Friday, June 28, 2019

The Village of Baltimore, County Cork

by Lauren Gilbert

Usually when I think of Baltimore, I think of “Charm City” in Maryland, steamed crabs, and a visit to Fells Point, the Walters Gallery and the original Washington Monument. However, there is another Baltimore, which is completely different from the city in Maryland. It is a small village in Western County Cork in the southernmost parish, at the very tip, facing Spain. The village overlooks Roaring Water Bay, and today is an active ferry port, home to approximately 300-400 people (although the population increases during the summer). However, the village is on the site of an ancient location, possibly home to Druids. It is also the site of a singular pirate raid, known as the Sack of Baltimore that occurred in 1631.

Drombeg Stone Circle, taken by Nigel Cox, CC BY-SA2.0

Drombeg Stone Circle in Western County Cork is located about 17 miles away up the coast; it also seems possible to get there by boat - it overlooks the sea and is about ½ mile inland. It was constructed during the Bronze Age, and aligned with sunset on the Midwinter Solstice.  It may have been a place of sacrifice.  It seems possible that Druids were in West County Cork, and conceivably in Baltimore itself.  Baltimore is the anglicised version of Irish Gaelic Baile an Tí Mhóir which means “Town of the Big House”; it may also have a link to Beltane (the Gaelic May Day Festival) and a link to Baal, a sun god worshipped by the ancient Celts (Beal-ti-mor meaning House of Baal; Bal/Bel/Baal place names are found in throughout Ireland).

Baltimore Castle, Cork, Ireland, photo by Or la freedom, CC BY-SA4.0

From the 12th through the 16th centuries, the area was part of the Province of Munster, the seat of the former Kings of Munster and Kings of Tara. It was, and is still, the site of Dún na Séad Castle (also known as Dunashad and Baltimore Castle), Fort of the Jewels (possibly the “Big House” mentioned in the Gaelic name of the village). According to the Irish Annals, the castle was built in 1215 by a descendant of Robert FitzStephen, a Norman settler. It changed hands numerous times in its tumultuous history of Norman activity, clan warfare and English invasion. Oliver Cromwell also made an impact on the castle, having confirmed its surrender November 14, 1649. The castle was destroyed many times but always rebuilt, most recently over an 8-year period beginning in 1999 by the McCarthy family. It is now a private home.

The area belonged to the O’Driscoll clan. The O’Driscolls were descended from the original settlers. Although their lands had been reduced by invaders from other clans, they managed to hang on to the area around Baltimore for over 400 years. The industries were pilchard fishing and piracy. Many of these local pirates pursued foreign ships for the English. Information indicates that the Irish pirates in the Baltimore area were in contact with the Barbary pirates, some of whom may have even lived in Baltimore. Ultimately, the pirates got greedy. In 1537, they hijacked a Portuguese ship loaded with wine bound for the Waterford markets. Before they got the wine unloaded, the merchants sent a group to recover the ship, which they did. Afterwards, 3 warships were sent in and Baltimore and the O’Driscoll strongholds were destroyed. Although the O’Driscolls rebuilt, they were in a very vulnerable position.

Ultimately, the O’Driscoll clan allied with the English because of conflicts with other clans. Sir Thomas Crooke established an English colony in Baltimore about 1605, with the approval of King James I, on lands leased from Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, then head of the O’Driscoll Clan. The rent paid to the clan was significant. However, the situation in Baltimore was not easy. The settlers were English dissenters, looking for a place to worship as they wished. They were not welcomed by the local inhabitants. However, they built their homes, farmed, fished, and coexisted more or less successfully. (They may also have become involved with the pirate trade.) Although Irish piracy was decried, and Sir Thomas himself had been accused of being in league with pirates, Baltimore was granted borough status in 1612, and elected 2 members to the Irish House of Commons. There is no doubt, as time passed, that the village was between a rock and a hard place: as dissenters, they received little assistant from London, especially when Charles I became king as he was not tolerant of dissent; as English, they were frequently harassed by the native Irish.
Hand-drawn map of the village of Baltimore c 1631

