Shiver me timbers – pirates back in Baltimore

Posted on: 7th June, 2018

Category: Arts & Entertainment

Contributor: West Cork People

Baltimore hosts its seventh Pirate Festival this June 15 to 17 – all geared around fun for children and families but with a history that goes back nearly 400 years.

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 homegrown 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, 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 June 19. 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.

During the Pirate Festival village tourism operators offer themed outings and activities, which includes boat trips, sand art, dummy pirate competition, a buccaneer buffet with entertainment and on Father’s Day fun and games for little swashbucklers and seafarin’ scoundrels – a fest in the Pirate Playground overlooking the harbour (welly wagging, walk the plank, coin treasure, fishing and a ‘tug of war’ between kids and dads). Bands will provide music in the square on Saturday and Sunday and there’s a treasure map competition and quiz night with prizes and free tattoos for everyone who takes part.  Come in your best pirate outfits and more prizes can be won for different categories – this is a must go-to festival for the kids.

www.baltimore.ie for more information.

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