The Sack of Baltimore took place on 20 June 1631, when the village of Baltimore, West Cork was attacked by Algerian pirates from the North African Barbary Coast. The attack was the biggest single attack by the Barbary pirates on Ireland or Britain. The attack was led by a Dutch captain turned pirate, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. Murad’s force was led to the village by a man called Hackett, the captain of a fishing boat he had captured earlier, in exchange for his freedom. Hackett was subsequently hanged from the clifftop outside the village for his conspiracy.
Murad’s crew, made up of Dutchmen, Algerians and Ottoman Turks, launched their covert attack on the remote village on 20 June 1631. They captured 108 English settlers, who worked a pilchard industry in the village, and some local Irish people. The attack was focused on the area of the village known to this day as the Cove. The villagers were put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa. Some prisoners were destined to live out their days as galley slaves, while others would spend long years in the seclusion of the Sultan’s harem or within the walls of the Sultan’s palace as laborers. At most three of them ever saw Ireland again. One was ransomed almost at once and two others in 1646. Since several others are known to have been still alive in 1646 why they were not ransomed is unclear: it has been argued that Algerians, on the whole, treated household slaves kindly enough, and that after fifteen years some may simply have preferred to remain where they were.
There are conspiracy theories relating to the raid. It has been suggested that Sir Walter Coppinger, a prominent Catholic lawyer and member of the leading Cork family, who had become the dominant power in the area after the death of Sir Thomas Crooke, 1st Baronet, the founder of the English colony, orchestrated the raid to gain control of the village from the local Gaelic chieftain, Fineen O’Driscoll. It was O’Driscoll who had licenced the lucrative pilchard industry in Baltimore to the English settlers. Suspicion also points to O’Driscoll’s exiled relatives, who had fled to Spain after the Battle of Kinsale, and had no hope of inheriting Baltimore by legal means. On the other hand, Murad may have planned the raid without any help; it is notable that the authorities had advance intelligence of a planned raid on the Cork coast, although Kinsale was thought to be a more likely target than Baltimore.
In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining settlers moved to Skibbereen, and Baltimore was virtually deserted for generations.
The incident inspired Thomas Osborne Davis to write his famous poem, The Sack of Baltimore. A detailed account of the sack of Baltimore can be found in the book The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin.
In 1999, the raid on Baltimore was portrayed in a screenplay titled “Roaring Water, The Sack of Baltimore”, by Irish screenwriter Sean Boyle.
Photo: Baltimore Harbour, Co Cork, Dennis Horgan Photography