Spend the Night in the Ancestral Home of a Legendary Pirate Queen

Many visitors to Ireland may not make it to the remote region of Connemara. But venture far west of Dublin to find an eerily beautiful pocket of countryside, where history and tradition have an almost tangible presence. A heady combination of lakes and rivers meet meadows and woodlands, with dramatic mountains in view from every angle. Along the coastline,sandy beaches unspool as far as the eye can see. Ancient stone walls ramble across the terrain, some dating back thousands of years. In many ways, the present landscape is not so different from how it appeared in the 1500s, when so-called pirate queen Grace O’Malley ruled in western Ireland. Visitors to Ballynahinch Castle on the site of O’Malley’s former home—now a luxury hotel with open fireplaces and flagstone floors—would be hard-pressed to avoid the uncanny feeling of stepping back in time.

O’Malley was born to a seafaring clan in 1530, and according to historian and 36-year Ballynahinch employee Des Lally, she was a member of the Irish chieftain class, which had its own egalitarian society outside of English laws. “She was well educated,” explains Lally. “She had access to books and had a world view. She also had a very powerful and independent personality.” Furthermore, says Lally, “She was very conscious of her own lineage and power, but also of what she needed to do to control the purse strings which came to fore with her marriage at 16, to Donal O’Flaherty, whose family ruled Ballynahinch and the surrounds at the time.”

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