22 June 2021

How Baltimore recovered
after being sacked by
the Pirates of Algiers

The Harbour at Baltimore … the Wild Atlantic Way meets the coast of West Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During last week’s road trip or ‘staycation’ in Co Kerry and West Cork, the village of Baltimore was the starting and return point for a visit to Cape Clear Island, at the very southern tip of Ireland.

Baltimore is where the Wild Atlantic Way meets Carbery's Hundred Isles and the beautiful coast of West Cork. It is the main ferry port for Cape Clear Island, Sherkin Island, and the east side of Roaring Water Bay and Carbery’s Hundred Isles.

Baltimore was once the haunt of pirates, but today is a centre for all kinds of waterborne activity. This is a village of about 400 residents, but those numbers swell in the summer months with the arrival of visitors. It is about 100 km west of Cork city and the final stop on the 2,500 km length of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Baltimore’s large natural harbour is formed partly by the islands in the archipelago known as Carbery’s Hundred Isles. Around the pier, charter boats and pleasure craft jostle with fishing vessels and ferries to the islands.

The village ‘Square’ – which is more of a triangle – is at the heart of Baltimore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The oldest part of the village with its castle and rows of fishermen’s cottages is spread along the east shore of the harbour. At the heart of Baltimore is the village ‘Square’ – more of a triangle – around which are clustered bars and restaurants looking west over the sea and islands.

Baltimore (Dún na Séad, the ‘Fort of the Jewels’) was a seat of one of Ireland’s most ancient dynasties, the Corcu Loígde, ancestors of the O’Driscoll, O’Leary and Hennessy families, and the O’Driscoll castle, Dún na Séad, gave its name to the Irish language name of the town.

The castle was built in 1215 by the Anglo-Norman Sleynie, but later became the principal castle of the O’Driscoll clan.

The name Baltimore is an anglicisation of the Irish Baile an Tí Mhóir, ‘town of the big house’.

The Customs House … the name is a reminder of Baltimore’s trading past (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In the early 1600s, Baltimore had a thriving pilchard industry and wine trade, but was also regarded as a lucrative pirate base and was known in Venice as ‘a nest of pirates.’ English piracy, however, declined, partly due to competition from Barbary pirates.

In the early 17th century, the head of the O’Driscoll clan, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, an ally of the Crown, leased his lands to Sir Thomas Crooke (1574-1630), who received a Charter from James I for a colony founded ca 1605. Baltimore became a market town in 1607, with a weekly market and two annual fairs.

Baltimore became a borough in 1612 with a town government consisting of a sovereign or mayor, Sir Thomas Crooke, and 12 burgesses, and it sent two MPs to the Irish House of Commons from 1613 to 1801.

The Algiers Inn … Baltimore was sacked by Barbary pirates in 1630 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

When Crooke died in 1630, his claims in Baltimore were contested by Sir Walter Coppinger. But, a year, later, the town was depopulated in 1631 in the Sack of Baltimore, a raid by Barbary pirates from either Ottoman Algeria or Salé in Morocco. Between 100 and 237 people, English settlers and Irish local people, were sold into slavery, of whom only two or three ever saw Ireland again.

On board two ships that left Algiers was a combined force of Dutch, Algerians and Turks, under the command of one of the most successful leaders of Barbary pirates, a renegade Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, known as Murad Reis the Younger.

By the time they reached the coast of West Cork, they had already seized a number of smaller vessels, imprisoning their crews. The captain of one was a Dungarvan man, John Hackett. Reis’s original target was probably Kinsale, but Hackett declared the harbour there ‘too hot’ to enter and in return for his freedom he offered to pilot Reis to the defenceless village of Baltimore.

Undetected, the pirates anchored outside the harbour of Baltimore, ‘about a musket shot from the shore’ late in the evening of 19/20 June. From there, they launched an attack on the sleeping village before dawn the next day.

The people of Baltimore were taken by surprise. More than 200 armed corsairs landed in the cove, torching the thatched roofs of the houses and carrying off ‘young and old out of their beds.’

Moving on to the main village, the pirates took more captives before musket fire and the beating of a drum alerted the remaining villagers and persuaded Reis to end the raid.

By then, more than 100 men, women and children had been taken. They were herded back to ships that bore them away from West Cork to the slave markets of North Africa.

The Barbary pirates were led by a renegade Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, known as Murad Reis the Younger (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The raid on Baltimore was the worst-ever attack by Barbary corsairs on the mainland of Ireland or Britain. Most of the names in the official report sound English, but it is likely that there were also a few native Irish among the prisoners.

Very few of these people were ever heard of again. At most, three returned to Ireland: one was ransomed almost at once, and two others in 1646.

