IRISH HISTORY and mythology, and indeed the points where they intersect, are rich materials for the graphic novel, leading, over the last number of years, to Irish writers and artists exploring the potentialities of such as Cúchulainn and The Táin.
It was only a matter of time then before attention was turned to the real-life, indeed larger than life, Grace O’Malley, the 16th century pirate queen, who is now the subject of Granuaile - Queen Of Storms, written by Dave Hendrick, with artwork by Luca Pizzari, and published by the O’Brien Press.
Byandlarge this is a stirring adventure. Set on the eve of the Elizabethan conquest, it shows an Ireland full of intrigue, violence, the tug of loyalties, and relationships where trust is vital, but hard to come by.
Hendrick, along with Pizzari’s atmospheric, characterful, artwork, does a good job in exploring the tensions and ideologies that divided the Irish clans, preventing them from forming a coherent, united, opposition to the encroaching English, and how Granuaile herself was not immune to the kind of ‘as long as the English don’t bother me I don’t care’ attitude.
For dramatic effect, certain historical situations are changed. The famous meeting between O’Malley and Elizabeth I took place in Greenwich Palace, but Hendrick has a further conversation between the two women in a dungeon. Although not historically accurate, this should not deter readers, as the setting is to symbolise the impending situation for Irish leaders in general, and the later breakdown of the agreement reached by O’Malley and Elizabeth, in particular.
A life as extraordinary, and complex, as O’Malley’s is difficult to convey over such a short space. As a result, sections of her life, such as her second marriage, are skipped over, and timelines can become slightly confused, and Queen of Storms might have been better served as either a longer book, or as a series of graphic novels, so certain aspects of her story - both those included in the book and those omitted, could be explored more fully.
Despite these caveats, Queen of Storms, in its artwork and writing, has enough pace, action, momentum, and understanding of the historical period to make it a welcome addition to Irish graphic novels, and the courage, independence, and compelling nature of O’Malley are well served.