Ah pirates, those ruthless, violent rogues who terrorised the high seas and became the colourful anti-heroes of books and movies. We typically associate pirates with the Caribbean and other warm locations, but over the centuries Ireland has been both a birthplace of piracy and a victim of pirate raids. Fiona Hurley from Tales of the Wild Atlantic Way outlines a few Irish locations where you can find traces of piratical history. Yo ho ho and a bottle of poitín!
6. Kinsale, County Cork – Birthplace of Anne Bonny
Piracy was a male-dominated business, but a few tough women broke through that glass ceiling with cutlass and pistol, and one of the toughest was Anne Bonny. Anne was born in Kinsale in about 1700, and she was causing trouble from birth. Her father was lawyer William McCormac, and her mother was his servant Mary Brennan – which greatly angered William’s wife! William took young Anne and her mother to the Charleston in South Carolina to escape the scandal.
Red-haired Anne was stubborn and vicious; she once stabbed a servant with a knife, and beat one man so thoroughly he spent months in hospital (although in the latter case he deserved it, having tried to rape her). At 16, she married small-time pirate James Bonny; she was disowned by her despairing father and moved to the pirate haven of Nassau in the Bahamas. But the cowardly James turned informant, so she left him for the more flamboyant “Calico Jack” Rackham, captain of the wonderfully-named Revenge. Kinsale girl Anne Bonny became one of the most notorious pirates of the 18th-century Caribbean. You may know her from the TV series Back Sails, where she is played by Clara Paget.
Modern Kinsale is still a town proud of its maritime heritage. Wandering its colourful streets and its harbour, you can imagine the place that gave birth to a pirate legend.
5. Baltimore, County Cork – The stolen village
On 19th June 1631, the inhabitants of Baltimore in West Cork settled down for the evening. At the same time, a group of ships anchored themselves at an inlet just outside their harbour. They were a fleet of Barbary Corsairs, pirates from the coast of North Africa. At around two in the morning, they ran up the pebbled beach and attacked.
Their night raid took 109 villagers, half of them children, and transported them in chains to far-away Algiers. It was the largest ever attack by Barbary pirates on Ireland or Great Britain. The Algerians demanded ransom, but the remaining few inhabitants of Baltimore lacked the money. Despite desperate pleas from those left behind (including William Gunter, who lost his wife and seven sons), the Irish and British authorities wouldn’t pay either. The unfortunate captives were sold into slavery, and only two are known to have ever returned to Ireland.
In Baltimore today, the name of the Algiers Inn recalls that terrible night when an entire village was enslaved by North African pirates.
4. Dublin – A city founded by raiders
The Vikings were Scandinavian pirates of the early Middle Ages, terrifying the Irish population as they plundered up and down the coast. They were also responsible for founding some of the earliest Irish towns, including a little place they called Dyflin (from the Irish Dubh Linn meaning “Black Pool”). Dyflin became a major trading centre, ruled by Vikings and their descendants for three centuries. They were eventually defeated by Irish High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
Those Viking days are recalled by two of Dublin’s most popular tourist attractions: the Dublinia museum at Christchurch, and the Viking Splash Tours that run from St Stephen’s Green. Both are recommended for children of all ages.