A Tale Of Two Irishwomen

Written by Andrew Linn on March 13, 2023

Since March is Women’s History Month, and St. Patrick’s Day is this Friday, I will focus on two women from Ireland.

The first woman is Grace O’Malley (1530-1603). The daughter of a chief of a seafaring clan, she supposedly wanted to join her father on a journey to Spain. After being told she couldn’t go because her hair would get caught in the ship’s ropes, she cut her hair in order to make the trip.

In 1546, Grace married Donal O’Flaherty, who was heir to the O’Flaherty clan, and who would teach her the art of piracy. She also became involved in Irish politics. Their marriage resulted in three children: Owen (who was later deceived and murdered by Sir Richard Bingham, the Governor of Connacht), Maeve (who took after her mother and married an Irish chieftain and noble named Richard “the Devil’s Hook” Bourke), and Murrough (who is said to have betrayed his family by joining forces with Sir Richard Bingham after Owen was murdered). In 1565, Donal was killed while he was hunting, most likely killed by members of a rival clan, who then attempted to take over the O’Flaherty castle. But Grace rallied the O’Flaherty clan in defeating their enemy. The following year, Grace married “Iron Richard” Bourke, an Irish chieftain and noble. Their marriage produced a son named Tibbot.

Grace embarked on a series of battles against other clans in addition to her seafaring expeditions. But she was best known for traveling to London in 1593 and met with Elizabeth I to gain the release of several relatives, as well as the return of her land that had been taken from her by Sir Richard Bingham. She is also said to seek independence for Ireland. During the meeting, Grace shocked those present by not bowing Elizabeth I, since Grace didn’t recognize her as “the Queen of Ireland”. In the end, Grace managed to get her relatives released from prison and is said to have succeeded in securing the return of her lands. However, her hopes for an independent Ireland were not to be. Nevertheless, Grace O’Malley, the Irish Pirate Queen, would remain unconquered to the end.

The second woman is Kate Shelley (1863-1912), who immigrated to America with her family in 1865. The Shelley family eventually settled in a cabin near Honey Creek, Iowa.

On the night of July 6, 1881, Kate heard a loud crash coming from the Des Moines River. After going outside to see what happened, she realized that a thunderstorm and flash floods had caused the bridge to collapse, which sent a pusher locomotive and its crew of four workmen (who were checking the bridge’s conditions) plunging into the river, killing two of them and stranding the other two. Kate knew the surviving men needed to be rescued, but she also realized an eastbound passenger train would be arriving at midnight, and it would plunge into the river if not stopped in time. To get to the station depot, she had to crawl across the trestle on her hands and knees in wind, lightning, and rain. After she got across the trestle, she ran the rest of the way to the depot and managed to stop the train in time. She then led a team to rescue the surviving workmen. In all, her heroics saved the lives of over 200 people.
The legacies of both women have inspired poems, music, portrayals, etc.

May everyone have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Andrew Linn
Andrew Linn is a member of the Owensboro Tea Party and a former Field Representative for the Media Research Center. An ex-Democrat, he became a Republican one week after the 2008 Presidential Election. He has an M.A. in history from the University of Louisville, where he became a member of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honors society. He has also contributed to examiner.com and Right Impulse Media.