Grace of the Gamblers: A Chantilly Chantey

Naomi Foyle

   
Naomi Foyle was born in London, England, grew up in Hong Kong, Liverpool and Saskatchewan, and now lives in Brighton a short walk from the sea. Originally trained in theatre, Naomi has collaborated with artists, musicians and filmmakers on award-winning projects including the video poem Good Definition (2004) and the Canadian opera Hush (1990), while her international readings include appearances at The Cuisle Festival in Limerick, and Tacheles Art House in Berlin. She brings both literary and performance skills to her debut collection The Night Pavilion — a scintillating cabaret of ballads, riddling lyric verse, and erotic prose poetry, and an Autumn 2008 Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Naomi is also the author of several pamphlets, including Red Hot & Bothered (Lansdowne Press, Hove, 2003), which won the Apples & Snakes 2008 ‘The Book Bites Back’ competition, and Grace of the Gamblers: A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press, 2009), the latest fruit of her long-standing interest in Irish history and poetry. Naomi holds an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College, and is currently working towards a doctorate in Creative Writing from Bangor University.
 
  

  
Grace of the Gamblers
A Chantilly Chantey
A ‘Waterloo Slims’ ballad pamphlet by Naomi Foyle
Illustrated by Peter Griffiths
 
Gráinne Ní Mháille, known in English as Grace O’Malley, is a legendary Irish figure. Pirate, chieftain, gambler, sea-trader, and near-exact contemporary of Elizabeth I, she ruled the West Coast of Ireland for over forty turbulent years. In the spirit of the urban broadsheets that kept tales of early modern female adventurers alive and singing, this strikingly illustrated ballad pamphlet is a vigorous and musical account of Gráinne’s notorious deeds.
 
 
Grace of the Gamblers is a bravura performance. Foyle captures the swash and buckle of Ireland’s greatest sea-faring heroine with a poetry that is charged with wit and vivacity. Herstory is brought vividly to life as Foyle charts Grace O’Malley’s remarkable journey from the dangerous seas off the West Coast of Ireland to the even more treacherous court of Queen Elizabeth I.”
  
– Nessa O’Mahony
 
 
“Naomi Foyle’s exuberant, resonant new work treats us to the wonderfully feisty Grainne Ní Mháille ‘s adventures in a ballad – a form long associated with women singers, composers and sailors – written here with bang-up minute freshness and verve. ‘Grace of the Gamblers, wanton and bold’ … springs off the page and into the reader’s imagination with characteristic courage and energy.”
 
– Catherine Smith
 

Grace of the Gamblers
A Chantilly Chantey
  
   
O come to the convent, young ladies of Mayo,
     We’ll arm you with needles and thread.
Outside in the trenches, a summer of spuds
     Is rotting away like the dead…
                                             in their beds …
     Is rotting away like the dead.

 
Along the grey sands, an ocean is foaming
     Like spit on the lips of the starved.
But girls who can stitch white lace in fine patterns
     Will be fatter than cows due to calve.
                                                       To carve!
     Fatter than cows due to calve.

 
And when you are working your edgings and sprigs,
     Spinning your bobbins and nets,
Remember you’re not the first canny colleens
     To unravel the Englishman’s threats.
                                                       Don’t forget
     To unravel the Englishman’s threats.

 
For this is the ballad of Gráinne Ní Mháille,
     Queen of the West Irish Coast.
At ten years of age she hacked off her hair
     And blazoned the air with a boast:
 
‘Me Ma must let me set sail to Spain,
     For I am me father’s daughter.
One day I’ll captain his galleys and men
     And govern the stormiest water.’
 
The old fella guffawed, took her aboard,
     Glad of a girl with gumption;
Under his wing she studied the stars,
     The tides and perfect presumption.
 
For Pa was a Chieftain, his hard-won crown
     A silver sea studded with islets,
And if Gráinne could swagger on deck like a man,
     She’d be after commanding his pirates.
 
Wind at her neck, salt stinging her lips,
     The crop-headed lassie in britches
Grew into a woman named Granuaile,
     Intent on increasing her riches —
 
Galley bellies groaning with goods,
     Spare cutlasses stashed in the flax,
In between bartering wool for wine,
     She was rifling wrecks on the rocks!
 
But a good Gaelic girl must marry and mother,
     The womb is a powerful smithy ―
When Granuaile wed an O’Flaherty man
     The whiskey it flowed like the Liffey.
 
She bore him three tiddlers, collected his rents,
     Defended his land with her vessels;
But Donal, that eejit, died in an ambush,
     Leaving her trapped in Cock’s Castle.
 
O Granuaile’s story is shaping up swell,
     Like a river of Limerick lace,
It toiles and billows, tumbles and sprays,
     Til history’s calling her Grace.
                                             Her Grace…
     Now history’s calling her Grace.
 
   
  
Order Grace of the Gamblers (Waterloo Press, 2009).

5 thoughts on “Grace of the Gamblers: A Chantilly Chantey

  1. Elizabeth Rimmer

    Did you ever hear the folk opera Granuaile by Shaun Davey – there’s a cd – singing by Rita Connolly, music by Liam O’Flynn – it’s amazing.
    grace O’Malley was a real character. I once met a man who claimed to be a descendant, and told stories to anyone who would listen.

  2. Michelle Post author

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I’ve heard about Shaun Davey’s Granuaile, but not seen it.

    I’ve been working on some Granuaile poems too and have found Anne Chambers’ Granuaile (Gill & Macmillan) of much interest.

    Naomi’s Grace of the Gamblers is wonderfully descriptive, entertaining and skilled. It’s a joy to read.

  3. Barbara S

    Wahey! That’s quite refreshing to read, Michelle and good luck to Naomi with the book, Grainne certainly inspires many’s a one and I like this thigh-slapping excerpt.

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