The Rich History of Baltimore and The Algiers Inn

Above: Jack B Yeats, The Sack of Baltimore

The Sack of Baltimore

Oh Blessed God! The Algerine is Lord of Baltimore! The Sack of Baltimore, Thomas Davis (1814-45)

By the summer of 1631, the local Irish population had endured an English plantation settlement in Baltimore for more than 30 years. The locals saw the settlers, here to work Roaring Water Bay’s lucrative pilchard fishery, as interlopers, unwelcomed agents of the English crown. To infuriate local sentiments further, the settlers and particularly the settlement’s founder, Thomas Crooke, stood accused of involvement in the piracy rife along the shores of West Cork. Local community leaders had repeatedly challenged the plantation’s legitimacy in court, disputing the validity of the lease under which they operated, but to no avail.

Algiers, in North Africa, was, at the time, a hotbed of Barbary piracy. Corsairs raided villages across the Mediterranean Sea, capturing sometimes entire populations to be sold, man, woman, and child, in the city’s slave markets. As the pirates grew bolder, they ventured beyond the Mediterranean, seizing ever faster European sailing vessels on the high seas and imprisoning their crews.

The most successful of these corsairs was a renegade Dutchman, Jan Janszoon, who had adopted the moniker Murat Reis. He commanded a fleet that could rival all but the largest navies.

By the summer of 1631, Reis, with two ships, had reached the coast of West Cork. Over the course of his 1,000-mile journey from Algiers, he had seized and burned a number of smaller vessels, imprisoning their crews. A Dungarvan man by the name of John Hackett was the captain of one such ship. In exchange for his freedom, Hackett would pilot Reis and his ships to Baltimore.

Reis anchored undetected outside Baltimore Harbour ‘about a musket shot from the shore’ late in the night of June 19th. They launched their attack on the sleeping village before dawn.

More than 200 armed corsairs crept ashore and upon a signal, torched the thatched roofs of the houses and carried off the terrified inhabitants as they fled their burning beds. In minutes, they had taken more than 100 souls, English settlers all. They herded them back to the ships and bore them away from the shores of Ireland to the slave markets of Algiers.

The raid on Baltimore, immortalized in verse by the poet Thomas Davis, was the worst-ever attack by Barbary corsairs on the British Isles. Very few of the 107 known captives were ever heard of again (three women at most, who were ransomed up to 14 years after their abduction). As for the rest, their fate was certain: they ended their days at the oar as galley slaves or as concubines in North African harems. For his part John Hackett was arrested and hanged on a clifftop outside the village.

It is certainly possible that the Sack of Baltimore was a random event, that for Murat Reis, Baltimore was merely a target of opportunity. More likely, however, the raid was the result of a conspiracy between Murat and the notorious Sir Walter Coppinger, a local attorney, magistrate, and staunch anti-English Catholic who had famously employed both legal and illegal means to oust the English settlers from Baltimore and secure it for himself. In the end, whether by happenstance or design, Reis achieved Coppinger’s goal and made a veritable fortune for himself in the process.

Other reading material on this fascinating story:

The Stolen Village

Jans Janszoon

The Remarkable Legacy of Murat Reis

The Familial Link Between Murat Reis and Some of the Most Prominent Families in America

Anthony Janszoon van Salee, Murat Reis’ fourth son by a Moorish wife named Margarita, grew up with his parents on the Barbary Coast before emigrating as a very wealthy man to America (thereby quite possibly becoming the first Muslim to settle in the New World). Anthony was an original founder and prominent landowner in is now New York City. He had extensive landholdings in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn. He also founded settlements on Coney Island and Long Island.

Anthony had four daughters:

Annica, the eldest, married Thomas Southard, a farm hand on her father’s farm. She would become the great, great-great-grandmother of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. One of Cornelius’ great-great-granddaughters was fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, whose son, Anderson Cooper is a well-known TV presenter in America. Another of Cornelius’ fourth great grandsons is actor Timothy Olyphant.  

Anthony’s daughter Eva Antonis married Ferdinandus van Sycklin, an original immigrant to New Netherlands for whom Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn is named. They are the nineth great grandparents of Humphrey Bogart.

Sara, who married John Emans. They were fifth great-grandparents of Warren G. Harding, the 29th US President.

Jackie Kennedy is also said to be a descendant, though the familial ties are unclear.

Murat Rais (also know as Jan Janszoon)

Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, alias Murat Reis (c. 1570 – c. 1641) was perhaps the most notorious of the Barbary pirates and the perpetrator of the Sack of Baltimore in 1631.

Born in Haarlem, Holland, little is known of Janszoon’s early life. Around 1600, however, he appears on the scene as a privateer, sailing from his home port of Haarlem to harass Spanish shipping during the Eighty Years’ War under the auspices of the Dutch crown.

In 1618, however, shipwrecked in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, he found himself captive of Soliman Reys a fellow Dutchman who had turned to piracy and had risen to command a vast fleet from the Barbary “capital” of Algiers.

The Barbary referred to a string of pirate havens in North Africa that stretched from Tunis in the east to the southern coasts of Morocco.