However, the fate of the rest is unknown. Many may have ended their days as galley slaves or concubines in the harems of Algiers. For his part, Hackett was arrested and hanged on a clifftop above Baltimore.

The Sack of Baltimore has given rise to many conspiracy theories. They generally point the finger at the rapacious Sir Walter Coppinger, who had been seeking to prise the village away from the O’Driscolls, oust the Crooke family and the settlers and secure it for himself. Whether by accident or design, the pirates carried out part of this plan for him.

Suspicion also points to O’Driscoll’s exiled relatives, who had fled to Spain after the Battle of Kinsale and had no hope of inheriting Baltimore by legal means.

On the other hand, Murad may have planned the raid without any help. The authorities had advance intelligence of a planned raid on the Cork coast, but Kinsale was thought to be a more likely target than Baltimore.

The Sack of Baltimore had an impact on the village for over 200 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In the aftermath of the raid, the surviving villagers moved inland to Skibbereen and other places in search of greater security and Coppinger’s designs on the village were realised. The sack marked the end of the 400-year reign of the O’Driscolls as overlords of Baltimore, and Baltimore was almost deserted for generations.

A slow recovery began in the 18th century, and by the early 1800s the village was starting to prosper again, only to suffer further great losses in the Great Famine.

Reminders of the Sack of Baltimore still exist in the form of pub names, like the ‘Algiers Inn.’ It inspired Thomas Davis to write his poem, ‘The Sack of Baltimore.’ A detailed account of the disaster is told by Des Ekin in his book The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates.

Saint Matthew’s Church was designed by James Pain and built in 1819 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Two years ago, in 2019, parishioners celebrated the 200th anniversary of the consecration of Saint Matthew’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Baltimore.

Saint Matthew’s Church was built in 1819 on a site donated by Lord Carbery, with a loan of £600 from Board of Frist Fruits. The church was designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain and built with sandstone quarried on Cape Clear Island. Saint Matthew’s was consecrated by Thomas St Lawrence, Bishop of Cork and Ross, on 25 September 1819.

Oak panelling, oak fonts and ends to choir seats, mosaic tiling, a marble step to in the sanctuary, and a pavement in the choir aisle were installed in the church in 1918. They were designed by the Cork-born architect Robert Walker (1866-1937) as a gift from Annie Becher in memory of her husband, William Start Becher, who died of war wounds in France in July 1916.

Saint Matthew’s Church stands on a prominent location in Baltimore and is an important focal point in the village. The tower, a classic component of the Board of First Fruit style churches, is a striking feature adding to the architectural diversity of the village.

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ross, Baltimore is the main village in the parish of Rathmore and the Islands, the southernmost parish in Ireland, which includes Cape Clear Island.

Baltimore’s castle, Dún na Sead, overlooks the town but was ruined by the mid-17th century. It was restored in 1997-2005, is open to the public and is home to a ‘Pirate Exhibition.’

Dún na Sead was restored in 1997-2005 and is home to a ‘Pirate Exhibition’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Despite local claims and persistent lore, the city of Baltimore in Maryland takes its name not from this Baltimore in West Cork but from Baltimore Manor in Drumlish, Co Longford, the ancestral home of the Calvert family who held the title of Lord Baltimore.

Yet, it is a curious coincidence that Frederick Calvert (1731-1771), 6th and last Baron Baltimore, who inherited near feudal rights in the colony of Maryland, was ‘living at Constantinople like a Turk, with his seraglio all around him’ in 1764, according to James Boswell.

Lord Baltimore was said to have ‘lost all physical and moral taste’ and later rebuilt his London home in the style of a Turkish harem.

Street art at the top of steps in Baltimore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
24, the churches of Torcello

The mosaics in the main east apse in the Basilica in Torcello are among the finest Byzantine mosaics (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

My photographs this week are from churches in Venice. This morning (22 June 2021), my photographs are from the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello and the Church of Santa Fosca.

The Church of Santa Fosca seen through the arches and the colonnades of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Torcello is just five minutes from Burano and the most northerly island in the Lagoon of Venice. This is the island to which Venice traces its cultural and ecclesiastical roots, and the seventh century cathedral is the oldest building in the Lagoon.

The first people settled on Torcello in the fifth or sixth century, and over time it grew into a thriving colony with a cathedral, churches, palaces, and a population that peaked at 20,000 people.

Today, just a few dozen people at most live on the clustered islands that make up Torcello, and they depend mainly on tourism for their livelihood. But this is an attractive island, with its sites, restaurants, cafés, vineyards, and tiny bridges crossing from one islet to the next.

Torcello was once the largest and most important settlement in the Venetian Lagoon. It was first settled in the year 452 and is the parent island from which Venice was populated. It was a town with a cathedral and bishops long before Saint Mark’s Basilica was built.

