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History of Ballynahinch Castle, Connemara

The history of Ballynahinch Castle, the 'household of the Island'

Ballynahinch Castle Plaque 1

Ballynahinch Castle has been interwined in the history of Connemara and its people for centuries, from the recorded battle between the O’Flahertys and O’Malleys, in 1384, to the visit by all the Lord Mayors and Mayors of Ireland and some from overseas, to celebrate the Quincentennial year of Galway city receiving its charter.
Ballynahinch i.e. Baile na hlnse, means ‘household of the Island’, and refers to the O’Flaherty Castle built on an Island in the lake.

The O’Flahertys

The land of Lar Connaught stretched from the Castle at Bunowen and the plain of Murrisk in Mayo over to Moycullen on the banks of Lough Corrib.  This was the land of the O’Flaherty Clan, lords of Connaught and masters of Ballynahinch.  It was into this family that the most famous resident of Ballynahinch married; this was Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Connaught, who married Donal O’Flaherty or Dónal-an-Chogaidh (Donal of the battles).  This was about the year of 1546 when Grace was sixteen.  The marriage united two of the most powerful families in the country and bonded the lands of Murrisk and lar Connaught.  Ballynahinch was just one of the many Castles the O’Flahertys held.  The others were at Aughnanure, Doon, Moycullen, Bunowen and Renvyle.  

Donal at this time was tanist or heir apparent to Donal Crone, ruler of all Connaught.  Grace divided her time between Bunowen and Ballynahinch, Bunowen being the newer building of the two.  She gave birth to four children and on the death of Donal (it was said that he was murdered by the Joyce Clan as revenge for the seizure of Hen’s Castle on Lough Corrib) Grace took over as head of her family – some said she was a better “man” than her dead husband.  Her life as a pirate is well known, as is her famous meeting with Queen Elizabeth 1st in September 1593. These two formidable ladies met on equal terms as monarch to monarch.  They spoke in Latin, and of the only Gaelic woman ever to appear in court it was written: “In the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high Before the English Queen she dauntless stood.”  The mystery of where her last resting place is has never been solved but it is generally thought to be Clare Island in Clew Bay.  She died in 1603 – the same year as Queen Elizabeth the 1st. 

In 1584 the Queen appointed Murrough-ne-Doe O’Flaherty as head of the Clan against the wishes of the vast majority of the O’Flahertys, thus causing a split in the clan.  In this same year Murrough-ne-Doe captured the fortress of Ballynahinch, but Grace’s sons, Owen and Murrough, recaptured it later in 1584.  Murrough, son of Grace, retained possession of the castle until early in the seventeenth century.  A sad footnote to the O’Flaherty connection with Ballynahinch – In 1586 Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connaught, and arch-enemy of Grace, appointed his brother Captain John Bingham as a lieutenant of the area.  In the same year, 1586, Captain Bingham, with 500 men, captured Owen O’Flaherty and eighteen of his followers, along with four thousand cattle, five hundred stud mares and horses, and a thousand sheep.  With the livestock and men, he went to Ballynahinch. 

A contemporary account describes Owen’s last hours. “That evening he (John Bingham) caused the said eighteen persons without trial or good cause, to be hanged.  The next night following a false alarm was raised in the camp in the dead of night, the said Owen being fast bound in the cabin of Grene O’Molloy (Grace O’Malley) and at that instant the said Owen was cruelly murdered, having twelve deadly wounds, and in that miserable spot he ended his years unfortunate days.”   Now if anyone has a good reason to haunt the Castle it is Owen O’Flaherty.  The connection with Grace is kept to this day with a portrait of her by American artist, Cleeve Miller, which hangs in Fisherman’s Pub.  The decline of the O’Flaherty family towards the end of the sixteenth century is marked by their recognition of the Queen’s Lord Deputy.  In 1590 Robert Martin bought their estate at Ross outside Galway.


