and other relatives whom he allegedly could not control, against the state. This was a delaying tactic, because the northern lords were hoping for aid from Spain, where they had sent agents as early as 1592. O’Neill disclosed his true role in February 1595 when he ordered the destruction of the garrison on the river Blackwater. The state finally proclaimed him a traitor in June 1595.
Irish tactics during the war were primarily defensive. The buannacht system (billeting of mercenary soldiers on civilians) used to accommodate redshanks was reoriented to put local troops into the field. These were well trained and leavened with English and Spanish veterans. Up to a third of the confederates fought with firearms, supplied by Scottish and Old English merchants, which enhanced their traditional guerrilla-style tactics. A major lack was artillery, which made the taking of forts and towns, other than by ruse or betrayal, impossible. The English army, surprised by the discipline oftheir opponents, suffered from a divided command, between Lord Deputy Russell and Lord General Norris in 1596-7, and between Black Tom Butler of Ormond and Henry Bagenal in 1598. Their offensive tacticsusually amounted to no more than a single expedition to establish or relieve outlying garrisons. The resulting Irish victories were in fact large ambushes - the Ford of the biscuits (1594), Clontibret (1595), the Yellow Ford (1598). These successes, together with the fall of Sligo and Cavan, allowed the war to spread to Connacht and Leinster in 1595 and to Munster in 1598.
For the Irish, politics was an extension of war. O’Neill used ceasefires and long-drawn-out negotiations as a delaying tactic in which thehard-pressed and factionalised state acquiesced. A compromise, which would have left O’Neill supreme in Ulster, was negotiated in 1596 but aborted by the timely arrival of Spanish agents. Further negotiations, prolonged in the case of Ormond in 1598, and short and secret in the case of Essex in 1599, worked to O’Neill’s advantage. After the debacle of Essex’s lieutenancy, O’Neill and his confederates controlled the greater part of Ireland. Unable to take the towns by force, O’Neill now tried to win over the Old English Catholics. In November 1599 he issued a proclamation requesting the Old English to join his fight for faith and fatherland. A final negotiating position with the crown, which would have provided for an autonomous Catholic Ireland run jointly by its great lords and the Old English, was drawn up. Cecil, the English secretary of state, marked these 22 demands with the word ‘Utopia’.
O’Neill’s adoption ofthe concept of fatherland frightened the crown more than it encouraged the Old English. Mountjoy was rapidly dispatched to Dublin and Docwra established at Lough Foyle behind confederate lines. The strategy was now the establishment of small garrisons, closely placed and mutually supporting, to wear down the economy that supported the irregular warfare of the Irish. The long-heralded Spanish expedition finally landed at Kinsale, only to withdraw ignominiously after O’Neill and O’Donnell abandoned their defensive tactics and risked all in a pitched battle. The garrisons in Ulster brought famine in their wake. One by one O’Neill’s allies sued for peace and he went into hiding. In September 1602 Mountjoy destroyed the symbol of his authority at Tullaghoge.
However,the garrison policy was proving very expensive and could be sustained only by the debasement of the Irish currency. The state was therefore glad when O’Neill submitted at Mellifont in March 1603 (5). The war had cost the English exchequer nearly £2 million - eight times as much as any previous Irish war and as much as Elizabeth’s continental wars. But it had given England complete control of Ireland for the first time since the Anglo-Norman invasion. (pp 338-9)
Morgan, Hiram, Tyrone’s Rebellion(1993).
2. Mullaghmast, massacre of (Nov.-Dec. 1577), the slaughter of Moris O’Moreand at least 40 others after they had been summoned to the fort of Mullaghmast, Co. Kildare, by the soldier-colonists Francis Cosby and Robert Hartpole to do military service. This bloody episode in the troubled relations between the Laois-Offaly planters and the displaced O’Mores and O’Connors occurred at a time when Lord Deputy Sidney was trying to quell the revolt of Rory Óg O’More. (p. 372)
3. Glenmalure, battle of (25 Aug. 1580). The newly arrived Lord Deputy Grey decided on an immediate prosecution of the rebel forces of Viscount Baltinglass and Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne, which had withdrawn into Glenmalure in the Wicklow Mountains. Grey sent half his army under George Moore to flush them out. Soldiers fresh from England in bright coats and officers in armour made easy targets, especially for the hundred ‘shot’ (soldiers with firearms) at O’Byrne’s disposal. At least 30 Englishmen were killed, including Moore himself. (p. 222)
4. Yellow Ford, battle of (14 Aug. 1598), the greatest single defeat suffered by English forces in 16th-century Ireland. The queen’s army under Henry Bagenal, taking supplies to the beleaguered Blackwater Fort, was ambushed in difficult terrain north of Armagh by Hugh O’Neill. Bagenal and 800 of his men were killed and the Blackwater and Armagh garrisons had to be abandoned. O’Neill gained unimpeded access to the midlands enabling in turn the overthrow of the Munster plantation. (p. 601)
5. Mellifont, treaty of (30-1 Mar. 1603), ending the Nine Years War. Moryson’s account has Hugh O’Neill making an unconditional surrender to Mountjoy, unaware of the death of Queen Elizabeth. However, it has been shown that, while the queen’s death was indeed kept secret, O’Neill’s submission was the result of hard bargaining at Tullaghoge and later Mellifont. O’Neill avoided confiscation, gaining a pardon and a new patent for his lands. He abandoned the O’Neill title but crucially retained control of O’Cahan, his principal uirrí (sub-kingship). His position was consolidated at a subsequent meeting with the English privy council. (p. 356)