After the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, Torcello was one of the first islands in the lagoon to be populated by people who fled the mainland to seek shelter from wave after wave of barbarian invasions, especially after Attila the Hun destroyed the city of Altino and the surrounding settlements in 452.

Although the Veneto region belonged to the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna from the end of the Gothic War, it remained unsafe because of frequent Germanic invasions and wars. During the following 200 years, the Lombards and the Franks drove urban refugees to the relative safety of Torcello, including the Bishop of Altino.

Torcello became the bishop’s official seat in 638, and it remained so for more than 1,000 years. The people of Altino brought with them the relics of Saint Heliodorus, now the patron of the island and now kept in a Roman sarcophagus below the High Altar.

Torcello had close cultural, political and economic ties with Constantinople. However, it was a distant outpost and established de facto autonomy from the Eastern Empire.

Torcello grew rapidly as a political and trading centre, and for centuries was a more powerful trading centre than Venice. In the 10th century, it had a population of up to 20,000. Salt became Torcello’s economic backbone and it was an important post in east-west trade, controlled largely by Byzantium.

The Black Death devastated Venice in 1348 and again in 1575-1577. In three years, the plague killed 50,000 people. The Italian plague of 1629-1631 killed a third of Venice’s 150,000 citizens.

Another crisis for Torcello developed when that the swamp area of the lagoon around the island increased from the 14th century, partly because of the lowering of the land level. Silt from rivers on the mainland filled up the shallow waters around Torcello, navigation in the laguna morta (dead lagoon) was impossible before long and traders ceased calling at the island. The growing swamps also seriously aggravated malaria.

Many people left Torcello for Murano, Burano and Venice, the bishopric was transferred to Murano in 1689, and by 1797 the population of Torcello had dropped to about 300. Many of Torcello’s numerous palazzi, its 12 parish churches and its 16 cloisters were purloined for building material by the Venetians and almost all have disappeared.

The only remaining mediaeval structures are one small palazzo, the cathedral, its bell-tower, the adjacent church, the town’s former council chamber and archives.

The Byzantine-Italian Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta dates from 639 AD (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The magnificent Byzantine-Italian cathedral, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, dates back to 639 AD and rises above the island, with the Bell Tower and Church of Santa Fosca alongside.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was founded in 639, but underwent radical rebuilding in 1008. The present basilica is of basilica-form with side aisles but no crossing. It includes many earlier features, and has much 11th and 12th century Byzantine work.

One of the most moving mosaics in Venice is the 13th century mosaic in the central apse of the Virgin Hodegetria or the Virgin Mary in a blue robe with gold fringing, cradling the Christ Child, with the 12 Apostles at their feet.

A highly decorative and vivid Domesday mosaic depicting the Last Judgment covers the entire west wall, although when I visited it was being restored and was hidden from view by scaffolding.

The mosaic in the right apse depicts Christ Pantocrator enthroned between two archangels, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, with the Lamb of God in a medallion of the vault.

The pulpit is made from fragments from the first, seventh century church. The Byzantine marble panels of the iconostasis or rood screen are carved with peacocks, lions and flowers. The finely carved capitals on the nave columns date from the 11th century.

The flooring of the basilica is a vivid swirl of colours in bright tesserae of stone and glass, with cubes, semicircles and triangles laid in square designs.

The Church of Santa Fosca, standing beside the basilica, dates from the 11th and 12th century. It is built in the form of a Greek cross, is surrounded by a five-sided, semi-octagonal colonnaded portico, and a Byzantine interior.

The central dome and cross sections are supported on columns of Greek marble with fine Corinthian columns.

On the left side of the square, the Museo Provinciale di Torcello is housed in two 14th century palaces, the Palazzo dell’Archivio and the Palazzo del Consiglio, built in Gothic style as the seat of government of the island.

A marble stone chair in the square is known as Attila’s Throne. Legend says it was used as a throne by the fifth century King of the Huns. It is more likely that it belonged to the Bishops of Torcello, or the podestà, a city governor, or, perhaps, the seat where chief magistrates were inaugurated.

Torcello is also the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s short story, Don’t Look Now, made into a film starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (1973).

The mosaic in the right apse depicts Christ Pantocrator enthroned between two archangels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 7: 6, 12-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

12 ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

The Church of Santa Fosca dates from the 11th and 12th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (22 June 2021, Saint Alban, Windrush Day) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life of Saint Alban, and for the contributions of immigrants to our society. May we recognise their works and offer hospitality to all who migrate to the UK today.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Inside the Church of Santa Fosca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

In the semi-octagonal portico of the Church of Santa Fosca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)