Among many historical female pirates, Grace O' Malley distinguished herself as one of the most famous and accomplished. During her life in 16th century, she managed to protect the lands of the west Ireland as a skillful and ruthless politician, strong fighter and a notorious leader of her pirate fleet. Under her command life of the Irish commoners remained relatively untouched by the rising threat of English crown, and military and political leaders remembered her exploits vividly even decades after her death. People of ireland on the other hand even today remember her as one of the greatest figures of their history. Legends and myths of her life intertwine with the historical facts, making her one of the most prominent figure of the Irish folklore.
If one thing can be said of Grace O' Malley early life, then it was her incredible love for the sea. She was born around 1530, as a daughter of the wealthy nobleman and merchant Owen O'Malley who spent the majority of his time with this trade fleet. Although her family wanted her to remain on land and receive high education and become a lady, Grace insisted on becoming a sailor. As the legend goes, when she heard that she cannot accompany her father on his journey to Spain, she cut her hair, dressed as a boy and tried to board the ship on her own. Upon discovering her attempt, her entire family laughed and gave her the nickname "Grainne Mhaol" (which remains attributed to her even today). Other legends tell that she accompanied her father on his journeys since very young age, and has even managed to save his life during one pirate attacks when she jumped from the sail riggings on the back of the pirate who was about to kill her father.
Though the marriages with Donal O'Flahetty and Risdeárd an Iarainn Bourke, Grace managed to obtain significant wealth, lands and political influence in the West Ireland. As a commander of her father and husband's fleets, she carried several successful attacks against the pirates that visited the coast of Ireland. During her feud with the port of the city Galway she often commanded her ship to stop traders who visited those ports. After the initial bartering about the "fee of safe passage", she let loose her crew pillage those ships if their captains were not cooperating. Her piracy exploits soon made her so rich that he controlled five castles around her homeland.
In the years when England crown started expanding their influence to the Ireland, Grace remained independent. She fought against their plans to buy off every Irish lord they found, but her luck runs out when ruthless Governor Richard Bingham managed to capture her and punish her for her crimes of rebellion and piracy. Grace managed to escape the death penalty, but for a price of all her wealth. She continued to be an important political player in the Ireland, even having direct negotiations with the Queen of England, Elizabeth.
Grace O'Malley died as a respected and independent noblewoman around 1603 at Rockfleet castle.