When Dutch & Muslim Pirates Kidnapped An Entire Irish Village


What is certain is that very few of the 107 were ever heard of again (three women at most, who were ransomed up to 14 years after their abduction). The fate of the rest is unknown, but for many it would have been to end their days as galley slaves or concubines in the harems of Algiers.

The Sack of Baltimore, County Cork in 1631

In the summer of 1631 Baltimore fell victim to a sensational attack by pirates. At that time the population consisted chiefly of settlers from England who had arrived some years earlier to work in the lucrative pilchard fishery under lease from the O’Driscoll chieftain, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll. Piracy was rife along the shores of West Cork, much of it of a home-grown variety; indeed the settlement’s founder, Thomas Crooke, stood accused of involvement himself. However, the danger in this case was from much farther afield.

On board two ships that left Algiers was a combined force of Dutch, Algerians and Turks under the command of one of the most successful leaders of Barbary pirates, a renegade Dutchman called Murat Reis the Younger. By the time they reached the coast of West Cork, more than 1,000 miles away, they had already seized a number of smaller vessels, imprisoning their crews. The captain of one was a Dungarvan man by the name of John Hackett. Reis’ original target was probably Kinsale, but Hackett declared the harbour there ‘too hot’ to enter and in return for his freedom he offered to pilot Reis to the defenceless village of Baltimore. Undetected, the pirates anchored outside the harbour ‘about a musket shot from the shore’ late in the evening of 19th June. From here they launched an attack on the sleeping village before dawn the next day.

The inhabitants were taken completely by surprise. More than 200 armed corsairs landed in the Cove, torching the thatched roofs of the houses and carrying off with them ‘young and old out of their beds’. Moving on to the main village, the pirates took more captives before musket fire and the beating of a drum alerted the remaining villagers and persuaded Reis to end the raid. By that time more than 100 men, women and children had been taken. They were herded back to the ships, which bore them away from the coves of West Cork to the slave markets of North Africa.

The raid on Baltimore was the worst-ever attack by Barbary corsairs on the mainland of Ireland or Britain. Most of the names in the official report sound English, but it is likely that there were also a few native Irish among the prisoners. What is certain is that very few of the 107 were ever heard of again (three women at most, who were ransomed up to 14 years after their abduction). The fate of the rest is unknown, but for many it would have been to end their days as galley slaves or concubines in the harems of Algiers. For his part Hackett was arrested and hanged on a clifftop outside the village.

The Sack of Baltimore is fertile ground for conspiracy theories. They generally point the finger at the rapacious Sir Walter Coppinger who had been seeking to prise the village away from the O’Driscolls, oust the settlers and secure it for himself. Whether by accident or design, the pirates carried out part of this plan for him. In the aftermath of the raid the surviving villagers moved inland to Skibbereen and elsewhere in search of greater security and Coppinger’s designs on the village were realised. The Sack marked the end of the 400-year reign of the O’Driscolls as overlords of Baltimore.

Boulanger, Gustave. “The Slave Market”.

The Sack of Baltimore

(Poem by Thomas Osborne Davis, 1814–45)

THE SUMMER sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles,
The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles;
Old Innisherkin’s crumbled fane looks like a moulting bird,
And in a calm and sleepy swell the ocean tide is heard:
The hookers lie upon the beach; the children cease their play; 5
The gossips leave the little inn; the households kneel to pray;
And full of love, and peace, and rest, its daily labor o’er,
Upon that cosy creek there lay the town of Baltimore.

A deeper rest, a starry trance, has come with midnight there;
No sound, except that throbbing wave, in earth, or sea, or air! 10
The massive capes and ruin’d towers seem conscious of the calm;
The fibrous sod and stunted trees are breathing heavy balm.
So still the night, these two long barques round Dunashad that glide
Must trust their oars, methinks not few, against the ebbing tide.
Oh, some sweet mission of true love must urge them to the shore! 15
They bring some lover to his bride who sighs in Baltimore.

All, all asleep within each roof along that rocky street,
And these must be the lover’s friends, with gently gliding feet—
A stifled gasp, a dreamy noise! “The roof is in a flame!”
From out their beds and to their doors rush maid and sire and dame, 20
And meet upon the threshold stone the gleaming sabre’s fall,
And o’er each black and bearded face the white or crimson shawl.
The yell of “Allah!” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:
O blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore!

Then flung the youth his naked hand against the shearing sword; 25
Then sprung the mother on the brand with which her son was gor’d;
Then sunk the grandsire on the floor, his grand-babes clutching wild;
Then fled the maiden moaning faint, and nestled with the child:
But see! yon pirate strangled lies, and crush’d with splashing heel,
While o’er him in an Irish hand there sweeps his Syrian steel: 30
Though virtue sink, and courage fail, and misers yield their store,
There ’s one hearth well avenged in the sack of Baltimore.

Midsummer morn in woodland nigh the birds begin to sing,
They see not now the milking maids,—deserted is the spring;
Midsummer day this gallant rides from distant Bandon’s town, 35
These hookers cross’d from stormy Skull, that skiff from Affadown;
They only found the smoking walls with neighbors’ blood besprent,
And on the strewed and trampled beach awhile they wildly went,
Then dash’d to sea, and pass’d Cape Clear, and saw, five leagues before,
The pirate-galley vanishing that ravaged Baltimore. 40

Oh, some must tug the galley’s oar, and some must tend the steed;
This boy will bear a Scheik’s chibouk, and that a Bey’s jerreed.
Oh, some are for the arsenals by beauteous Dardanelles;
And some are in the caravan to Mecca’s sandy dells.
The maid that Bandon gallant sought is chosen for the Dey: 45
She ’s safe—she’s dead—she stabb’d him in the midst of his Serai!
And when to die a death of fire that noble maid they bore,
She only smiled, O’Driscoll’s child; she thought of Baltimore.

’T is two long years since sunk the town beneath that bloody band,
And all around its trampled hearths a larger concourse stand, 50
Where high upon a gallows-tree a yelling wretch is seen:
’T is Hackett of Dungarvan—he who steer’d the Algerine!
He fell amid a sullen shout with scarce a passing prayer,
For he had slain the kith and kin of many a hundred there.
Some mutter’d of MacMurchadh, who brought the Norman o’er; 55
Some curs’d him with Iscariot, that day in Baltimore.

Further reading: 

The Stolen Village – Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin, O’Brien Press Ltd

http://www.baltimore.ie/heritage-history/the-sack-of-baltimore-1631.html

http://leejohnbarnes.blogspot.com/2009/11/sack-of-baltimore.html

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