The O’Malley clan thrived in County Mayo and held favor with the King of Connacht. Their ties to the king through bountiful tribute gave them their influence. The influence over both their territory and the waters surrounding it gave them the clan motto “Terra Marique Potens”, which roughly translates to “Powerful by Land and Sea”. The O’Malley clan had many clans that wanted to encroach on their lands, so they utilized their resources to build a chain of castles so that the family and fighters would never be unprepared or caught off guard. One of these castles on Clare Island became Grace O’Malley’s notorious base for her acts of piracy. Grace was not the first of the O’Malley clan to turn to piracy, but she was the only one to utilize their family’s superior positioning to safeguard themselves from any incoming enemies. The legacy of the O’Malleys on the sea was so broad and powerful that certain Irish cities, namely Galway, made laws to prevent them from coming into the orders without specific legal permissions. Both the legal trade business and the underhanded piracy among the coasts cemented the O’Malley seat of power that most every other Irish clan coveted immensely.
Grainne Ní Mháille, or Grace O’Malley, was born in 1530 in Connacht, a western province of Ireland. She inherited the title of chieftain of the O Maille clan from her father, Eoghan Dubhdara O Maille. She became very wealthy by her father’s sea trading business, the land left to her by her mother. Her wealth and status did not discourage her from wanting a life of adventure and seafaring. She was so adamant about joining her father’s trading expeditions that she cut off all her hair when her father told her that it would get caught in the ropes that tied the sails. This love of the sea led her for her entire life.