A Historical Hairdo at Home

Lady Una Redfox

Granuaile Ui Mhaille, most commonly referred to by the English pronunciation, Grace O'Malley, was an Irish sea Captain and chieftain during the Mid to late 1500s. Granuaile was born into a seafaring family off the West coast of Ireland. The Mhaille clan motto is 'Terra Marique Potens' (Powerful by Land and Sea) indicating that they were a strong and successful people with a legacy to be respected and feared. Often referred to as the Queen of Pirates and the Pirate Queen of Ireland, Granuaile is regarded by historians as one of the greatest mariners of the middle ages, navigating her fleet of ships from Scotland to Spain. So dedicated to sailing she gave birth to her youngest son at sea and it is rumored that she slept with her favorite ship moored to her bedpost at night.

I am Una Redfox, Captain of the Siren's Song, Vice Admiral of the Corsairium, the naval guild of the Kingdom of Atlantia in the Society for Creative Anachronism. My persona is largely inspired by the life and legends of this extraordinary historical figure. Granuaile was doing things in her time that no other women were able to do. It is difficult to know for certain who she was as a person because records of her daily life are scarce but her infamy as a pirate and troublemaker to the English, lives on in songs, stories and poems. It is safe to assume that she was a person of great determination and bravery and I strive to learn about her and bring her to life in the SCA in my own small way.

One of Granuaile's nicknames was Grainne Mhaol, which translates to Grainne the Bald. According to folklore, when Granuaile was a girl (13-15 depending on sources) she asked her father Dubhdara "Black Oak" to take her on an upcoming voyage to Spain but he told her no, claiming that girls cannot sail because their long hair would get tangled in the rigging, a legitimate concern. Undaunted, Granuaile cut off all her hair and snuck aboard her father's ship. She started sailing and she never looked back.

"She had her sights set on the sea.
Stubborn Irish pride had Grace O'Malley.
She was a girl not meant to stand still.
She'd bring the world to its knees.
So she cut off her hair and stowed away there
on Black Oak's ship in the wide open sea
She had a pirate's heart, Grace O'Malley"

It is easy to see why I am so inspired by this woman, who wouldn't be? Thinking about this small but significant act by a bold young girl I decided that I too, would cut off my own hair. Over the last year and a half of these Plague times I have not had a single haircut and it has grown very long. Now is the time for me to be a little bit bold and step into the shoes of the past. Knowing nothing about hair, I first asked a friend for advice and then watched several tutorials on YouTube and a WikiHow about how to cut one's hair at home.

Feeling confident that I knew more about what I was doing than teenage Granuaile did, I separated my hair into two halves, with a part down the middle, then separated that into two more sections front to back. I put each section in a hair tie to keep it together and then under each section I put another tie where I wanted to cut. I adjusted these until they were even and made my first cut. The stakes of me cutting my hair are much lower than that of a girl in the 1500's but I felt very nervous. I started with a back section, my scissors were not as sharp as I hoped but I did my best. I cut the three remaining sections and then took all the hair ties out. When I shook out my hair I was surprised at how short it was (I planned to cut it longer than desired so I could fix my mistakes). I used my scissors to trim the back and any other stray hairs. I feel very fortunate to have curly hair that will hide my mistakes.

I am thrilled with my results and feel proud of myself for taking the risk. I feel a tiny bit closer to my inspiration. In the moment just before my first cut, I looked into the mirror and thought about the young girl who was willing to do anything to chase her dream. I hope I can live my life half as boldly as Granuaile Ui Mhaille.

Chambers, Anne. Ireland's Pirate Queen: The True Story of Grace O'Malley. MJF Books, 2003.
Miracle of sound. “Gráinne Mhaol, Queen Of Pirates.”
O'Neill-Sheehan, Elizabeth. Grace O'Malley, the Queen of the Sea. The Author, 2016.