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Pirates of West Cork

Piracy was rife in the South-West of Ireland in the late 16th century and early part of the 17th 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.  Here are some real stories from those times.

Pirates of Roaringwater Bay

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.captain-kidd-teaser

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.

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.

Baltimore castle

Baltimore castle

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.   This picture, shown with kind permission of historian Dr Connie Kelleher shows the steps down to the pirate cavern at Crookhaven.  (NB. The steps shown are on private property and the permission of the landowner should be sought if accessing them).

Discovering West Cork’s Pirate History

Up to 12 pirate shipwrecks are recorded in naval records – 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.

Piracy was so common and accepted that in a court case held  in 1609 on Sherkin Island some of the jury were drawn from the pirates and “when not pirating they would engage in fishing”.

Here is a picture of evidence of the real pirates of West Cork from historian Dr Connie Kelleher.  It shows a wreck being excavated off West Cork and two guns being archaeologically recorded.  It is possibly a wreck associated with pirate captain John Nutt and may have been involved with the Raid on Baltimore in 1631.

Many thanks to historian Dr. Connie Kelleher for permission to use her research, pictures and writing on the pirates of West Cork.
– Wrecks over 100-years old are protected under the law and require a licence to dive on them from the State.