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The Pirate Queen - In search of Grace O’Malley and other legendary women of the sea

by Barbara Sjoholm

The Pirate Queen - not about Grace at all!

I was so excited when I spotted this book in a chandlery in San Francisco .  You see, I own every book written about Grace O’Malley, otherwise known as Granuaile, as well as most other female pirates/privateers. But Grace is very special.  Not only is she my personal hero, but also she is virtually a member of our family - by virtue of marriage albeit.  My husband’s stepfather was a member of the O’Malley clan and a descendant of Grace.  He grew up on Clew Bay in Ireland where Grania ruled, and we intend to return there in a few years.  I dream of sailing into Clew Bay aboard my own strong ship and seeing it from her perspective on the sea, to experience perhaps a sampling of the world such women built for themselves.  It was not an easy life, but it was a rewarding life, much as today’s career women will find.  

When I saw this book, I was so excited I grabbed it along with a huge pirate flag for our boat, Aleria, and quickly sidled up to the checkout counter.  The woman said, “Oh this book just came in and the author will be here tomorrow to sign copies. Why don’t you come back?”  I almost cancelled my flight home.  I’m glad I did not.

Instead, I read it on the plane.  And I was disappointed.  It really isn’t about Grace at all.  It’s about the author’s search for the essence of Grace and other women of the sea.  I didn’t learn much about the women of the sea on this journey through historical geography, and I did learn more about the author than I wanted to.  When I realized what the story intended, though, I started to appreciate it for what it was… a narrative about the author’s journey through the West of Ireland, where I happen to know the places she visits and a lot of the people she meets. If she had not misrepresented the content with the title, I might have enjoyed it more.

Honestly, if you want to read some good accounts of Grace O’Malley’s life, the best books are White Seahorse by Eleanor Fairburn a lovely story which is occasionally reprinted and quickly sells out,  Granuaile: Ireland's Pirate Queen C. 1530-1603 by Anne Chambers a truly historical account,  and Granuaile: [the pirate queen] by Morgan Llywelyn an entertaining historical fiction novel.




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