Quick, what was the biggest single attack by Barbary pirates on Ireland or Britain? If you answered the Sack of Baltimore, you’d be right! On June 20, 1631 pirates from the North African Barbary Coast, led by a Dutchman named Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, sailed all the way up to the village of Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland and decided to have a good old-fashioned raid. They captured a local fishing captain, who led them to the village in return for his freedom. For that, he was hanged from the clifftop outside the village.
The pirates were interested in collecting some slaves, and to that end they captured over 100 English settlers who worked a pilchard fishery industry in Baltimore, as well as some local Irish people. The captives were put in irons and returned to North Africa, where they lived out their days in misery as galley slaves or members of the Sultan’s harem.
Back in Ireland, fingers started to point. Some believed that the raid was orchestrated by Sir Walter Coppinger, who wanted to gain control of the village from the Gaelic chieftain, O’Driscoll. And really, it makes sense to ask some questions here, because why would a band of pirates sail over 1,000 miles to raid a small fishing village in Ireland? Surely there were more lucrative targets closer to home? If Coppinger was behind the raid, it worked. The remaining villagers moved further inland to Skibbereen, marking an end to the O’Driscolls’ reign as overlords of Baltimore.