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  [Grainne O'Malley - Pirate Queen]  

Grainne O'Malley - Pirate Queen

The area around Newport has impressive scenery and a countryside which, for all its barrenness and sad history, has an exciting splendour. Here the light changes quickly and whole landscapes seem to move as mist rises from the mountain face or a sword-ray of sunshine slashes its way across the heather to rest on a greenish-golden hill. And always at the feet of dramatic cliffs is the sea - turbulent, calm or restive, carving its way inland through tortuous deep harbours.

The mythology of the region is reflected in its bleak natural beauty and its pockets of soft prettiness. Its history and prehistory, from early days until quite recent times, are recalled by a wealth of man-made features. Traces of ringforts, souterrains, blessed wells, primitive inscribed crosses, from later times ruined abbeys and castles, and the Mass rocks of penal days may all be discovered in the countryside surrounding Newport.

The outstanding figure of local history and legend is that of Granuaile, Grainne O'Malley, the "most famous feminine sea captain" who defied the English commanders in the struggle to subdue Connaught under Queen Elizabeth I. Around the shores of Clew Bay there still stand several castles associated with her name, notably Rockfleets and Kildonnet, the ruins of Castleaffy and the castle on Clare Island.

One of these was Burrishoole Castle, the home of her second husband Richard Burke. Burrishoole was an active small port for over 500 years, until Newport was built in the Eighteenth Century. Though town and castle have now vanished, the remains of the Fifteenth Century abbey are still standing - on the very edge of the lovely tidal estuary of the Furnace River.

While the O'Malleys and Burkes were unsuccessfully resisting conquest in Mayo, so were the O'Donels farther to the north. As the pressure on them increased, so apparently did traffic between the two regions, Granuaile in particular travelling by sea to Ulster on more than one occasion. O'Donel, however, had shown a powerful presence in Mayo much earlier, indeed for at least two centuries before he finally left Ulster. In one sense it was not inappropriate therefore for the O'Donel who was transplanted in Cromwellian days to settle then at Newport: "When O'Donel first came into it, O'Malley was here to welcome him"






Newport House
Newport, Co. Mayo, Ireland