By David Mullen
The name Carbery’s Hundred Isles is a bit of a misnomer as there are far from one hundred islands lying in West Cork’s Roaringwater Bay. The ‘Carbery’ derives from the medieval Barony of Carbery along the coast, though the name still survives in the two reformed baronies of Carbery East and West.
The ‘Hundred Isles’ part comes from an 1844 poem by Thomas Davis dramatising the sack, by Algerian pirates, of Baltimore in 1631. The pirates, commanded by a Dutchman, Murad Reis, snuck in to Baltimore under cover of darkness through the channel separating the mainland from Sherkin Island, one of the largest of the ‘hundred isles’ and snatched 107, mostly English, settlers away to the bazaars and harems of North Africa.
Many were put to work as galley slaves, and only three ever made it back to Ireland. And it is to Sherkin we turn this week with Baltimore serving as the departure point for our ten-minute ferry trip out to the island.
One of the first sights that greets the visitor when they step off the ferry is the ruins of a Franciscan friary, originally built in 1460, under the aegis of Fineen O’Driscoll, a chieftain in the area. Sherkin’s history is bound up with the O’Driscolls, and when the friary was attacked, pillaged and ruined in 1537, it had little to do with the monks therein and far more to do with the exploits of the O’Driscoll chieftains.