Celebrating International Women's Day with a Pirate Queen

What better way to celebrate International Women's Day yesterday than to bring my Mum and my little pirate princesses to see a show about Granuaile - Ireland's Pirate Queen. I've always loved the story of Gráinne Ní Mháille (aka Grace O'Malley). How, as a child, she was forbidden to go on her father's ship on account of being a girl and having long hair 'which would get tangled in the ropes'. But the feisty 10-year-old Gráinne immediately chopped her hair off and went anyway. This act of defiance earned her her nickname 'Gráinne Mhaol'  (maol, meaning bald!) There is much to be admired in this determined, confident woman and much to be learned from her courage in following her dreams despite living in a time when it was no easy thing to be a woman.
The hair-chopping story might be the most well-known about her, but this wonderful production from the gang at the Axis Theatre in Ballymun showed us that was only the beginning of Granuaile's adventures in carving her own path. In a brilliant piece of interactive storytelling we learned that she went on to command her father's fleet of ships, that she married and had three children, that after the death of her first husband she rescued a man from a shipwreck and married him (though she later divorced him by publicly pronouncing 'I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you - imagine it was that easy these days?!).
She also gave birth to another son... aboard her ship... in the middle of a battle... and immediately went back to the fray with her babe at her breast. She was clearly the ultimate working mother...

She even had an audience with Queen Elizabeth I once - a queen-to-queen tête-à-tête.

Granuaile was 'some woman for one woman', as they say.
Sábha and Lile were enthralled by the whole thing.  They were seated on rough-hewn benches around a central performance area that was painted "like the ocean" (as Sábha described it). The performers, Gabrielle and her annoying (but very funny) brother Karl, transformed the space into an exciting world of pirates, high seas, courage and adventure. The high point for my girls being when they got to join the action themselves, man the oars and tie rags around their heads to keep the sea-water out of their eyes as part of Granuaile's crew.

The show was equally as enjoyable for my mother and I who loved the dynamic between story-teller Gabrielle and her investment-banker brother, Karl. There were some genuinely hilarious moments between them and some very moving ones too.
"A bigger girl helped me write the long bit but I wrote my name" - Sábha
The show is advertised as being most suitable from age 7+ and I would agree with that, though my pair at just-about 6 followed along with no problems. Adults will definitely be entertained by it too as it's an incredibly interesting story about an incredibly interesting person.

Granuaile Pirate Queen is written by Veronica Coburn and Gabrielle Breathnach and is at Axis Ballymun from 5 – 16 March. Though I believe it's selling out fast - so be quick!

To learn more, see Veronica Coburn's article about it in the Irish Times HERE or listen to her speak about it on The Women's Podcast HERE.

Click HERE to read my contribution to a piece about gender neutral parenting that was published in the Irish Independent last week.

Disclosure: I was invited by Axis Ballyun to attend this show for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.


  1. My middle boy is obsessed with Gráinne Mhaol. At three he could sing the chorus of the song (the only bit of Irish he has at all). He would love this. I suppose it will be over by our next visit home.

    1. My girls are learning that song at school at the moment and I was afraid they'd start belting it out in the middle of the show! There is talk of it going on tour - so you never know. You might catch it!


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