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Four Badass Women from Irish History

People often ask me why I love to write about Ireland. Is it the beauty of the scenery? Ireland’s warm and wonderful people? It’s music and poetry? The answer is yes to all of this.

But the number one reason I love writing about Ireland is that Irish history is full of badass bitches.

Whenever I feel insecure about myself, whenever I have to face a frightful foe, whenever I need to speak up, speak out (even if my voice shakes!), I call upon the spirits of these brave women.

So today, on this brilliant St. Patrick’s Day, I bring to you my top four badass women from Irish history.

Queen Medb (early Bronze Age)

MedbQueen Medb (also known as Queen Maeve) was chilling in bed with her husband Ailill one night and they got into an argument about who had more wealth (this is actually what I imagine Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marital spats to be about). When she discovered that Ailill was one stud bull richer than she was, she decided to attack her ex-husband King Conchobar and steal his prize bull, Don Cúalinge.

Why Medb was Such a Badass…

Medb had three conditions for a husband: that he be without fear, meanness, or jealousy. A warrior herself, she couldn’t abide a weakling. She had also escaped an abusive relationship from King Conchobar and refused to put up with any mess. But the last condition was perhaps the most vital because she had several lovers in her lifetime and possessed an insatiable appetite for all the Celtic hotness in the universe. All of it.

During her last stand with the Irish Hercules Cuchulain, she had vicious cramps and so she got the hell out of there. See ya, suckers. I’m off to drink wine, eat chocolate and binge watch some Gilmore Girls. Not really, but she wouldn’t let a menstrual cycle ruin her Ulster cycle, and in spite of having epic PMS, she stole Conchobar’s bull anyway. Because she was a badass. And badass is as badass does.

Check out this exchange from the Táin Bó Cualinge with her chief warrior hottie  and part-time lover, Fergus:

  Then Medb got her gush of blood.
‘Fergus,’ she said, ‘take over the shelter of shields at the rear of the men of    Ireland until I relieve myself.’
“By god,” Fergus said, ‘you have picked a bad time for this.’
‘I can’t help it,’ Medb said. ‘I’ll die if I can’t do it.’

Seriously, Fergus, do your fucking job.


Grace O’Malley (c. 1530 – c. 1603)

Also known as Grainne Ní Mháille, GracGrace O'Malleye O’Malley was a pirate (an actual girl pirate!!!), who amassed incredible wealth for a woman of her time and even went toe to toe with Queen Elizabeth.

Why Grace O’Malley was Such a Badass…

Oh, where do I even begin? As a young girl, she begged her father to take her on a trading voyage to Spain, but he refused, saying her hair will catch on the ropes. So right before they set sail, she showed up with all her hair cut off, because GOTCHA!

Like many women, Grace had to be a bit crafty to gain power, and she was not above using marriage to see to her own political ends. So with all that in mind she married this dude named Bourke, and under the ancient Brehon Laws a couple could decide after a year if they wanted to split up or not. Well. Grace was not pleased with Bourke, and legend has it that after a year she kicked him out of his own castle, calling out the window, “Bourke, I dismiss you.” Total badass move.

Another legend claims that after a local family the MacMahons killed her lover, Hugh de Lacey, she led a group of warriors to Doona Castle and went Kill Bill style on their entire tribe, slaying everyone responsible. She kicked them out and took the castle for herself. Not satisfied, she even stalked one of the MacMahons who was seeking sanctuary in a local church. In the olden days, her seeking this dude out in a church was against the blood-feud code. Even Shakespeare knew that! But Grace didn’t care. Grace was out for revenge.

When the English kidnapped her brothers, this pirate queen walked right into Queen Elizabeth’s court and demanded their release. Grace didn’t speak English, so she had to list her terms in Latin because, you know, a true badass speaks the language of the Enlightenment. Queen Elizabeth agreed, and Grace O’Malley saved the day.

