The Sack of Baltimore takes place on June 20, 1631 when the village of Baltimore, County Cork is attacked by the Ottoman Algeria and Republic of Salé slavers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa. The attack is the largest by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain.
The attack is led by a Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. Murad’s force is 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 is subsequently hanged from the clifftop outside the village for conspiracy.
Murad’s crew, made up of Dutchmen, Moroccans, Algerians and Ottoman Turks, launches their covert attack on the remote village on June 20, 1631. They capture 107 villagers, mostly English settlers along with some local Irish people (some reports put the number as high as 237). The attack is focused on the area of the village known to this day as the Cove. The villagers are put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa.
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, orchestrates the raid to gain control of the village from the local Gaelic chieftain, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll. It is O’Driscoll who had licensed the lucrative pilchard fishery 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 known that the authorities had advance intelligence of a planned raid on the Cork coast, although Kinsale is thought to be a more likely target than Baltimore.
Some prisoners are destined to live out their days as galley slaves, rowing for decades without ever setting foot on shore while others spend long years in harem or as labourers. At most, only three of them ever return to Ireland. One is ransomed almost at once and two others in 1646.
In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining villagers move to Skibbereen, and Baltimore is virtually deserted for generations.
(Pictured: “The sack of Baltimore (West Cork), ca. 1890-1891” pen and ink by Jack Butler Yeats)