ballynahinch home 1 1


The Martins

The Martins trace their ancestry back to the Crusader, Sir Oliver Martin, who received his armorial bearings from Richard the Lion-Heart, with the pious motto: “Auxilium Meum Domino”.  He came to Ireland with Strongbow during the Norman invasion in 1169, and settled for a while in Limerick.  His family established themselves as one of the Fourteen Tribes of Galway.  The Martins were the first of the tribes to venture outside the safety of the walled city of Galway.  The O’Flaherty’s still kept a jealous eye on the Martins after they had sold to Robert, and in later years they were to kill a son of Nimble Dick, a great grandson of Robert, who lived at Dangan on the (then) outskirts of Galway.  It was in that house that Richard Martin, “Humanity Dick”, was born in 1754. 
The present house at Ballynahinch was built by Richard’s father as an inn, so history repeats itself and has come in a full circle once again.  The house was extensively renovated about 1813 and Humanity Dick moved there permanently.  Hardiman recorded in 1820 – 
“Dangan of late years has been suffered to go to considerable decay”

This move thereby made Ballynahinch the principal seat of the Martin family.  Richard Martin was indeed a most colourful man in the mould of his good friend the Prince Regent, later King George IV.  His lifestyle was opulent and he was well known for his lavish parties – which later contributed to his money troubles.  He was also known for his duelling skills which earned him his second nickname, “Hair-Trigger Dick” He was the leading exponent of duelling in Galway, and prior to each encounter he would display an old wound to his opponent with the comment –
“Let this be your target, Sir”
His opponents were never on target but he usually was.  Ballynahinch Castle was host to many famous people during the early part of the nineteenth century.  Maria Edgeworth, author of “Castle Rackrent”, was one such visitor in 1834, and on arrival was personally brought a glass of port by her host.  Of the food at Ballynahinch Miss Edgeworth made the comment –
“It is worthy of the greatest gourmet”
Hopefully, if she returned today, she would say likewise.  Daniel O’Connell stayed a night and had lunch the next day before going to Clifden to address a Repeal meeting.  The story goes that he spoke to the throng in English and only about 30% of them understood him.  One hundred years later Eamon de Valera came to Clifden and addressed the crowd in Irish, and, as before, only about 30% of the listeners understood him!
In his travel log, “An Irish Sketch Book”, W.M. Thackeray wrote –
“O you who laboriously throws flies in English Rivers, and catch at the expiration of a day’s walking casting and wadeing two or three feeble little trout of two or three ounces in weight, how you would rejoice to have but one hour’s sport on Derryclare or Ballynahinch; where you have but cast, and lo! A big trout springs to your fly”.
And, also, it is nice to think that if Thackeray were to fish here again today he would not go away disappointed.  One other notable visitor at this time was tutor to the Martin children who fell hopelessly in love with Richard Martin’s wife, Harriet, - he was one Theobald Wolfe Tone.  Richard Martin was M.P. for the area, and during one election campaign he called on his duelling for the answer to the question of who was going to win.  His reply was –

“The survivor, Sir”

As M.P. he introduced a bill to the House of Commons in 1822, the “Cruelty to Animals Act”.  As a result of the bill being passed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed, and it is for this reason that Richard Martin is most fondly remembered as “Humanity Dick”.  It was a final gesture on his part for, not long after, he lost his seat at Westminster.  It was at this time, under pressure from creditors, that he left Ireland, never to return for he died in Boulogne, France, in 1834.  Asked on his death bed why he was so kind to animals and so ruthless to humans his last words are reputed to have been –
“Did you ever see an ox with a pistol?”
Then he died, and thus passed on the king of Connemara, the master of Ballynahinch, and the man who owned the longest driveway in the world –
“Forty one miles from Galway to his front door at the Castle”.
Richard’s Town house in Galway still stands in Quay Street, it is now occupied by Naughtons pub and in the first floor, the aptly named “Humanity Dick’s” Restaurant.  After the death of Thomas Martin (Richard’s Heir) who died of famine fever, the heavily encumbered estate was left to his daughter Mary (a prolific novelist).  She left the country to avoid the debts and died in The Union Place Hotel, New York not long after her arrival in America.  Her death was brought about by the anxious voyage and the birth of a child in board the ship.

