2.3 Examples of practice: Grace O'Malley

Introduction to story 2: The Pirate meets the Queen by Matt Faulkner (Philomel Books ISBN 0-399-24038-1). 

This story is based on an incident in the life of the famous (or notorious depending on your point of view) Irish, female private known as Grace O'Malley (1530-1603).   Grace is also known as Granaile or Grania.  Told in the first person, the colourful illustrations depict her early life in Ireland and present an account of her meeting with the formidable Tudor queen, Elizabeth 1st in London. 



As the author comments in his note "I will be honest and tell you that some of what I've written is true and some of it is a little fanciful.  It's the way of storytelling".  Grace's reputation has received a boost in recent years with the publication of other children's literature about her.  These books include; 

  • My very first book of Irish pirates by Robert Walker, Barefoot Book ISBN 1-84148-304-4.
  • The Ghost of Grania O'Malley by Michael Murpugo.  Egmont ISBN 0 74974-691-2.
  • Granaile by M Moriaty.  O'Brien press ISBN 0-86278-162-0.
  • Granaile: The Pirate Queen by Morgan Llewellyn.  O'Brien Press. ISBN 0-86278-578-2.

These in turn form part of a much wider movement in recent decades to:

  • boost her legendary reputation based on Irish folklore tradition
  • uncover the "real" Grace from contemporary evidence about her
  • promote Grace as an Irish nationalist heroine and feminist icon.

Despite the relative paucity of contemporary evidence, particularly in Ireland itself, the most recent historical biography, Granaile; Island's Pirate Queen (Grace O'Malley) 1530-1603 by Anne Chambers (Dublin. Wolfhead Press ISBN 0-86327-913-9) has been widely promoted (particularly in Ireland and America).   This academic focus also feeds back into the renewal of folk traditions about Grace O'Malley.  She continues to be celebrated in song and on the stage.  In 2006 a musical called "The Pirate Queen" opened in Chicago and Anne Chambers is writing a screenplay for a feature film to be issued in 2009.  Such a body of rich and available materials around the one historical figure (including the storybook "The Pirates meets the Queen" by Matt Faulkner) make Grace O'Malley an excellent object of study for teaching emotive and controversial history.

*  It allows time for pupils to explore and evaluate later interpretations of an historical figure in some depth.

*  It focuses on an historical figure who challenges pupils' preconceptions of what pirates were like (i.e. male)

If incorporated into the Study of the Tudors at Key Stage 2, it provides a contrasting slant on the period from an Irish point of view on the period.  Through the story of Grace O'Malley it is possible to challenge the traditional interpretation of Elizabeth 1st's reign as a golden age.  Ireland was a constant drain on Elizabeth's treasury and some historians have referred to it as her Vietnam War. 


The colourful Life of Grace O'Malley forms part of that neglected narrative of Tudor history.  For a full and clear eyed account of Grace O'Malley's life with useful links to the background of anglo-irish relations in Elizabeth 1st's reign, see her entry in Wikipedia  

Structure of learning; The following suggestions for using "The Pirate meets the Queen" borrow freely from the excellent resources developed by the Ireland in Schools initiative (iisresource.org) who publish material trailed in British schools with the aim of promoting an awareness of an Irish historical dimension to British history.  As in the previous case study, successive enquiry questions allow the teacher to guide their pupils through the learning journey.

What do we think we know about pirates

This question aims at gathering pupil perceptions about pirates (which are usually dominated by bearded males in battered tricorn hats with a parrot thrown in) and then puncturing those perceptions with an image of Grace O'Malley.  Place the word "pirate" on the board and invite pupils in pairs to come up with any words they associate with the term against the clock.  Take suggestions from pairs in turn and add these to the board, forming a mindmap around the original word pirate in the centre.  Next display an image of Johnny Depp as Captain Sparrow from the Disney film "Pirates of the Carribbean".   Lead a discussion with the class, taking suggestions as to how many of the words from the mindmap help to describe the image of Captain Sparrow.  Next display a further succession of images of pirates, ending with the distinctly feminine figure of Grace O'Malley.  (A series of such images including one of Johnny Depp, can be downloaded as a powerpoint or pdf from Ireland in Schools where they were trialled as part of a scheme of work in Birmingham).   After each image, discuss which ones fit the terms on the mindmap best and which least.  Lastly explain that Grace O'Malley is known as a famous female pirate from Ireland in the sixteenth century.

What do we know about Grace O'Malley

This question aims to familiarise pupils with the highs and lows of Grace O'Malley's life.  Place a timeline around the classroom with the key dates from Grace O'Malley's life clearly marked (these can be found within the text of page 11 from  Grace Pirate 1). (This resource was written for KS1 but could incorporate more details from the Wikipedia entry for Grace O'Malley)  Tell the story of Grace carefully, walking from one date to the next around the room.  From the same document above, download a series of images that illustrate episodes of Grace's life from modern children's books (take care to remove captions).  Issue copies to groups of pupils and ask them to place them by a relevant date on the timeline against the clock.  Walk around the dates again in turn, taking suggestions as to which illustrations match which date, taking care to probe pupil reasoning in each case.  Lastly issue pairs or groups of pupils with a "living graph" which marks the range of decades from 1530 to 1603 on the bottom axis and Good or Bad Fourtune on the vertical axis.  Give out a set of cards to pupils summarising the events of Grace's life and ask them to place them on the graph, matching events to dates and deciding the highs and lows of her career against the side axis but these were originally devised for use with Year 8 pupils.  They could easily be simplified if necessary).  Hold a discussion where each pair or group explains their pattern of cards from their own graph in turn.  The teacher then agrees a whole class version, marking the points occupied by a card with a cross which which can then be joined up in a colour to show the pattern of Grace's life.  Keep this version and the pupil living graphs for future reference.

What do we know about Elizabeth 1

Repeat the activities above for the life of Elizabeth 1, drawing on any prior learning pupils may have about her.  A further set of cards summarising the life of Elizabeth 1 can be downloaded from Grace Pirate 1.  Place the agreed highs and lows of her life onto the previous class version of the living graph used in the previous activity, marked in a different colour.  Hold a discussion about how similar or different each life was.

What does Matt Faulkner say about Grace O'Malley?

Explain that no account of Grace O'Malley's meeting with Elizabeth 1 has survived.  Pick articulate pupils to play the roles of Elizabeth 1 and Grace O'Malley and set up an imaginary freeze frame of their meeting at the front of the class.  Take suggestions about what each might be thinking, then ask the two pupils in role to describe their own thoughts.  Read the text "The Pirate meets the Queen" by Matt Faulkner, pausing to take comments and prompt suggestions throughout.  Take suggestions from pupils as to what Matt Faulkner wants us to think about Grace O'Malley and widen the discussion to include:


* the extent to which Faulkner's O'Malley fits with what they already know about her

* how truthful they think his story is likely to be.



What should we tell KS1 pupils about Grace O'Malley?

Return to the pirates mindmap from the first enquiry question.  Ask pairs to discuss the extent to which Grace O'Malley fits the terms on the mindmap.  Lead a whole class discussion, taking suggestions from pairs and probing pupil understanding.  Either singly or in pairs ask pupils to plan a storybook for Key Stage One pupils about Grace O'Malley using a story board (the book must be no longer than 10 pages).  Pupils must decide:


            *  the title of the book

            *  what to call Grace e.g. do they use her English or

                Irish name?

            *  what incidents to include or exclude

            *  how to describe her i.e. was she a pirate? 




Select individuals or pairs to present their story board to the class and probe pupil reasoning carefully.  If time, pupils produce and illustrate their books, reading them to Key Stage One pupils.

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