Paddle in the wake of the 16th-century pirate queen Granuaile to get to know Ireland from a new perspective!
Most kayakers get to paddle through stunning nature, yet few are also able to paddle through history at the same time. Ireland, however, is an ancient place by both land and sea.
Following the trail of legendary stories such as those of Granuaile the Pirate Queen (also known as Grace O’Malley) make it possible to navigate along Ireland’s spectacular coastline while also sailing through its vibrant past.
Daughter of the owner of a massive shipping and trading company, the 16th century pirate queen Granuaile grew up surrounded by water and trade – and she followed in her father’s footsteps.
Through two subsequent marriages to landowners and family members of important clans (the O’Flaherty’s and the Bourkes), Granuaile increased her wealth in land, castles, trade, ships, and livestock.
During the 16th century, the English court tightened its grip on Ireland, putting pressure on Granuaile and her loyal following to submit to the English crown – even setting up a meeting between Granuaile and Queen Elizabeth I. Instead, she embraced piracy, imposing a ‘tax’ on English ships sailing into Galway.
She attacked and plundered ships and coastal areas near and far – all the way down to Waterford and east to the outlying Scottish isles. Legend has it that she even attacked the MacMahon stronghold, Doona Castle, as revenge for the death of her lover, Hugh de Lacy.
The pirate queen carried on like this until her death in 1603 but Granuaile’s legendary feats live on, having inspired or featured in countless songs, theatrical productions, books and vessels.
She is often regarded as a ‘personification of Ireland’ and it’s not hard to see why: a brave and successful rebel and fighter, she refused to bow down to foreign domination. She never learned English or acknowledged Queen Elizabeth. Her rebellious character is perhaps what makes it so enticing to understand who the pirate queen Granuaile really was – in a way, getting to know Granuaile means getting to know Ireland.
Though she was a wealthy landowner, Granuaile’s true prowess came from the sea, and the sea is still the best way to get to know and understand her. While sailing around Ireland in a pirate fleet may be difficult, climbing in a kayak will do the trick!
Exploring every inlet and island of Clew Bay could take an eternity – there are 365 islands, supposedly one for every day of the year! – so it’s not hard to imagine the grip Granuaile had over ships navigating in this area.
Of particular interest is the Caislean na Circe (in English, the ‘Castle of the Hen’), named for… you guessed it… the pirate queen, Granuaile (once the ‘Castle of the Cock,’ the name was changed by the invading Joyce clan upon her impressive defence of the castle).
Another notable fortress attributed to the pirate queen Granuaile is Rockfleet Castle. With its sheltered harbour perfect for hiding a pirate ship, the castle was forcibly taken from Granuaile’s husband when they divorced.
From the belly of your kayak, admire Granuaile’s ancient strongholds, the remnants of a time when Ireland was full of unrest, rebellions, and crime. Navigate the waters she was pirated and controlled, and visit islands and harbours where she was hiding with her plunders. Get to know the island of Ireland from a new perspective: via kayak on the water!
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