The Martin family had other notable members in more recent times.  One was Violet Martin of Ross House near Oughterard.  Under the pen-name of Ross she became famous as half of the literary partnership of Somerville and Ross, who wrote the “Irish R.M.” stories.  Another was the writer Edward Martin of Tullyra Castle, near Loughrea, Co. Galway.  Along with Lady Gregory of Coole and the poet W.B. Yeats he founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and it was as a result of his generous patronage the Palestrina Choir of the Pro-Cathedral was founded.

After the Great Famine the Martins huge estate was sold up through the Encumbered Estates Court.  The purchasers, the London Law Life Assurance Company of London, later sold it to Richard Berridge.  It was the Berridge family who restored and enlarged the Castle to its present day structure.  The Berridges were highly respected landlords, and were most kind and considerate to all their tenants.  The lakes of Upper and Lower Ballynahinch, Derryclare, and Lough Inagh were all part of the estate.  This continued up to the mid-fifties when a vast part of the lands were sold during the ownership of Mr. Noel Huggard.

Ballynahinch Library 1


After the Berridge family the Castle passed into the hands of His Highness the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanager, better known as Ranjitsinhji, or Ranji Prince of Cricketers.  Ranji had come to know Ballynahinch through its famous fisheries and in 1924 he purchased the property from the Berridge family.  He had fallen in love with the beautiful and rugged scenery of Connemara, and wished to own part of it.  It was Ranji who was responsible for most of the landscaping of the gardens and woods, plus the erection of the fishing piers and huts along the river.  He was a fabulously wealthy man, having property in England, and, of course, his many palaces in India.  He is best known as a world class cricketer and is regarded as second only to the legendary W.G. Grace, of whom Ranji was a team mate.  He still holds many cricket records, and has two mentions in The Guinness Book of Records, which have yet to be broken. 

But it was Ballynahinch which granted him most pleasure in his later years.  He arrived every summer, around June.  In Galway before coming to Ballynahinch he would buy five motorcars, two limousines and three smaller cars, and when leaving for India in October, he would give the cars to the locals as gifts – one maybe to the parish priest, to the local vicar, etc. and this was done each and every year!  The avenue up to the Castle was covered with marble chips, which were raked every day.  Each year on Ranji’s birthday a party was held for all the staff who worked for him.  The party was held in the billiard room (the present day bar).  He served the guests himself, and had a truck outside the door to take home the by now well-intoxicated staff.  He had his own train carriage from Galway to Clifden, stopping off at Ballynahinch station (the Galway-Clifden line closed down in 1936) and as he neared the station, the locals placed fire crackers on the line as a sign of welcome.  The locals and his many Indian servants seemed to co-exist happily, and two of his nieces went to school at nearby Kylemore Abbey.  Due to a shooting accident in Scotland Ranji lost his right eye, and this injury ended any hopes of his carrying on his cricketing. He had a glass eye, and, in one of his palaces in India, one can see five spare glass eyes on display.

When word got back to Ballynahinch that he had died of an asthmatic attack the locals did not believe it as the date was April 1st, 1932, All Fools Day! This time it was no joke, but the truth.  In September 1983 one of the most famous gillies ever to work in Ballynahinch died.  His name was Frank Cummins.  The day before he died he was still remembering fondly the pair of ruby cufflinks that Ranji had given him over fifty years before.  The kindly Indian Prince still lives fondly in the memories of the locals old enough to remember the Prince of Cricketers. 

