The Two Graces Of County Mayo Ireland

The story of two Irish historical figures who came out of one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland - County Mayo.

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The Two Graces Of County Mayo Ireland

Let me start by asking you to do something. Close your eyes and think of Ireland. Let the images and sounds come wafting into your consciousness. Perhaps you are seeing green fields with stone walls? Or a wild blue sea beating off high cliffs and flowing onto white sands?

How about empty bog land stretching to the mountains across lonely small roads? Or maybe colourful villages containing lively pubs with the best musicians around?

I’m sure you have many more sights and sounds to add to these few! I bring this up as we recently travelled to a county where you will find all of the stories, pictures, history and scenery of Ireland within its border. That is County Mayo.

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Ballycroy National Park, County Mayo

Do your ancestors come from the county?

County Mayo, Ireland.

Carina and I were in Mayo last weekend driving a part of the new “Wild Atlantic Way” which is Europe’s new longest (and prettiest!) scenic drive. Now, while Mayo is the third largest County in Ireland, it is also one of the emptiest. Its’ population dropped from 388,887 in 1841 to 110,713 in 1991, mostly due to emigration. Let’s put this in perspective (and see if I can get this right so early in the morning!):

  • In the USA, approximately 37 Million people identify themselves as being of Irish descent.
  • In our Your Irish Heritage list (now over 6,000 names) approximately 10% have names that came from County Mayo originally.
  • This suggests, by extension, that around 3.7 million of people of Irish descent in the USA alone would report County Mayo surnames in their family tree.

That’s a lot of people spread around the world from one small county. People with surnames like:

Walsh, Gallagher, Kelly, O’Malley, Moran, Duffy, McHale, Gibbons, Joyce, O’Connor, Conway, Higgins, Murphy, Bourke, O’Reilly, Gardner, Durkan, O’Doherty and McHugh

Like to add your County Mayo surname to our list? Just signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here. 

which were the top surnames in Mayo in 1890. But, this morning we are going to focus on the holders of two of these names: Kelly and O’Malley. Two of County Mayo’s finest ladies—one became a Queen, and the other a Princess.

The Two Graces Of County Mayo.

In the year 1530 AD, Grace O’Malley was born on the shores of Clew Bay in County Mayo. Her family took their name from the country and tribe of Uí Maille, Grace was to become known as both the Queen of Uí Maille and the Queen of Connaught during her lifetime. She was also later popularised as the “Pirate Queen”. There is so much that I could write about this lady, her exploits and legends, but not in this short letter.

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Carrigahowley Castle, County Mayo.

In 1566 AD, Grace O’Malley was married to Richard Bourke. The Bourke family were overlords of the O’Malleys and this marriage, a second for Grace, was probably motivated by an ambition to grow her wealth and standing. Bourke was owner of Carraigahowley Castle which was located in a sheltered harbour and very suitable for the hiding of pirate ships. After only one year of marriage, O’Malley and her followers locked themselves in Carraigahowley Castle and Grace called down to Burke, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” Those words had the effect of ending their marriage under Brehon Law. But by that law she also got to keep what was already in her possession—and that included the castle and lands around it. Grace went on to live for many more decades and based herself in her new stronghold. She most likely died at Carraigahowley Castle around the year 1603 AD.

Five Miles Up The Road.

Just five short miles up the road from Carraigahowley Castle—near to the town of Newport, you will find the townland of Drimurla. This was the birthplace of one John Peter Kelly. John was an unskilled labourer who left his birthplace and home in 1887 and emigrated to Philadelphia in the USA. In November 12, 1929, his granddaughter, Grace Patricia Kelly was born. This is, of course, the beautiful movie star Grace Kelly who between 1951 and 1956 went on to star in eleven Hollywood movies.

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The Track of “Lazy Beds” on the Land in Mayo

Grace is equally famous for her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. They were married on April 19, 1956 when she also assumed the title of Princess Grace of Monaco. She visited Ireland, including her home place in Drimurla, County Mayo, a number of times before her premature death in 1982. Can you imagine these two Graces, who were near neighbours, but across the centuries, sitting down in front of the fire in Carraigahowley Castle? The Queen and the Princess talking about their hopes, dreams, loves and families. Each noticing the strong determination, iron will and ambition in the other.

Now that would make a good movie: “The Two Graces of County Mayo”. What do you think?

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