'A most famous feminine sea captain' - this is the fascinating story of Grace O'Malley, 'Granuaile', 16th century Irish sea captain, leader, warrior, trader, pirate, wife, mother, prisoner, shrewd negotiator and general thorn in the side of Tudor England as it gradually and ruthlessly imposed its rule in Ireland. I'd been thrilled by the fictionalised version of Granuaile's life (The White Seahorse) many years ago; now here was the fact - or at least, as much of it as can be gleaned from the relatively slim historical record. This is an updated edition incorporating more recent research. 'Granuaile' was the dauntless leader of her people during a time of major upheaval in her homeland, the present county Mayo in Connaught, the west of Ireland. Author Anne Chambers puts her life very much in the context of those times, the waning days of the old Gaelic society when alliances between clan leaders were made and swiftly broken, survival was everything and there was no concept of a unified state called Ireland. Truth is better than fiction - this is a life story made to romanticise, and Granuaile looms even larger in legend than in historical fact, though the facts are extraordinary enough. Most of the historical records are, ironically, to be found in the English state papers of the time; according to the author she scarcely gets a mention in (male-penned) Irish history! But Anne Chambers refuses to romanticise, while continually reminding us that Granuaile was a woman and in that place, time and society women just didn't do that sort of thing! The only disappointment was the lack of personal information about her, details of her daily life and of life for women of that time in general - apparently it just doesn't exist. Granuaile's story is historically informative and an inspiration to women everywhere to realise their full potential, follow their own path and not be limited by the proscribed 'part of womanhood' so often imposed on them by society. A moving and excellent read.
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