Echoes of Algiers: The Sack of Baltimore

This catastrophe was not widely felt by the people of other Muslim countries, although those living in neighboring Morocco and Algeria volunteered to extend a helping hand.

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The commander of the Salé corsairs who raided southeast Iceland in the summer of 1627 was a Dutch renegade whose Muslim name was Murad Reis.

History not only tells us about the past, but it also influences our present and will surely shape our future. With this very vivid and worthy definition in mind, while recalling our Muslim background history, it is with deep sorrow and much chagrin that we remember the fall of the last Muslim bastion in Granada, Muslim Andalusia, on January 2, 1492. This event marked a red signal for Muslims as they were driven out of Spain by force. Those who remained were forced into Christianity and suffered through the horrors of the infamous Spanish Inquisition.

This catastrophe was not widely felt by the people of other Muslim countries, although those living in neighboring Morocco and Algeria volunteered to extend a helping hand. Subsequently, tempted by their initial victories, the Spaniards grew fiercer, and their appetite for conquest dramatically increased.

As a consequence, numerous campaigns were launched over many centuries against Muslim towns and villages. Algerian and Moroccan coastal towns were particularly targeted by Portugal and Spain. The Moroccan coastal towns of Sabta, Tangier, and Asila were occupied by the former, whereas the Algerian cities of Mers Al Kebir, Bijaya, and Oran were occupied by the latter. In Oran, on May 19, 1509, an atrocious massacre was perpetrated where over four thousand Muslims were killed in cold blood.

In another major event, many European countries, including Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium, joined forces under Charles V, the King of Spain (1500-1558). Blessed and encouraged by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), they launched the expedition of Charles V in Algiers on October 24, 1541. They besieged the city and tried to force its inhabitants into surrender. Muslim combatants, or Mujahideen, of all ages decided to resist, and Muslim battalions flocked to the city, engaging in skirmishes against the imperial army and defeating the Italian brigade.

The Spanish army was in shambles, and enemy ships sustained direct hits by the Muslim Mujahideen. Torrential rains and violent gales prevented Andrea, an ally of the Spanish emperor, from extending support. He advised Charles V to withdraw, which he did. As a result of this failed expedition to Algiers and in view of the continuous menace and threat from external enemies, all Sultans and Commanders of Algiers remained on high alert.

Ninety years after this expedition, the then Rais or Commander of Algiers, Murad (a former Dutch captain and Muslim convert, Jan Janszoon Van Haarlem), also known as Murad Reis the Younger, decided to change tactics. From defense, he moved to the offensive in a bid to thwart all enemy plans and deter any future foreign expeditions. On June 20, 1631, Baltimore fell victim to a sensational conquest by Murad’s troops. At that time, the population consisted chiefly of settlers from England who had arrived some years earlier to work in the lucrative pilchard fishery under lease from the O’Driscoll chieftain, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll.

Piracy was rife along the shores of West Cork, much of it home-grown; indeed, the settlement’s founder, Thomas Crooke, stood accused of involvement himself. However, the danger in this case came from much farther afield. Historians revealed that the raid’s informer was a man named Hackett, the captain of a fishing boat Murad had captured earlier. In exchange for his freedom, Hackett was subsequently hanged from the cliff top outside the village for his conspiracy.

Murad’s crew, made up of Dutchmen, Algerians, and Ottoman Turks, launched their covert attack on the remote village on June 20, 1631, capturing 108 English settlers who worked in the pilchard industry and some local Irish people. The attack focused on the area of the village known today as the Cove.

According to European sources, at most three of the captured individuals ever saw Ireland again. One was ransomed almost immediately, and two others in 1646. Several others were known to be alive in 1646, but why they were not ransomed remains unclear. It has been argued through the same sources that Algerians generally treated household slaves kindly enough, and after fifteen years, some may have simply preferred to remain where they were.

Conspiracy theories abound relating to the raid. It has been suggested that Sir Walter Coppinger, a prominent Catholic lawyer and member of the leading Cork family, who had become the dominant power in the area after the death of Sir Thomas Crooke, the founder of the English colony, orchestrated the raid to gain control of the village from the local Gaelic chieftain, Fineen O’Driscoll. However, it was O’Driscoll who had licensed the lucrative pilchard industry in Baltimore to the English settlers. Nevertheless, it is evident that Murad, as a great warrior and pirate, needed no help in such circumstances and surely planned the raid independently.

In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining settlers moved to Skibbereen, and Baltimore was virtually deserted for generations. The incident inspired Thomas Osborne Davis to write his famous poem, “The Sack of Baltimore.” A detailed account of the sack of Baltimore can be found in the book “The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates” by Des Ekin.

Book Description: In June 1631, pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, led by the notorious pirate captain Morat Rais, stormed ashore at the little harbor village of Baltimore in West Cork. They captured almost all the villagers and bore them away to a life of slavery in North Africa. The prisoners were destined for a variety of fates—some would live out their days chained to the oars as galley slaves, while others would spend long years in the scented seclusion of the harem or within the walls of the Sultan’s palace. The old city of Algiers, with its narrow streets, intense heat, and lively trade, was a melting pot where the villagers would join slaves and freemen of many nationalities. Only two of them ever saw Ireland again. The Sack of Baltimore was the most devastating invasion ever mounted by Islamist forces on Ireland or England. Des Ekin’s exhaustive research illuminates the political intrigues that ensured the captives were left to their fate and provides a vivid insight into the kind of life that would have awaited the slaves amid the souks and seraglios of old Algiers. “The Stolen Village” is a fascinating tale of international piracy and culture clash nearly 400 years ago and is the first book to cover this relatively unknown and under-researched incident in Irish history. It was short-listed for the Argosy Irish Non-fiction Book of the Year Award.

S. Mohammed Bokreta

S. Mohammed Bokreta is a Freelance Writer and Cultural Consultant based in Algiers, Algeria. Specializing in Islamic values, political issues, historical events, and tourism topics, his work has been featured in international newspapers and magazines for over 36 years. Fluent in Arabic, French, and English, Bokreta also translates significant Islamic manuscripts. With a background as a Bank and Shipping Manager, his extensive experience and communication skills aim to educate and inspire future generations.

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