In the 17th Century, the Barbary pirates were known and feared. On June 20, 1631, the village of Baltimore was attacked by the Barbary Pirates, who took almost all of the villagers captive. Most of these captives were women and children. Data indicates that this raid on Baltimore was deliberately planned for the purpose of obtaining slaves. Rumours about a possible attack had been in circulation since 1630, but no defensive action was taken. While there was at least one Royal navy ship in the area that was supposed to be patrolling, for whatever reason, there was no defence of Baltimore and no rescue of those captured attempted immediately at the time. Pursuit was delayed while those in power attempted to assign blame. The village was almost completely abandoned, as many of the surviving inhabitants fled to Skibbereen. By the mid-17th century, the castle itself was in ruins. After 15 years in captivity, Joane Broadbrook and Ellen Hawkins were finally ransomed and brought back. They were the only 2 of the captives to be ransomed and returned.

There are multiple theories about the reason for the sack of Baltimore at this time. One possibility is that the O’Driscolls ordered the raid to get rid of the English settlers. Another possibility is that the raid was ordered by Sir Walter Coppinger, an Irish moneylender, who wanted to take over control of Baltimore and had been trying to do so by other means. A third alternative is that Sir Thomas Crooke himself was in league with the pirates and ordered the attack to facilitate more pirate activity out of Baltimore. There is even a theory that the three men may have conspired together. There is no evidence establishing the validity of any of these possibilities. However, the questions continue to be asked.

In the 18th Century, the ruined village of Baltimore saw slow regrowth. The Baltimore Beacon (Lot’s wife) was built after the 1798 Rebellion. Although it had lost its status of borough in 1800 due to its ruined state, in the early 1800s, the village was becoming almost prosperous. In the 1830s, it had over 400 inhabitants, an active port and a new school. Then the Great Famine created new hardships and losses. People died and left again. 
View of Baltimore Beacon near Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland by Ben Rudiak-Gould, taken July 1, 2008

Today, the village is alive and well. It is a sister city with Baltimore, Maryland; a Baltimore clipper named the Pride of Baltimore landed at Baltimore County Cork in 1985 and is still the subject of local artists’ work. Baltimore is a famous fishing centre and a popular destination for tourists in the summer particularly those interested in water sports such as sailing, kayaking, etc. as well as bird- and wildlife-watching. Dún na Séad Castle has been fully restored, and has many visitors, including members of the O’Driscoll clan who have held clan gatherings there. The raid of the Barbary pirates has not been forgotten; Algerian names crop up and a Pirate Festival was held in 2013. This post is a much-abbreviated history of this fascinating area. I highly recommend THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin and BALTIMORE CASTLE An 800-Year History by Bernie McCarthy for more details.


Ekin, Des. THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates. 2008: The O’Brien Press Ltd., Dublin.

McCarthy, Bernie. BALTIMORE CASTLE An 800-Year History. 2012: Baltimore Castle Publications, Baltimore, County Cork. O’Halloran, W. EARLY IRISH HERITAGE AND ANTIQUITIES AND THE HISTORY OF WEST CORK. 1916: Sealy, Bryan and Walker, Dublin. (digital edition produced 2013.) PDF file. HERE

Baltimore & the Isles. “Dún na Séad Castle.” (No post date or author shown.)HERE “Meet the Baltimore across the Atlantic, a jewel of Ireland” by Raymond M. Lane, February 23, 2017. HERE PIRATES AND PRIVATEERS-THE HISTORY OF MARITIME PIRACY. “Baltimore, Ireland 20 June 1631” by Cindy Vallar, (c) 2014.  HERE  ‘”A Place of Sacrifice”: Tour the Stone Circle that freaked out a 1930s Psychic’. Neil Jackman, May 15, 2015.   HERE

Drombeg Stone Circle. Wikimedia Commons.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike.  HERE

Baltimore Castle.  Wikimedia Commons.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. HERE

Map of Baltimore c 1631 scanned from my personal copy of THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin. 

Baltimore Beacon. Wikimedia Commons.  Public Domain.  HERE


Lauren Gilbert holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Art History.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, was released in 2011.  Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, will be released this year.  She is currently researching material for a biography. Lauren lives in Florida with her husband.  For more information, please visit her website.


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