On Monday, 20th June, 1631, Algerian pirates ‘stole’ the village of Baltimore in County Cork and sold its people into slavery. Denis Hickey tells the story of that fateful midsummer’s night.
Were it not for Mallow-born poet, Thomas Davis, it is possible that the Algerian raid on Baltimore at dawn on Monday, 20th June 1631, might have been lost ‘mid the mists of antiquity. His The Sack of Baltimore, penned in 1844, re-kindled an interest – but did little to solve – what has remained an enigma to this present day. What had brought 200 hand-picked personnel, variously styled as Corsairs, Janissarians, or Slavers, skilled in the art of war, on a 3,000-nautical-mile round-trip to this relatively insignificant outpost remains a matter of conjecture.
Three names have emerged as being individually suspected of responsibility for the raid: Thomas Crooke, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll and Sir Walter Copinger. Each of whom had both the means and the contacts to organise such an event.
Thomas Crooke, in 1605, purchased a 21-year lease on Baltimore from O’Driscoll, and immediately set about enticing progressive English settlers to the area.
Several hundred arrived from the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset and soon had a thriving smoked-fish industry in operation.
The majority of the native Irish left the area within a few years of the English incursion. Crooke falls under suspicion because, true to his name, he was a master of the intrigue; a manipulator of the First Order and pointedly, one that according to contemporary Venetian assertion, had also made Baltimore a safe haven for English pirates. That is of course, once he had surrendered his 21-year lease on the town and district of Baltimore!