Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Clare Island - O'Malley Country

On the recent occasion of gentlemen in bowler hats and sashes marching through towns across Northern Ireland (12th July), I took the opportunity offered to take a few days of work and have a small family holiday. Destination: Clew Bay. Now, I've been fascinated by Clew Bay for some time, principally as it was the home and stomping ground of one of Ireland's most interesting leaders - Grace O'Malley.

Please ignore the fact that the ROI seems to have annexed Co. Armagh for the purposes of this map (?!) 

Grace O'Malley, Grainne Ni Mhallie or Granualie in Irish (1530-1603) was the daughter of the O'Malley chieftain Eoghan Dubhdarra and a contemporary - indeed almost an exact coeval - of Queen Elizabeth I whom she met with in 1593. From her family lands on Clare Island and the neighbouring parish of Murrisk (south shore of Clew Bay), Grace led a life of maritime trade and depredation (read piracy), travelling as far abroad as Spain and North Africa. Her major official source of revenue seems to have been the taxation of fishing fleets in Clew Bay and off the west coast, but she also engaged in the ferrying of gallowglasses from the Hebrides to Ireland. Her life has often been fantasised, depicting Grace as some sort of national patriot of Ireland or a 16th century Amazon - she is now even the subject of a Broadway musical! For a proper biography, I'd direct readers to one of the volumes by Anne Chambers. Even though she does a good job of trying to find the 'real' Grace O'Malley, its clear that she will always be something of a shadowy figure who operated outside of the norms of society.

O'Malley and Queen Bess meet on Broadway (in 1593...)
O'Malley meets Irregular Wars!

Always intrigued by historical enigmas, I was very keen to get down and spend a bit of time in the area, soaking up a bit of O'Malley atmosphere. Mrs Hotspur was happy for a weekend in the country (and of course was also happy for some atmosphere) and the Young Hotspur, who can not yet talk, didn't have a say in the matter. Below are a few photos from the trip to give an idea of what remains to be seen on Clare Island. You can't really see it in these photos, but the abbey roof is covered in 13th century figural paintings. Really something to behold.

View of the 16th century O'Malley tower house from the sea
The O'Malley tower house.
The tower house with Young Hotspur for scale
Cistercian abbey said to be the burial place of Grace O'Malley
The supposed sepulchre of Grace O'Malley
The o'Malley crest

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