Grace of the Gamblers
O come to the convent, young ladies of Mayo,
We’ll arm you with needles and thread.
Outside in the trenches, a summer of spuds
Is rotting away like the dead …
in their beds
Is rotting away like the dead.
Along the grey sands, an ocean is foaming
Like spit on the lips of the starved.
But girls who can stitch white lace in fine patterns
Will be fatter than cows due to calve.
Fatter than cows due to calve.
And when you are working your edgings and sprigs
Spinning your bobbins and nets
Remember you’re not the first canny colleens
To unravel the Englishman’s threats
To unravel the Englishman’s threats.
For this is the ballad of Gráinne Ní Mháille,
Queen of the West Irish Coast.
At ten years of age she hacked off her hair
And blazoned the air with a boast:
‘Me ma must let me sail to Spain,
For I am me father’s daughter.
One day I’ll captain his galleys and men
And govern the stormiest water.’
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Gráinne Ní Mháille, known in English as Grace O’Malley, is a legendary Irish figure. Pirate, chieftain, gambler, sea-trader, and near-exact contemporary of Elizabeth I, she ruled the West Coast of Ireland for over forty turbulent years. In the spirit of the urban broadsheets that kept tales of early modern female adventurers alive and singing, Naomi Foyle’s ballad pamphlet, strikingly illustrated by Peter Griffiths, gives a vigorous and musical account of Gráinne’s notorious deeds.
‘A bravura performance. Foyle captures the swash and buckle of Ireland’s greatest sea-faring heroine with a poetry that is charged with wit and vivacity. Herstory is brought vividly to life as Foyle charts Grace O’Malley’s remarkable journey from the dangerous seas off the West Coast of Ireland to the even more treacherous court of Queen Elizabeth I.’ ~ Nessa O’Mahony
‘Naomi Foyle’s exuberant, resonant new work treats us to the wonderfully feisty Grainne Ní Mháille ‘s adventures in a ballad – a form long associated with women singers, composers and sailors – written here with bang-up minute freshness and verve. ‘Grace of the Gamblers, wanton and bold’ … springs off the page and into the reader’s imagination with characteristic courage and energy.’ ~ Catherine Smith