May 27 2015
Westport’s most famous former resident is the infamous pirate queen Grainne (Grace) O’Malley. As a wee girl she always begged her father the sea captain to allow her to join his crew and travel with him to far off lands. When she pressed him for a reason why girls should not be allowed onboard, he said that their long hair would get caught in the ropes. She immediately cut off her hair. It, of course, grew back and she grew into a strong and beautiful woman. But she had her way, and became a very capable sailor, and eventually took over her father’s merchant business.
The O’Malley clan controlled a broad stretch of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline and Grainne and her fleet of ships made sure (through hook or crook) that anyone passing through paid taxes on their cargo. For this they called her a pirate! She was fearless and shrewd and fought bravely against Turkish, Spanish and English pirates.
During her reign as Chieftain of the O’Malley clan, the English were gradually taking over Ireland, one kingdom at a time. Grainne was one of the last holdouts. When one of her sons and one of her brothers were captured and imprisoned, she went to meet with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate for their release. She agreed to stop fighting against the English in return for the release of her family member. She also demanded, and got the right to hold onto her lands and the properties of her late husbands. She was able to live quite comfortably off the income from these lands and died at the age of 70.
Today, her estate is a popular park which includes a mansion, and a pirate themed amusement park, and a wildlife preserve.