Ballynahinch Beat 1 with Fisherman 7 1

Modern Times

After the death of Ranji the Castle passed into the hands of his nephew Dulipsinhji who sold it to the McCormack family from Dublin.  It was in 1946 when the Tourist Board took possession that the many years of private ownership came to an end. 
This takeover gave a new lease of life to an old House, for it was insured that Ballynahinch Castle did not go the way of so many other stately houses, either being burned to the ground or stripped of its materials, as happened in the Castle of Dunsandle house, and Smiths of Maysinbrooke.  For the first time the world famous fisheries were open to the public, and they took advantage of it.  During this time the Castle played host to Eamon de Valeria.  His signature is the first to be seen in the old visitors’ book.  The writer Liam O’Flaherty was a regular visitor.  Sir Alec Guinness, the actor, also stayed here, as did many other celebrities.  The Irish Tourist Board (the forerunner of Bórd Fáilte) held the Castle until the early nineteen fifties when Mr. Noel Huggard took over the running of the Hotel in conjunction with Ashford Castle.  From a tourist Guide in 1954 we can now see how prices have changed since then – 
“Fully licensed: From 10 to 11 guns. B & B from 16/-; Meals: Lunch 6/- to 7/-; Tea 2/6 to 3/6; Dinner 10/6 to 12/6; (5 private bathrooms). Dogs not allowed.”

It is nice to think that we still have guests who first came in those days.  The slight rise in prices does not seem to deter them.  As was stated before Mr. Huggard disposed of a large part of the estate, including the fisheries of Inagh and Derryclare, and sold Ballynahinch Castle and Fishery in 1957 to an American businessman, Mr. Edward Ball. Mr. Ball in turn sold turn sold shares in the Castle to many friends and business associates.  In 1978 when Mr. Ball was 89 and no longer traveling overseas he resigned as president of the corporation and nominated Raymond Mason for that post.  Under his direction the Castle has undergone extensive renovation, and all-round standards have been improved.  In 1981 the former President of America, Mr. Gerard Ford, and his wife Betty were guests of the Masons at Ballynahinch, as was former British Prime Minister James Callaghan.  Ballynahinch has seen many changes since the days of “the ferocious O’Flahertys” over 700 years ago.  It has been the home to many great and generous people.  It has seen hardship – during the Great Famine of 1847 it was shelter for many starving people; it has seen great opulence and lavish parties; but, no matter what was placed in front of it, it lived on, and today the Castle takes a well-deserved rest as a leisurely retreat for the fisherman and a relaxing Hotel which caters for its Guests in a way that is personal, professional, and with the friendly Connemara touch. 

Stay at Ballynahinch Castle on our Deluxe Connemara or Burren Islands and Connemara Bike Tours

Reproduced with kind permission of Ballynahinch Castle and Des Lally.

Toulouse - Bike Tour: Hotels, Restaurants & Attractions

Toulouse is the capital of the French department of Haute-Garonne and of the region of Occitanie.  The city is on the banks of the River Garonne and it is the fourth-largest city in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, with a half a million inhabitants.  A city with unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks, which earned it the nickname la Ville Rose ("the Pink City"), Toulouse counts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Canal du Midi (designated in 1996, and shared with other cities), and the Basilique St. Sernin, the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, designated in 1998 because of its significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

Toulouse is the European capital of the aeronautic and spatial industry with Airbus headquarterd in the city.  Thanks to its large population of students, Toulouse has been selected as the most dynamic French city in 2009 according to L’Express newspaper.  For amateurs, there is nothing better than to end a game of rugby by enjoying local gastronomy, specifically the famous cassoulet.



Cour des consuls1

La Cour des Consuls 5*

On the centuries-old rue des Couteliers, surrounded by old streets full of bars, restaurants and antique dealers, this hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Place du Capitole, Toulouse’s famous central square.  La Cour des Consuls occupies two 18th-century townhouses that have been converted into sophisticated accommodation.  The professional service and fine-dining restaurant make it one of the top luxury places to go for a weekend break in Toulouse and an ideal pre or post bike tour destination.  Their spa particularly is an enticing feature.

Ours Blanc Wilson 4*OURS BLANC 1

Entirely renovated in 2014, the hotel Ours Blanc Wilson has become emblematic with its Art-Deco facade and its round shape that forms the link between Place Wilson and Place Victor Hugo.  The hotel enjoys a central location in the heart of Toulouse, near cinemas, department stores, theatres, museums, and restaurants.  The elegantly decorated rooms are surprisingly quiet for such a centra location and the hotel provides a relaxing atmosphere throughout.

hotel albert 1er 22Hôtel Albert 1er 3*

Located in the very heart of Toulouse, the Hotel Albert 1er is located only a few minutes from the famous Place du Capitole and other important attractions.  This classy and environmentally-friendly hotel has received the European eco-label and is proud to offer a rich breakfast composed of biological and local products.