Imprisoned in Algiers, Janszoon “turned Turk”. Converting to Islam, he adopted the name Murat Reis. Although he likely converted as a way to save himself from a life as a galley slave, Reis embraced the religion and lived to become a passionate Muslim missionary. Freed from slavery, he relocated to Salé, in what is now Morocco, he became a full-fledged Barbary corsair.

From Salé, he attacked ships of every foreign state using false flag tactics, quickly becoming “Reis” or leader of the pirate nest, commanding a fleet of sixteen or seventeen ships.

He eventually returned with his fleet to Algiers and from there he launched ever bolder attacks on shipping beyond the confines of the Mediterranean. Using larger and much faster European-built ships he tormented shipping up and down the Atlantic coast and as far afield as Iceland where he raided villages in search of slaves.

He captured the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel in 1627, holding it for five years and using it as a base for raiding expeditions. He held his prisoners on Lundy before sending them on to the slave markets of Algiers.

It was in the spring of 1631, off the southern coast of Ireland, that Reis seized a ship under the command of a man named John Hackett. In return for his freedom, Hackett would guide Reis and his ships to Baltimore. There, in the early morning hours of June 20th, Reis invaded and captured more than 100 men, women and children. Hackett was later hanged for his treachery.

Then, in 1635, near the Tunisian coast, Reis’ luck ran out. Ambushed and outnumbered by the Knights Hospitaller, a Christian military force, he found himself languishing in the notorious dark dungeons of Malta for five years until a massive attack by fellow Corsairs finally freed him. He returned to Morocco broken and in ill health, but a hero.

As a reward for his service, he was appointed as Governor of the great fortress of Oualidia, near Safi. He relocated his home to the Castle of Maladia. That same year the ship “Gelderlandt” arrived from Holland on a diplomatic mission. On board was Reis’ daughter from a Dutch marriage, Lysbeth. When Lysbeth arrived, she found Reis feeble from his captivity, but “seated in great pomp on a carpet, with silk cushions, the servants all around him”.  Lysbeth spent some months with her father before returning to Holland.

Little is known of Reis’ fate thereafter. Rumours circulate that he died at the end of a sword, though, more likely, he ended his days immersed in opulence under the care of his large harem. The date of his death is not known.

Dun na Sead

Dún na Séad Castle

Dún na Séad castle was built in 1215 and has had a long and fascinating history. It fell into a ruined state in the middle of the seventeenth century, however, and remained a ruin until recent works of restoration, which began in 1997 and continued until 2005, made it habitable once again. The following is a brief account of its history to the present day.

In 1169 the Normans arrived into Ireland and one of the first to arrive with Strongbow was Robert FitzStephen. Within a few years King Henry ll granted FitzStephen half of the kingdom of Cork to settle a colony in the area. This FitzStephen adopted many Irish customs and assumed the Gaelic form of his name ‘MacSleimhne’. His grant of land passed through his descendants who intermarried with the Gaelic clans, (Richard married Raghenilda MacCarthy, daughter of the local chieftain), and in 1215 it is recorded in the Irish Annals that Dún na Séad castle in Baltimore was built by Sleynie, a descendant of Robert FitzStephen ‘the conquistador’.

The Norman settlers thrived, until in 1261 the Irish clans rebelled at the Battle of Callan and gained a great victory against them, ousting them from their newly-built castles. Even though documentary evidence of the O’Driscolls in the thirteenth century is scarce, it was probably soon after the upheaval at the Battle of Callan that they took possession of Dún na Séad and their former lands around Baltimore.

The castle became the main seat of the O’Driscolls for the next four hundred years. It was used as a centre of administration for trading activities and collection of taxes from foreign traders frequenting the port. In the middle and later-middle ages therefore, the O’Driscolls enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle. Lavish gatherings took place in the ‘great hall’ of Dún na Séad castle and a well-documented feast in 1413 is said to be one of the earliest records of people dancing in Ireland. This documentary evidence is supported by archaeological finds from recent excavations of the Dún na Séad site, which reveal the presence of late twelfth to fourteenth century pottery from the Saintonge region of France, and reflect the lucrative trade links between Baltimore and Europe at this time.

By 1601 the political situation was changing, and the years of prosperity for the Gaelic clans were coming to an end. Sir Fineen O’Driscoll allied himself with the Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale and handed over Dún na Séad castle to Don Juan del Aguila. The defeat at Kinsale resulted in Dún na Séad being handed over to Captain Harvey on behalf the English crown. The Algerian pirates did not reach the castle at the time of the Sack of Baltimore in 1631, but on 15th August 1642 the castle is recorded as sheltering 215 of a new wave of English Planters against Catholic rebels such as the Coppingers and the O’Driscolls, who made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to gain entry. Soon after this, in 1649, Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland and took the castle as a garrison for his troops.

Dún na Séad fell into a gradual state of decline after the departure of Oliver Cromwell’s troops. The building and lands can be traced in title to the present day to the present owners, Patrick and Bernie McCarthy, who began the work of restoration in 1997. The restoration was completed in 2005 and the castle is now inhabited again for the first time since the middle of the seventeenth century. It has been restored following the original design, which was revealed through a study of the remaining features.

