Charting the Irish coast by Avril Borthiry

What comes to mind when someone mentions Ireland? I’m guessing, for many of you, it would be such things as spectacular landscapes, the Blarney Stone, St Paddy, colorful local characters, music, literature, and folklore.  I think of these things too, but it also brings to my mind ‘Game of Thrones’, since that is where much of the incredible series has been filmed. I have a writer friend who lives within sight of Winterfell!

But pirates?

The windswept, emerald isle might not be the first place you’d associate with those. Yet Irish Buccaneers are very much a part of Ireland’s rich and fascinating history. Fleets of intriguing, and undoubtedly dangerous, characters prowled the surrounding waters for almost fifteen hundred years – a period far longer than the reign of the more recognizable Caribbean Bad-Boys.

Aye, to be sure, even St Paddy himself was a victim of a pirate slave-raid!

The Vikings also merit a place in Ireland’s pirate numbers. In 837AD, sixty Viking Longships landed on the eastern shore, spilling out a horde of ferocious warriors who sought to plunder the local churches. The invaders ended up staying and expanding the small Celtic settlement of Dubhlinn (black pool), which later became the capital city of Dublin.

And the clans of the Britannic isles are not unique to Scotland, nor were they all land-lubbers. At one time, the pirate clans of O’Sullivan, O’Malley, O’Flaherty, and O’Driscoll ruled the western and southwestern waters of Ireland, wreaking havoc on the waves!

Anyway, since I possess a fair dollop of Irish DNA, I decided to base my Pirates of Britannia books in and around the land of my ancestors. Trouble is, I’m not terribly familiar with the lay of that land, unfortunately. Not an insurmountable problem, however, since I have Google Earth. So, I zoomed in and scoped the eastern and southern Irish coast in depth (if you’ll pardon the pun), looking for suitably promising pirate hangouts.

To my delight, I found a compelling area on the southern coast of County Cork that came with a wealth of fabulous names you might expect to find in a Pirate movie! They include Roaring Water Bay, Horse Island, Castle Island, and Calf Island (west, middle and east).  There’s even a Long Island! The area appears to be ruggedly beautiful, with all kinds of coves, bays, and beaches.

Then there’s the nearby village of Baltimore, or Dún na Séad  in Irish, which apparently translates to the Fort of the Jewels!  How fabulous is that? And indeed, it looks idyllic.

But I soon discovered that has not always been the case.

Historically, Baltimore is the seat of an ancient Irish dynasty, which includes the Kings of Tara and Munster.  In more recent times, a man by the name of Thomas Crooke leased the lands from a certain Fineen O’Driscoll, who was chief of the O’Driscoll clan. The fisherfolk had a lucrative trade in pilchards. It also had an active population of pirates, and a resident population of both English and local Irish settlers.

Then, on June 20th 1631, Barbary pirates raided the town. These ferocious invaders were a mix of Algerian, Dutch, Moroccans and Ottoman Turks, and were led by a Dutch captain known as Murad Reis the Younger. His men weren’t looking for gold or silver or whiskey. They were looking for slaves—and they found them.

The raid has gone down in the history books as the ‘Sack of Baltimore’. They purportedly captured 107 residents, although some put the number a fair bit higher. Of those taken, only three supposedly returned to Ireland. The rest spent their lives in slavery, perhaps as galley slaves or in harems.


It’s amazing what we writers discover when doing research! I confess I knew nothing of this event till I began to explore my potential locations, and I admit I didn’t allude to the factual history of the place in my book. I have to say, though, after exploring the region in more detail, I have now added it to my bucket list of places to visit. It looks amazing!

Consequently, this is where the wickedly charming Captain Jacob (Jake) McNamara hangs out in my first Pirates of Britannia book, “Stolen by Starlight”. It is also where you’ll find a brief mention of the pirate captain who features in my next book, “Red Cutlass”, which is due for release later this year! Captain Red is going to be tangling with some rather iniquitous characters, as well as not one, but two females, who are certain to drag the man’s sanity, and probably his heart, into uncharted waters!

More to come!