Clare Island was the stronghold of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) who lived by her family trade of piracy and plunder. Born in 1530 Grace O’Malley was thought to be baptized, married and buried at the Abbey; Grace’s  father, Owen (Dubhdara) O`Malley founded the Abbey on Clare Island. Grace was educated by the Cistercian monks and was well versed in English and Latin.

Grace’s ability to communicate by vigour preceded her mastery of foreign languages. Legend portrays her as the Sea Queen who carried the appropriate motto “Terra Mariq Potens”(powerful by land and sea). For decades, with her small fleet of ships, she conquered the western lands of Ireland and battled even as far as the shores of Scotland.  Her career spanned from the supremacy to the suppression of Gaelic rule. Folklore conveys her alliances with English forces, her imprisonment in the goals of Limerick and Dublin, and her partial submission to Elizabeth Ist, Queen of England. Her actions were brave attempts to uphold her government over her fast retreating Gaelic kingdoms.

At the tender age of 16 Grace married her first husband, Donal O`Flaherty from an allied clan of Iar Connaught. Donal’s clan motto was “Fortuna Favet Fortibus” (Fortune favours the bold). Together they had three children, Margaret, Murrough-ne-mor and Owen. Donal died c.1560, and left Grace a poor widow. It was from his death that she progressed on her career of piracy. Soon she married a second time. She was married to Sir Richard Burke by Brehan Law, which meant ‘for one year certain’. After this year she decided to divorce him, but keep his castle. Following this marriage, Grace operated from two military strongholds. The first is Carraig an Chabhlaigh castle, on Clew Bay. The second, is the extant castle located on the harbour on Clare Island, which was strategically located to levy taxes on foreign sea vessels. She was also reputed to have had several lovers and a son out of wedlock.

Following her second marriage to Sir Richard Burke, Grace operated from two military strongholds. The first is Carraig an Chabhlaigh castle, on Clew Bay. The second, is the extant castle located on the harbour on Clare Island. This castle was strategically located to levy taxes on foreign sea vessels.

Nearing the end of the 16th Century Grace had to combat against the skirmishing Gaelic clans and the new conquering English. She raised her children and her only son of Burke, Tibot na Long, to be dynamic and brave as she. Legend has it that once upon seeing the cowardice of Tibot during battle she decreed “Are you trying to hide in my backside, where you came from”.

A veil of ambiguity conceals Grace’s death. The last manuscript recording her piracy was in 1601 when an English warship confronted one of her galleys between Teelin and Killibegs. Grace`s final years may have been a struggle to secure her independence from the New English.

Grace O`Malley was a tyrant of the ocean, clan chieftain, mother, wife, survivor and brilliant politician. Her deeds are now obscured by time, but the legacy of her mastery survives in the ruined monuments and the folk-consciousness on Clare Island and beyond.