The sack of Baltimore, the only known case of slave raiding by corsairs in Ireland, was part of a larger pattern that spanned not only the Mediterranean but also the Atlantic coast as far north as Ireland.
Baltimore was the target of a dramatic pirate attack in the summer of 1631. Slavery as an economic and ideological weapon was not limited to the Ottoman Empire and North Africa’s Muslims.
European seafaring forces were equally involved in the capture of Islamic ships and the enslavement of their crews.
On June 20, 1631, the hamlet of Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland, was assaulted by Ottoman Algerians from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included Dutchmen, Algerians, and Ottoman Turks.
This was claimed to be the biggest invasion of Ireland by Barbary slave traffickers. The attack was headed by Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, better known as Murad Reis the Younger, a Dutch captain.
A united force of Dutch, Algerians and Turks was on board two ships leaving Algiers, led by Murat Reis the Younger, a renegade Dutchman who was one of the most effective Barbary pirate captains (aka Jan Janszoon van Haarlem).
They had already kidnapped numerous smaller vessels and imprisoned their crews by the time they arrived off the coast of West Cork, more than 1,000 miles distant.
Janszoon’s planned destination was presumably Kinsale, but the locals were utterly caught off guard. They landed in the Cove, torching the cottages’ thatched roofs and dragging ‘young and old out of their beds’ with them.
Moving on to the main settlement, the pirates grabbed more captives before the remaining inhabitants were aroused by musket fire and the banging of a drum, persuading Janszoon to call a halt to the raid.
More than 100 men, women, and children had been kidnapped by that point. They were herded back to the ships, which transported them from West Cork’s coves to North Africa’s slave markets.
Hackett pronounced the port ‘too hot’ to enter and offered to pilot Janszoon to the defenseless village of Baltimore in exchange for his release. The pirates anchored outside the port late on June 19th, ‘about a musket shot from the beach,’ undetected.
Before dawn the next day, they began an attack on the sleeping village from here.
230 soldiers armed with muskets landed at the Cove around 2 a.m. on the morning of June 20th. They split up and waited at the doors of the 26 cottages along the shoreline, quickly and quietly.
They began a simultaneous attack on the sleeping inhabitants at a prearranged signal, carrying iron rods to shatter the doors and firebrands to ignite the buildings.
The population’s panic can only be imagined as strange men speaking an unknown tongue yanked them from their beds. Ironically, an earlier hostage, Joseph Whitehead, described his captors’ attire as “much resembling that of the ancient Irish.”
It is feasible to piece together the likely events that occurred on board ships from the narratives of ransomed captives. Many people said that the men were subjected to harsh treatment at first in order to “break them.”
Any male victim who did not stay out of his captors’ way for the first hour or two was severely thrashed, and in some cases hacked to death in a bloody frenzy.
Women and children were treated with relative decency; privacy curtains were built, washing facilities were provided, and they were given total freedom of movement below decks.
Conspiracy theories abound in the aftermath of the Sack of Baltimore. They usually point the accusation at Sir Walter Coppinger, who had been trying to wrest the settlement from the O’Driscolls, drive out the newcomers, and claim it for himself.
The pirates, whether by accident or intent, carried out a part of his plan for him. In the aftermath of the raid, the survivors fled inland to Skibbereen and other locations in search of safety.
The Sack marked the end of the O’Driscolls’ 400-year reign as masters of Baltimore.
The invasion of Baltimore was the worst-ever attack by Barbary corsairs on the mainland of Ireland or Britain, as memorialized in lyrics by poet Thomas Davis.
Although the majority of the names in the official report seem English, it is possible that a few native Irish were among the detainees. What is definite is that only a small percentage of the 107 people were ever heard from again (three women at most, who were ransomed up to 14 years after their abduction).
The fate of the rest is unknown, but many of them would have ended up as galley slaves or concubines in Algiers’ harems.
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