Yo ho ho, and a bottle of poiteen

Photo by P.J. McKenna

The Ireland Before You Die website published my article 6 places in Ireland associated with pirates.

Here you’ll find out about:

  • Kinsale: Home of Anne Bonny
  • Baltimore: The stolen village
  • Dublin: A city founded by raiders
  • Saltee Islands: Treasure caves
  • West Cork coast: A haven for crooks
  • Clew Bay: Home of the Pirate Queen

Hope you enjoy!

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Into Exile

Rathmullen, County Donegal

Photo of The Flight of the Earls by Rhodora, licensed under Creative Commons

4th September 1607

The French ship bobbed in the moonlit waters of Lough Swilly. Hugh O’Neill felt like he had reached the end of the world.

He was uncertain whether he would sail today. Born to the powerful family that were descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, he was still Earl of Tyrone, precarious though that position might be in these troubled times. He had played the political game, at times fighting with the English and at other times against them, but perhaps the game had finally caught up with him.

6 years earlier, he had been at the other end of Ireland, fighting alongside his good friend Red Hugh O’Donnell and a battalion of Irish and Spanish soldiers. But the Battle of Kinsale had ended in defeat, and Red Hugh died on his way to Spain to gather more support.

Rory O’Donnell had inherited the title of Earl of Tyrconnell from his older brother. He no more wanted to leave Ireland than O’Neill did, but the English authorities were tightening their grip and he saw no other choice. His wife had accompanied him, together with a retinue of servants. He looked towards his son — not yet a year old, named Hugh after his grandfather and uncle. The small boy grizzled at the lateness of the hour — it was near midnight — hiding his face in his nursemaid’s shoulder.

“A clear night, thank God,” said O’Neill, touching the gold cross that hung around his neck. It contained a relic of the True Cross, and he prayed now that it would give him guidance for making the right decision.

“You can’t rely on King James to pardon you again,” said O’Donnell. Following the Battle of Kinsale, O’Neill had pleaded his case in London. The Scottish king of England had shown mercy on the Irishman, but this had not been a popular move in his Parliament, and the recent Gunpowder Plot meant that Catholics were on shakier ground than ever.

Catherine O’Neill took her husband’s hand. He was startled — theirs was a political match and she wasn’t much given to public displays of affection. Their 7-year-old son Shane stood beside her, trying his best to look grown-up and unafraid.

“Ireland is no longer safe for us,” she said. “But we will return.”

“It will be a good day in Ireland when we do,” said her husband.

He decided to board the ship and sail from Rathmullan towards Normandy. The event would later be known as The Flight of the Earls and be seen as the death knell of the old Gaelic order in Ireland. O’Neill and O’Donnell never returned to see that “good day in Ireland”. They died abroad and were buried together in the San Pietro di Montorio church in Rome.

Links

Pirates of the Wild Atlantic

Kinsale, County Cork

Photo of Kinsale Harbour by P.J. McKenna

On the approach to Kinsale Harbour, there is a cliff called Hangman’s Point. The name tells you exactly what you’d expect; a few centuries ago, you might see a body dangling from the scaffold.

When Captain William Baugh sailed into the harbour in 1612, he may have looked nervously towards Hangman’s Point. Baugh and his pirate crew had been terrorizing ships from Orkney to North Africa. King James I offered an amnesty for reformed pirates, and Baugh agreed to come ashore to negotiate with the Admiralty and thereby avoid the noose. But Baugh was far from reformed. His ship, The Lion, was laden with newly-stolen plunder.

A pirate captain was essentially the leader of a criminal gang, requiring the same mixture of ruthlessness and charisma. Life on board any ship was harsh, but at least a pirate crew had a democracy of sorts: the crew typically signed a code of conduct, got an agreed share of the booty, and could vote their captain out if they wished. This was no consolation to the victims of their brutal raids, who considered themselves lucky if they escaped with their lives.

On the journey towards Kinsale, Baugh had spotted three French ships and the temptation was too much. His crew attacked the ships, adding fabrics, gold and silver plate, and precious stones to their own cargo. The estimated value of Baugh’s share was close to £4000 as The Lion entered Kinsale Harbour.

The constable of the fort at Kinsale was Henry Skipwith, and he knew how this game was played. He got 800 pieces of eight for his cooperation, and his wife received gifts of silverware, linen, and canvas. The rest of the local community were sweetened by Baugh’s generosity as he negotiated the conditions of his pardon. French diplomats in London protested, but to no avail. Baugh took advantage of this time to romance Skipwith’s daughter, and the young woman was reportedly quite taken by this dashing English pirate.

Among those recipients of Baugh’s bounty was locally-based British naval officer, Sir William St. John, who by some accounts had been in league with Baugh all along. But St John proved that the pirate code was more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and he sailed off with the ship and much of the plundered goods.

Captain William Baugh was left destitute in Kinsale and died in a debtor’s prison, cursing the name of William St. John.

Almost a century later, a lawyer named William Cormac lived across the bay from Hangman’s Point. His indiscretion with a maidservant gave him a daughter named Anne, and the three of them escaped the wrath of his wife’s family by sailing to North Carolina. Red-haired Anne proved quite the handful; at 16 she married a small-time pirate, James Bonny, although she would later leave him for the more flamboyant “Calico Jack” Rackham.

Kinsale girl Anne Bonny became one of the most notorious pirates of the 18th century Caribbean.

Links

Pirates of the Kinsale Coastline Irish Independent review of “Kinsale Harbour – A History” by John Thuillier

Anne Bonny, Badass of the Week (strong language)