The ‘great hall’ on the first floor retains its original two fireplaces and original dressed sandstone windows. Corbels on the walls reveal the existence of two second floor galleries, which have also been included in the course of the restoration. Some remaining mortar on the internal walls was analysed to ensure consistency, and the external stone work has been pointed using the same lime mortar base. All timber is green oak, as would have been used in a building of its era. The original battlements were retained and now afford a panoramic view over the modern harbour of Baltimore.

In the course of reconstruction, and in accordance with licensed archaeological digs, the original well, which had been lost for hundreds of years, was rediscovered. A cobblestone yard, a portion of which is visible in the bawn, was also rediscovered, revealing a pistol shot, dating from the seventeenth century. This is but a small indication of the castle’s varied and sometimes troubled history.

Since completion, the castle has welcomed many visitors, particularly during the summer months. It has been a venue for O’Driscoll clan gatherings, Fiddle Fair recitals and various talks and lectures. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Dún na Séad castle has reawakened from its 350 years of inactivity, and is celebrating its rebirth into the Baltimore of the future.


On a misty morning in May 1915 the Cunard liner Lusitania passed eastwards off Baltimore on course for her fateful encounter with the submarine U-20 which was to shape the course of World War I. The Lusitania is the most famous shipwreck off West Cork, but she is far from the only one. The rugged coastline around Baltimore has proved a last resting place for many vessels, ranging from small sailing craft to a huge modern bulk carrier. One such loss is commemorated in the name of the Loo Rock at the harbour’s mouth, which claimed the British man-of-war HMS Looe in 1697 (the final ‘e’ was a further casualty at some point).

A highly significant wreck occurred in November 1847 when the American sailing ship Stephen Whitney on passage from New York to Liverpool struck the head of West Calf Island, after the crew had mistaken Crookhaven lighthouse for the Old Head of Kinsale. Of the many passengers on board few survived. Those that did found themselves cast up in darkness on a lonely shore where the Great Famine was at its height. This shipwreck spurred the construction of the first lighthouse on the Fastnet Rock.

By far the greatest number of sinkings in the waters off Baltimore occurred during the two world wars. They included cargo ships, passenger liners, warships and U-boats — the hunters and the hunted. Just south of the harbour lies the wreck of the 5,670 ton Malmanger, sunk by U-43 in 1917 barely a month after her completion. The Norwegian tanker settled with her bow on the sea bed and stern high in the air for long enough for people to row round her from Baltimore and take photographs. Two warships that also appear in the photographs, Alyssum and Mignonette, were both sunk within the week, a measure of the intensity of naval warfare in the area.

The largest wreck off Baltimore (and one of the largest in the world) came to grief more recently. The crippled ore-carrier Kowloon Bridge was abandoned by her crew in the hope that she would steer herself out to sea. Instead the unmanned 294 m (965 ft) long vessel turned shorewards, passing perilously close to Baltimore itself, and struck the Stags rocks on 24th November 1986. The ship soon broke her back and tugs were unable to dislodge her. Over the ensuing weeks she sank gradually by the stern, though her bow was still visible above water for months after the disaster.

Though out of sight, the many shipwrecks off Baltimore are far from forgotten. Today wrecks like the Kowloon Bridge and the World War II submarine U-260 are popular dive sites, while the wrecks in deep water are teeming with fish for sea angling.

‘Pride of Baltimore’

A somewhat special relationship exists between the two Baltimores on opposite sides of the Atlantic — Baltimore, West Cork and Baltimore, Maryland. In May 1985 an official proclamation was issued by the mayor of Baltimore MD, William Donal Schaeffer, sending greetings through an unusual ambassador — the sailing schooner Pride of Baltimore. The 129-foot Pride arrived in the harbour of Baltimore, West Cork, at the end of her transatlantic crossing early in May 1985. The crew of twelve completed the 3,500 mile journey in record time, allowing them to enjoy a warm welcome in the village. Many of the crew had Irish ancestry and few will forget the week-long celebrations on her arrival. The Pride was the first Baltimore clipper to sail in over 100 years and was hand-built in 1976/77, using traditional tools and methods. Every feature was an authentic reproduction, including the granite used for ballast in her hull. Her two sloping masts soared 95 feet above the waterline and she carried over 9,500 square feet of canvas. She had a lightweight hull, low freeboard, raking stern and sternposts, all of which made her extremely fast. Traditionally used for what amounted to little more than licensed piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries, clippers needed to be fast. However, the Pride was, unfortunately, not fast enough to outrun a 90 mph squall which hit her north of the Bahamas in the spring of 1986. She sank with the loss of four lives. It was a tragedy all Baltimoreans felt deeply. Community response was immediate and contributions flowed in for the construction of a replacement for the city’s clipper. Pride of Baltimore II  was launched on April 30th 1988. The new vessel, which is larger and heavier than the original, has been a frequent visitor to her second home.

Additional websites of interest: