Grace O’Malley


From the beginning mutinous,
the earliest tale we know
is that she cut her hair short

and slept among the rough men,
a stowaway on her father’s ships
plying their Irish trade on the bright tables of Spain.

In Spain, the juice of the wild pomegranate
entered the blood of Grace O’Malley
and released its scent of grandeur.

Her father’s vast fleet became hers at eighteen,
and these ships the arteries of her
unquenchable soul,

raised waves and fears all along the Western coast,
and sunk barbs into foreign ambitions
over her savage and verdant realm.

When her husband died,
all the men swore fealty to her,
and the ferocious cliffs of Connacht
knelt on bended knees

and promised to die on her one Intractable wave.
It was just now that English power
fell like a dead horse on the free princes of Ireland,
and the Gaelic song was buried in the peat.

But for a while, still a little longer,
she thwarted them all,
kings and generals, men and horses,
sailed out, standing like an arbalest at her swift prow
to plunder the honeyed empire of hungers.

And she was a myth of the grey wave,
of the rebellion of the pale salt
and the ungovernable Irish heart.