 Le Pavé des Minimes pave minimes 1

Located in the neighbourhood of Claude Nougaro, Le Pavé des Minimes welcomes you in a charming and typical “Toulousaine” manner.  Here you can taste gourmet and authentic cuisine, made from fresh products, where the focus is on home made dishes.  The restaurant team offers a menu adapted seasonally by the chef, along with desserts delicately flavoured with local ingredients.


Michel Sarran michelsarran officetourisme

Located behind the University du Capitole, Restaurant Michel Sarran offers one of the highest quality dining experiences possible in Toulouse.  Unless you know where to look for it, you may not pay attention to this gorgeous and luxurious restaurant. And that would be a pity.  A top-class welcome is guaranteed to guests where the focus is on the food experience, guaranteed by one of France's top Chefs.   Advance Booking is necessary.  


Au Pois Gourmand au pois gourmand 1

Nestled in a splendid 19th century building, Au Pois Gourmand boasts one of the best terraces on the banks of the river La Garonne.  Its romantic, splendid setting, coupled with an emphasis on gourmet French cuisine, is highly recomended.


Bibent - Christian Constant

This place, opened in 1861, is one of the oldest brasseries in Toulouse and is rich in history.  Located on the Place du Capitole, Bibent offers a splendid neo-baroque setting and a warm atmosphere that is completed by numerous gastronomic specialities, all concocted from fresh and seasonal products.



La Place du Capitole place du capitole

The seat of the municipal government since the 12th century, this neoclassical masterpiece displays its majestic brick and stone façade on the unmistakable Place du Capitole.  Enlarged, transformed, embellished in every era, the scenery inscribed on the walls of the Capitole building itself tells the great moments of Toulouse's history: from the Cathar episode to the creation of the floral Games, from the Counts of Toulouse to the city's headquarters.  Famous for its state rooms, the Salle des Illustres are unmissable.  Here you will learn about Henri Martin, Jean-Paul Laurens, Paul Gervais and many other artists who have painted or carved the decor of these rooms. Lovers of lyrical art will appreciate the famous opera house in Toulouse also located here.


Le Couvent des Jacobins couvent des jacobins

Founded by the Order of Dominicans, le Couvent des Jacobins is a jewel of medieval art in the heart of the city.  The church, where the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas rest, will fascinate with its double nave with its painted decoration, its magnificent stained glass windows and its surprising palm-shaped vault.  Entering the serene cloister, and through the convent symbolizing the Garden of Eden, the former refectory, the chapter house and the chapel of Saint Antonin (whose painted decors, beautifully restored) it is possible to while away many hours at this fascinating attraction.

Foundation Bemberg fondation bemberg

Since 1995, the Bemberg Foundation has been installed in the superb hotel of Assézat, jewel of the Renaissance.  Created by Argentinean patron Georges Bemberg, it offers an artistic journey of the West from the end of the Middle Ages to the 20th century.  The first floor is organized in salons of Renaissance and XVIIIth century where furniture and objets d'art mingle, reviving the interiors of time.   The second floor is devoted to impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.  Do not miss the room dedicated to Pierre Bonnard, exceptional for his 35 paintings. 

Basilique Saint Sernin basilique st sernin

On the roads to Santiago de Compostela, the Basilique Saint Sernin, a masterpiece of Romanesque art, is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Built in honor of Saint Saturnin (or Sernin), first bishop of Toulouse, its construction took from the 11th to the 13th century.  Wander around the building and admire the elegant features, staggered from the chapels to the octagonal bell tower, characteristic of Toulouse architecture.  Inside, 5 ample vaulted aisles converge towards the choir and the canopy of gilded wood and marble.  Access the crypts and the tour of the holy bodies, treasure of relics which testifies to the prestigious past of this pilgrimage church.

