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by Pat McDermott

Princess Talty prepares to formally open a new museum dedicated to
the Sixteenth Century Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley.


The wind fills the rigging and whips my hair. Salt spray dampens my face. The men at the oars propel my galley over the sea to capture the foolish merchant ship that dared to invade my waters. She sits low in the waves, weighed down with gold and silver, packed with silk and spices from the Far East. She’s mine.

“Man the cannons!” I shout from the gun deck. “Prepare to board her!”

“Your Highness? We have here a model of Granuaile’s galley. Not an exact reproduction, but assembled as closely as possible from the descriptions in the existing records.”

The droning words seeped into Talty’s daydream like ink drops clouding a pool of water. The invigorating tang of briny air gave way to the scent of new wood and fresh paint. Talty was back in the Grace O’Malley museum in Louisburg, Mayo.

“You’ll walk the plank for this, me bucko!”

Though miffed that the curator’s ongoing narrative had spoiled her imagined adventure, Talty smiled courteously at the gangly, white-haired man. “The ship looks quite authentic, Mr. Gavin.”

The raisin-like eyes behind his glasses squinted back at her. “Grania had several galleys under her command.” Gavin walked on, babbling away about tribal warfare in sixteenth century Ireland.

Talty knew the story of Granuaile, also known as Pirate Queen Grania “Grace” O’Malley, yet she listened politely, ambling along after Gavin to the next display. Neil stopped beside her, biting his lip the way he did when trying not to laugh. The merry gleam in his eye said he’d caught her daydreaming.

She stepped on his foot. “I understand Grania divorced one of her husbands and locked him out of his castle.”

Gavin didn’t miss a beat. “Richard Bourke. Sometimes known as Iron Dick.”

Neil’s polite cough barely muffled a snort of laughter. “The fella possessed exceptional marital skills, did he?”

Talty stepped harder on his foot, somehow managing to keep her public smile in place. “Isn’t the name from the armor he wore?”

Gavin’s unsmiling face betrayed no awareness of their playful interaction. His attention seemed riveted on the exhibit before him. He clasped his hands behind his back. “That’s one theory. The name may have referred to an ironworks on his property. Unfortunately, we have more folklore than fact about the history of this time. It’s folklore that tells us how Grania herself became known as Granuaile. ‘Gráinne Mhaol’ means ‘Bald Grace’ in Irish. Legend has it she cut her hair after her father refused to take her along on his voyages. He claimed her hair was so long, it would get caught in the rigging.”

Neil tugged Talty’s shoulder length hair. “Obviously he let her sail with him after that.”

“Obviously. This ends the tour, ma’am. If you’re ready, we’ll officially open the museum.” Gavin started for the door.

Talty followed, recalling one of her favorite stories about Grania O’Malley. Only hours after the Pirate Queen gave birth to a son in her cabin, foreign pirates attacked her galley. Grania appeared on deck clad only in a blanket. She shot the pirate captain with her blunderbuss pistol and led her men to victory. Having recently experienced childbirth herself, Talty found her admiration of the legendary woman turning to awe.

The wax figures of Granuaile and her husbands, sons, and enemies positioned throughout the room appeared ready to step down and strike up a conversation. Colorful murals on the walls portrayed seascapes and sixteenth century sailing vessels, adding to the fanciful mood.

This morning’s formalities would be modest compared to the afternoon gala at the Marine Foundation, yet Talty suspected the most enjoyable part of her day would be spent here in Mayo. The Marine Foundation was important, yes, but the reception following its opening ceremony was “by invitation only.” She dreaded facing the fawning, praise-seeking politicians who’d have the run of the place, and she didn’t care a whit if she ever met the billionaire tycoon, Roxy what’s-his-name.

The Granuaile event was open to the public. Talty looked forward to her allotted forty-five minutes of shaking hands and chatting with the people before the Morrigan whisked her south to Galway. Silently rehearsing her short speech, she walked between Neil and Gavin to the Granuaile Center’s humble lobby. The standing crowd enthusiastically applauded her entry.

Despite the warm welcome, Barry and Rory stood guard on either side of the packed little room. Their eagle-eyed vigilance was more than adequate for this quiet corner of Mayo. Security at the Marine Foundation would be tighter than a goatskin on a drum.

Her public smile firmly in place, Talty cordially greeted the well-wishers, who had no way of knowing she was already back on her pirate ship, shouting orders to man the cannons and prepare to board.



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