A Tribute to Piracy

“Gràinne”

First night aboard this ship,

the waves make me sick.

Still, we’re sailing

with you –

a woman people at home

always talk of with such tales,

I wonder how

you can be real.

‘The Sea-Queen of Connaught’, –

there’s one of the names

I’ve heard.

Yet, here on the water,

you’re simply ‘Captain Gràinne’

– that’s enough.

Dawn creeps

across the deck,

we dash into a cove,

waiting…

Suddenly, there’s an excited hiss

from the crow’s-nest swaying high above

We leap out,

nipping at the English trader,

darting swift as swift.

Like the other powder-monkeys,

I must dash to keep the cannon loaded,

silently praying

not to drop a cannonball.

I can hardly hear or see

through the bangs and shouting,

the drifting smoke and flying splinters.

When quiet returns,

the trader’s mainmast

leans shakily, shattered,

her cargo trickling into our hold.

The English captain,

twitching with rage,

shouts from his deck,

cursing your name.

‘God damn you, Grace O’Malley,

into Hell!’

I look at you –

back straight and proud, hair flying,

eyes bright, hard, sad and strong.

No curse comes to my lips, only admiration

for our Pirate Queen!

Calm waters beneath, we’re sailing alone again,

yet the crew are cheering still:

Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol!’

But how can you be bald?

That silly nickname

makes no sense at all,

so I start giggling, stormy-wild.

Somehow you hear –

there you are before me!

‘What’s this, a bhuachaill, sassing your captain?’

But then you’re grinning,

and I know you’re just like me –

sassing everyone within reach.

– Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

Here’s another piece in what I like to call my “Moments in History” series. I’ve been fascinated by pirates, and the history and culture of piracy, for a long time, though I’m not quite sure how that fascination began. On a number of Hallowe’en’s I have in fact dressed in pirate costume, as a way to connect to their world – romanticized though my view of that world may be. And the greater the swashbuckling air generated by the costume, the better!

Gráinne Ní Mháille (a common English version of her name is Grace O’Malley) has been one of my favourite historical and legendary pirates for some time – partly because she successfully accomplished a number of things which were generally thought of as unacceptable activities for women in her country and time period, and partly because she is an Irish historical-legendary figure. As any of my friends will tell you, I have a keen interest in Irish myth and folklore. To learn a bit more about Gráinne, check out this article.)

I owe thanks to my good friend Cam Wachowich for generously assisting me with some of the Irish in this poem. Any grammatical errors are my own. Go raibh míle maith agat, a chara!

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