Jardin Japonais jardin japonais


Located near the old visible rampart Armand Duportal Boulevard, this garden surprises by its exoticism. A few steps from the administrative centre and the congress centre, its environment is conducive to meditation and rest.  Labelled as a remarkable garden, it is the synthesis of the existing gardens in Kyoto, built between the XIVth and the XVIth century.  It contains all the characteristic elements: a staging of the mineral world, the vegetable world and the aquatic world, decorated with typical elements such as the surrounding wall, bridges, lanterns and the tea pavilion.

Ballyfin Demense - the ultimate in Irish luxury

Yesterday I saw a most delightful place indeed, much beyond any place I have seen in Ireland – Ballyfin

- Lady Kildare, 1759

For centuries the enchanting beauties of Ballyfin have been admired by visitors like Lady Kildare from Carton House in the adjoining county.  Set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the centre of Ireland, it is a place of history and romance, of tranquillity and great natural beauty. Stone walls enclose 600 acres of parkland, a lake and ancient woods, delightful garden buildings, follies and grottoes abound. Ballyfin is steeped in Irish history and the site has long been admired as the most lavish regency mansion in Ireland, the work of the great Irish architects Sirs Richard (1767–1849) and William Morrison (1794–1838).

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Over the last decade the magnificent estate has been painstakingly restored to become a small hotel like no other.  Indeed, after eight years of restoration aiming at returning Ballyfin as closely as possible to how it functioned when it was built, the estate re-opened in May 2011 as a 5 star country house hotel.  It offers the very best of Irish hospitality in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable.  Ballyfin is the perfect place for a break from the stresses of the modern world and provides discretion and privacy like few other destinations.


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Its comfort lends itself to family celebrations, its magnificent grandeur makes it perfect for weddings while its unparalleled seclusion and privacy makes it an ideal setting for business retreats.  Hence why we recommend at least a two night stay at Ballyfin at the end of any Bespoke Ireland trip before returning home, and is the ideal property for those discerning guests who expect exclusive use.




Ashford Castle Estate; accepting visitors since 1228!

Ashford Castle
Hotel & Country Estate.


Founded in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family to be their principal stronghold, the original Castle of Cong remained ruled for some 350 years before Queen Elizabeth I recertified the Castle as a British fortress in 1589.  Ownership then turned to the Oranmore and Browne family in 1715, who first named it Ashford Castle.  They were responsible for the building of a French château at the centre part of the Castle.  

Later, in 1852, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness purchased Ashford and extended the estate to 26,000 acres, building new roads and planting thousands of trees and adding two large Victorian style extensions.  The estate and Castle then passed to his son Lord Ardilaun in 1868; who welcomed the Prince of Wales in 1905, for which the George V Dining Room and Prince of Wales Bar were built to celebrate.  In 1915 Ashford was retained by the Iveagh Trust on behalf of the Guinness family until it was leased by Noel Huggard in 1939.  Huggard established the Castle as a first class hotel renowned for the provision of its country pursuits.  As a hotel it changed hands many times, notably in 1970 by renowned hotelier John Mulcahy who developed the golf course, and in 1985 by a group of Irish American investors.  In 2008 the hotel was bought by local entrepreneur Gerry Barrett. 

Since 2013, Ashford Castle is part of Red Carnation Hotel Collection and has been lovingly restored to fully reflect the Castle’s extensive history and Irish heritage. Ashford Castle was voted in 2015 the Best Hotel in the World, by Virtuoso


The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and directed by the legendary John Ford, is a 1951 romantic love story.  The Quiet Man was filmed in and around the village of Cong, Co Mayo including much of the grounds of Ashford Castle.  The film received a total of seven Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars.  Guests can visit many of the film locations including The Quiet Man Cottage Museum and Pat Cohen’s Bar, complete with replica of the interiors featured in the film.  Alternatively, guests can sit back and rekindle The Quiet Man experience in the Castle’s luxurious cinema.


Ireland’s School of Falconryfalconry2

Ireland’s School of Falconry was founded in 1999 and is the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland.  Home to the largest and most diverse collection of Harris hawks, it offers guests the chance to fly hawks around the spectacular Ashford Castle grounds and woodlands.  Six instructors are on hand all year round to introduce guests to the 20 Harris hawks a species renowned for its’ easy-going temperament and unusually sociable nature, one Eurasian eagle owl and four falcons who all call the Falconry School their home.  A hawk walk is highly recommended.


We recommend Ashford Castle on our Deluxe Bespoke tours, while our Deluxe and Classic Connemara Bike tours end with a stay in The Lodge At Ashford Castle.

Grace O'Malley - The Pirate Queen

Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) 
An icon of 16th Century Ireland

The Pale had been established in Ireland in 1488.  English rule was mostly confined to that area.  Elsewhere the country was ruled by Anglo Irish Lords and Gaelic Chieftains who lived in castles.  Some of them got embroiled in English conflicts beyond these shores which had repercussions here; others were busy enough feuding and fighting among themselves.

The ordinary people, as always, struggled on in the hope of better days and survived on oatmeal, milk, butter, watercress and wild herbs.  They valued animals for their skin, wool and milk rather than for their meat.  The only language they knew was Irish (Gaelic), their only law was administrated by the local Chieftain through his breitheamh and their souls were in the hands of friars.  Some Chieftains and their families also spoke Latin which was essential for trading with foreigners.  One of these Chieftains was Owen O’Malley whose comparatively small territory on the shores of Clew Bay, Co Mayo was surrounded to the north and east by MacWilliam Burke of Mayo and to the south by O’Flaherty.

The year was 1530.  Ferdinand Magellan’s Portuguese ship had made history and circumnavigated the world.  Construction of the Basilica of St. Peters had recently begun, Martin Luther was preparing to break with Rome.  In England, Henry VIII was about to be bewitched by the charms of Anne Boleyn.  And on the west coast of Ireland, pounded by the Atlantic gales, was born Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile*, destined to become an outstanding woman of courage and adventure.

The environment she grew up in was dominated by fishing and trading.  Survival meant sailing to distant shores to trade for silks, wines and spices in return for wool, linen and hides.  Grace loved the sea and soon learned to navigate . When she married an O’Flaherty, she became a tough fighter and leader and often led raids on other ships.  After the death of her husband she proved to be a stout defender in fights both against other clans and against the English who were now determined to extend their rule across the country.

She returned to her native Clare Island castle and made a name for herself as a seafarer, trader and pirate.  Piracy was rife in those days and foreign ships were considered fair game.  She married Richard Burke and lived with him at his castle at Rockfleet until his death.  She was friendly with the two great Ulster chieftains O’Neill and O’Donnell.  This was viewed with suspicion by the English who greatly feared their growing power and influence.

English rule in the area was in the control of Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connaught.  He was ruthless and unfair and Grace fell foul of him. Her livestock was confiscated, her son murdered, another thrown in prison.  So she bravely set sail for London to seek an audience with Queen Elizabeth I to plead for her son’s release and the return of her property.  Her boldness was rewarded and her request granted.  She returned to Rockfleet in triumph.

During her final years she heard of the defeat of her old allies in the Battle of Kinsale. It must have saddened her to realise that she was among the last of the Chieftains and that her death marked the end of a significant era in Ireland’s history.

*Grace O’Malley is popularly called Granuaile.  The story goes that she tried to sneak aboard her father’s ship which was about to set off on a voyage, and cut off her hair so as to look like a boy.  This caused great amusement when she was discovered and her father is supposed to have laughingly called her Granuaile (the Irish word maol means 'bald').

Reproduced by kind permission of Greenleaf Publications Ltd.

To learn more about the Irish Pirate Queen, and to see some of her ruined castles from your saddle, take one of our Connemara Castle & Manor,  or  Burren, Aran Islands and Connemara bike tour.  #pedalon

Oct 1 Catalans vote for independence #si @ Centre Historic Girona

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