Wednesday, November 14, 2018


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When I was in school, as far as I can remember, our national heros were all male - from Fionn Mac Cumhaill to Patrick Pearse. There was Queen Maeve but all we knew about her was that she was a cattle rustler. There might have been mention of Granuaile (Grace O'Malley) but if there was it was as a pirate more than a queen.

The lady from Gill Books

It was only when I went to a talk on Granuaile by Anne Chambers, a good while back, that I realised what a magnificent chapter in our national history had been missed out. I don't know if the omission had anything to do with me being at a Christian Brothers school - they weren't very good dealing with women - or whether it was simply that it was the men who wrote the history. And I've no idea how Granuaile fared with the nuns.

But, anyway, now she's back on the map with thanks to Anne Chambers and Gill Books. The seventh edition of Anne's great book was launched in the Royal Irish Academy on 12/11/2018 and I wangled myself an invitation.

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop

The choice of speakers for the night was inspired. First we had Ellen O'Malley Dunlop who is no daw when it comes to standing up to people either on her own behalf or on behalf of her gender.

If I picked it up right, she is an actual descendant of Grace O'Mally, and she clearly has the Pirate Queen's fighting spirit. Both herself and Grace are surely ideal role models for today's young girls, and many of the boys to boot.

Enda Kenny

Then we had the "King of Castlebar", (no not Pee Flynn - the King is dead, long live the King), Iarthaoiseach Enda Kenny.

Now Enda is a mild mannered, and some would say boring, public speaker. But not tonight. You could feel his passion for the Connaught Queen, who had sailed up the Thames and confronted the British queen, Elizabeth I on equal terms.

He reminded us of the next time this happened between Mary Robinson and Elizabeth II, and again with Mary McAleese and Michael D. And of the Queen bowing and laying a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance in 2016. Confrontation is not the appropriate word here, and the combination of exchanged visits and the Queen's wreath-laying in honour of those who through military action shook off the English yoke, is inspirational, tokenism or not.

British protocol has it that you should never repeat anything the monarch says to you in private, though nowadays this is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Anyway, it didn't stop Enda sharing a royal confidence. Apparently, on her departure from Cork, Elizabeth II confided in the then Taoiseach that she had been particularly looking forward to that visit for a long time.

Anne Chambers

We then heard from Anne herself about her discovery of Granuaile and how she assiduously pursued every avenue to document, and effectively get to know, her.

Grace's widespread presence in the British archives is an indication of, and a tribute to, her importance in her day.

I left a review on the Amazon page of the current edition.

Other photos from the night

















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