Granuaile was a remarkable woman who captured the imaginations of people in Ireland and all over the world because of her extraordinary exploits as the leader of the O’Malley clan in the second half of the 16th century.
She was an enigmatic character; on the one hand intelligent and well educated, on the other a ruthless military leader who fought numerous battles with the English as they tried to subdue Ireland.
Her exploits made her an heroic figure and she went down in folklore as a symbol of Irish resistance to British rule.
By extension, she also became a symbol for Ireland itself, dispossessed but never defeated and never resting until freedom was regained, no matter how much self-sacrifice that entailed for her.
This was the image of Granuaile and Ireland that Padraig Pearce wanted to project when he rewrote the lyrics to Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile as a rallying call to Irish nationalists leading up the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.
The traditional version, which dated back to the 18th century, originally referred to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite Rebellion to gain the English throne.
Pearce’s version of the song removes Bonnie Prince Charlie and replaces him with Granuaile, a true, native Irish figurehead.
The song now welcomes Granuaile home and refers to her imprisonment, which is mirrored by the effective imprisonment of the Irish people who saw their land being usurped by the English.
Granuaile has always been a major figure in the Irish nationalist consciousness and has featured in several songs as a symbol of Ireland and its resistance to British rule.
In recent years, her name has become more widely known throughout the world thanks to the musical work, Granuaile, written by Irish composer Shaun Davey.
Numerous artists have performed extracts from Davey’s work, including Celtic Woman.