Sydney Owenson (c. 1781-1859)

Sydney OwensonSydney Owenson, later Lady Morgan, was the penniless daughter of a poor, drunken, itinerant actor. Determined to take care of her sickly sister, she started working as a governess, but back then the work was pretty much slave labor. Owenson had to take matters into her own hands, and so she steered her sights to the only other real option for educated ladies at that time: novel writing.

Her book The Wild Irish Girl became a smashing success, and Owenson decided go a little wild herself by dressing up as the “wild” Irish heroine in her story. Her performance of “Glorvina” was so convincing that the ton confused her for an actual chieftain’s daughter, masquerading her around as a “real” Irish native. There was a run on harp brooches and green mantles in all the Dublin stores, and in London she visited all the major households, singing, playing the harp, and basically pulling a right old Michael Flately on anyone who would give her shenanigans an audience.

But the joke was on them because Owenson’s books were scathing critiques of Regency politics, English imperialism, and racism. Her book The Missionary was upheld by the Romantic poets of the day as a revolutionary text and a cautionary tale of the evils of colonial rule.

Why Sydney Owenson was Such a Badass

Aside from being a wild party girl and literary genius, Owenson had a wicked sense of humor and never backed down from a fight. One of her most infamous critics was this dickhole named John Wilson Croker whose antipathy for Owenson bordered on the pathological (Owenson was to Beyonce as Croker was to Bill O’Reilly) and he couldn’t stand her popularity. Here’s a condensed list of the critiques he threw at her:

“Attempting to vitiate mankind…undermine morality sophistry…bad spelling.”

            Bad spelling? Really? That’s all you got?

            Oh, but he’s just getting started.

“Bad taste—Bombast and Nonsense—Blunders—General Ignorance—Jacobinism—          Falsehood—Licentiousness and Impiety.”

            And THEN…

“she…gets drunk before noon.”



You would think Owenson would get all upset, but badass bitches don’t get upset. They don’t cry.

They write assholes like Croker into their novels.

Oh, yeah, that’s right. In her book Florence McCarthy, Owenson created the character Con Crawley, a small-minded, sniveling middleman who exploits the Irish and is basically just horrible at life. He became the laughing stock of the Irish literary scene while Owenson sat back with her morning mimosa and twirled all her haters. Because she was a badass.

Countess Markievicz (1868-1927)

Young CountessCountess Markievicz gave absolutely zero fucks during her lifetime. None. She started out the daughter of an Anglo-Irish landowner and died in solidarity with the impoverished people of Ireland she so desperately fought for. She was a celebrated landscape painter and married a wealthy Polish count, but after settling in Dublin, her life took a drastic political turn. She worked tirelessly as a suffragist and then later joined James Connelly in the 1913 Lockout to fight for better working conditions amongst the Irish. She started several nationalist women’s movements and became a key player in the fight against English rule.

Why Countess Markievicz was Such a Badass

Funny thing about being rich. You learn some pretty handy things like good marksmanship. Bearing this knowledge, Countess Markeivicz trained an entire generation of Irish revolutionaries how to shoot. During the Easter 1916 uprising, she stood at the frontlines to fight and inspired other women to stand with her. And she did it all wearing this killer hat:

Countess Markievicz

“I came here to slay, bitch.” ~ Countess Markievicz, probably

When the male martyrs of the revolution were tried and executed, she begged to be among them so she could die alongside her friends. But the English refused because she was a woman. Nevertheless, the Countess went on to play a key role in the new Irish government, and her legacy continues to live on today, particularly with her fashion advice for badass bitches everywhere:

“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.”

Solid, Countess. Solid.

Of course, Irish history is filled with badass women, and this blog post cannot possibly contain all that awesome. Do you know a badass woman from Irish history? Maybe it was your grandmother or your aunt? Please share in the comments below!

Also, if you like badass Irish women, you might want to check out my latest release Through the Veil from Entangled publishing. There are girl pirates, sharp shooters, tons of warrior women, and maybe even some drinking before noon.

Now available at, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

Also, there’s still a badass giveaway going on for Three the Veil. Check it out! It’s full of great goodies!

Here’s the direct link: