Four centuries ago Roaringwater Bay on the south west coast of County Cork was home to one of the most successful pirate operations of the early 17th century. Its mastermind was Sir William Hull, the son of a former Mayor of Exeter.
In 1609 Hull was appointed Deputy Vice Admiral of Munster. Hull’s castle at Castle Point on Leamcon, near Schull, in West Cork, was to become one of the foremost hubs for the pirates of the North Atlantic.From his home at Black Castle Leamcon, Hull became the chief contact or ‘land pirate’, as contemporaries called him, for the North Atlantic pirates.
Aided by his equally caddish colleagues like James Salmon and the Jobson brothers, he happily received stolen goods, such as pepper, sugar and canvas, in return for a large percentage of the profits.Despite facing accusations of piracy throughout his career, Hull received a knighthood from Charles I in 1621. In 1625, Hull captured eight pirates at Long Island, opposite Leamcon, and sent them to Cork where they were executed.
The Sack of Baltimore
The Sack of Baltimore took place on June 20, 1631, when the village of Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland, was attacked by Ottoman Empire slavers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa – Dutchmen, Algerians and Ottoman Turks. The attack was the largest by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain.The attack was led by a Dutch captain, 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. In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining settlers moved to Skibbereen, and Baltimore was virtually deserted for generations.
Piracy was rife in the South-West in the 16th century when the area from Roaring Water Bay in West Cork and as far as Dingle in Co Kerry was a haven for swashbuckling pirates and bustling local trade.
Pirates of Crookhaven
Up to 1,000 pirates were present between 1603 and the 1630’s. A remarkable set of 12 steps in Crookhaven overhanging a cavern is where the pirates brought their booty ashore, and in Dutchman’s Cove there are spaces for lanterns to guide the booty boats at the dead of night.
Up to 12 pirate shipwrecks are recorded in naval records and some of the jury in a case on Sherkin Island in 1609 were drawn from the pirates and “when not pirating they would engage in fishing”.
The coves and inlets of West Cork and South Kerry were ideal for the pirates, who were by and large professional mariners and had their own code of honour and hierarchy, even as far as their own admiral.