EPIC TALE Holly Johnson and Patrick O’Shea star as Gráinne Ní Mháille and Richard in Iron Bourke.
TG4’s Scéalta Grá na hÉireann concludes tomorrow night (Wednesday) with the epic love story of Mayo’s Gráinne Ní Mháille and Richard in Iron Bourke, which took place during a time of great change and upheaval in 16th-century Ireland.
Fearless leader by land and by sea, political pragmatist and tactician, rebel, pirate and matriarch, the ‘most notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland’ Grace O’Malley challenged and manipulated the turbulent politics of the time. Breaching boundaries of gender imbalance and bias, she rewrote the rules to become one of the world’s first documented feminist trail-blazers.
Her second marriage was to her great love, Iron Richard. With her husband in tow, Grace O’Malley forged a path to power and leadership by land and by sea in the west of Ireland. Having married Burke, O’Malley retained possession of her fleet and continued to ply her trade. Together they stood against the Tudor conquest of Ireland.
Despite being challenged by O’Malley’s fierce independence, Iron Richard fought by her side and loved her until his death. The couple’s only child, Tioboid-ne-Long (Toby of the Ships), was born at sea. According to folklore, hours after his birth, their ship was boarded by Barbary Pirates. Grace left her chambers to join the fight, rallying her crew to victory.
Commenting on the Pirate Queen’s relationship with Richard, Celebrated Gránuaile biographer, Westport author Anne Chambers says they were ahead of their time: “I often think about Richard in Iron, that he really was a new-age man in terms of his relationship with his wife. He never lost his standing as a Gaelic Chieftain and yet he allowed his wife to pursue and continue her independent career. He sailed with her in her fleet of galleys and there was this great acknowledgement of his wife’s superior expertise in so many areas.”
Scéalta Grá na hÉireann’s take on the couple’s story begins at Rockfleet Castle, on a sheltered inlet near Newport, which became one of the Pirate Queen’s strongholds after she married Richard in Iron. She docked her three galleys at the foot of the castle, from where she could survey her territory across land and sea. Rockfleet still stands today, a testament to the exploits and Grace and Richard’s love and power.
Behind the myths of Grace O’Malley, there stands a proud and courageous woman, determined to stand her ground against English rule. She became a hero and inspiration for a country seeking to rule itself. She was shrewd and knew that alliances that would work for her, while Richard in Iron was a shrewd leader who knew his alliance with Gráinne made his position stronger. In a male-dominated society, he never tried to impede her independence. They truly were a power couple that continue to inspire new generations of girls and boys today.
Scéalta Grá na hÉireann airs on TG4 tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 8.30pm.