ByRoute 1.3 Co. Cork (S/W) & Co. Kerry (S)

 

Long Island Bay, Roaringwater Bay & Baltimore Harbour

 

Long Island Bay, the southernmost bay in Ireland, is a vast space between Mizen Head to the west and Cléire / Cape Clear and Sherkin Island to the east.

 

Roaringwater Bay, the large inner part of Long Island Bay, is bizarrely named, as it is so  cluttered with islands, rocks and reefs that large waves are tamed, making it a safe place for many watersports.

 

Roaringwater Bay is the outlet for the Mean, the Ilen / Eibhlie and the Ballydehob Rivers.

 

The collective name for the seemingly myriad islands scattered across Roaringwater Bay and beyond is Carbery’s 100 Isles. Further offshore lies Ireland’s southernmost landmass, the Fastnet Rock.

 

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are probably the most common of the ubiquitous seabirds. Both Common and Grey Seals are present. Dolphins are frequent visitors, and whales are regularly spotted.

 

Baltimore Harbour, the southernmost part of the Ilen River estuary, is one of the safest natural havens in Ireland, partially enclosed by sheer cliffs and sheltered from ocean winds by Sherkin Island.

Baltimore (Co. Cork / Southwest)

Baltimore (Dún na Séad – “Fort of the Jewels”, referring to the recently restored O’Driscoll stronghold, Castle Dunashad, which dominates the Harbour) (pop.250), a fishing village since pre-Christian times, is nowadays a very attractive seaside resort, with romantic cliff walks nearby.

“Baltimore” is an anglicisation of Baile an Tighe Mhóir – “Settlement of the Big House”; the notion that the name comes a Celtic god called Baal is drivel.

The town’s name is properly pronounced differently than that of the city of Baltimore in Maryland, USA (Bal-timore rather than Ball-timore); the latter is thought to be named after the colonial founder of Maryland, Cecilius Calvert, Baron Baltimore, whose title derived from a townland in County Longford.

Baltimore attracts many visitors, and the population booms in summer months due to the large number of holiday homes that have been built in the area in recent years. There are several top quality restaurants and some great pubs.

Baltimore History

 

Dún na Séad was merely one of several bases used by the long powerful O’Driscoll clan to prey on shippping along Ieland’s south coast. However, by the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the head of the family found it expedient to desist from such straightforward piracy, for which she rewarded him with a knighthood in London in 1583.

Sir Fineen O’Driscoll allowed some of the Spanish victors at the Battle of Castle Haven in December 1601 to occupy the O’Driscoll castles in Baltimore and on the nearby islands of Sherkin and Cape Clear. This came as a major shock to the English, for as Sir George Carew later wrote: “Sir Finnin Odrischall…never in the course of his whole life had beene tainted with the least spot of disloyaltie“.

After the rout of the Battle of Kinsale, Sir Fineen actively helped to fight the rebels, and got his lands back after the war. However, he was soon forced to mortgage most of his lands to Sir Walter Coppinger.

 

 

Baltimore was colonised in 1605 by English settlers from Cornwall and Devon, led by the aptly named Thomas Crooke, who purchased a lease from the by now notoriously slippery Sir Fineen “in order to establish a pilchard fishery“.

In 1608 Crooke was called before the Privy Council in London on a charge of dealing with pirates, but was acquitted. Baltimore was in fact much frequented by buccaneers and smugglers, and the colony flourished from illicit trade. King James I occasionally sent out gunships, but the pirates managed to elude them.

Thomas Crooke became a Baronet in 1624, and died the same year. His son Sir Samuel Crooke (who later married the daughter of Sir George Shurley, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, which would surely have put an end to the foregoing skulduggery) became the town’s “Sovereign”, but could not prevent the Baltimore lease from falling into the hands of Sir Walter Coppinger, who had successfully pursued his claim of compensation for debt.

 

Baltimore was famously sacked on 20 June 1631 by Barbary corsairs who carried off 107 men, women and children to be sold as slaves in Algiers.

The list of those taken by “The Turks” reads: “Mould – himself and boy; Ould Osburne – himself and mayd; Alexander Pumery – his wife; John Ryder – himself, wife and two children; Robert Hunt – his wife; Abram Roberts – – himself, wife and three children; Corent Croffine – himself, wife; daughter and three men; John Harris – his wife, mother, three children and maid; Dermod Meregey – two children and maid; Richard Meade – himself, wife, sister and four children; Stephen Broddebrooke – his wife and two children (she great with child); Ould Haunkin – himself, wife and daughter; Evans and the Cook- Evans and his boy; Cooke, his wife and maid; Bessie Floodd – herself and sonne; Stephen Pierse – himself, wife, mother and three children; William Symons – himself, wife and two children; Christopher Norwey – himself, wife and child; Sampson Rogers – himself and sonne; Beese Peeter – her daughter; Thomas Payne = himself, wife and two children; Richard Watts – himself, wife and two children; William Gunter – his wife, maid and seven sonnes; John Amble – himself; Edward Cherrye – himself; Robert Chimor – his wife and four children; Timothy Corlew – his wife; John Slyman – himself, wife and two children; Morris Power – his wife; John Davys; Timothy Curlew – slayne. Ould Osburne – sent ashore again; Alice Heard – sent ashore again; Two of Dungarvan – sent ashore again; One of Dartmouth – sent ashore again. They have taken 9 Portingales, 3 Pallicians, 17 Frenchmen, 9 Englishmen of Dartmouth and 9 from two boats of Dungarvan, 47. The sum of all captives is 154.”

The pirates were piloted into the harbour by John Hackett, a resentful Roman Catholic Corkman who was subsequently hanged for treason, but is regarded as a patriot in some circles.

The raid was led by the notorious Morat Rais, aka Jan Janszoon van Haarlem (c.1570 – 1641?), an aristocratic Dutch privateer who had converted to Islam and become  the first President and Admiral of the Corsair Republic of Salé and Governor of the Ottoman province of Oulidia. He had earlier attacked Reykjavik in Iceland, and is reputed to be an ancestor of the Vanderbilt dynasty.

Only two victims, Joan Brodbrooke and Ellen Hawkins, returned home after being ransomed fifteen years later, to find that most of the remaining townsfolk had withdrawn upriver to found Skibbereen.

 

Baltimore remained as a small unimportant fishing village, bought by Percy Freke of Rathbarry in 1703 for £1,809, but was also a “rotten borough”, returning an MP regularly to the Irish House of Commons. Lord Carberry received £15,000 solatium upon its abolition by the Act of Union 1800.

The Baltimore Beacon & Sherkin Island (Photo by Ben Rudiak-Gould)

The Baltimore Beacon / Lot’s Wife, one of the most notable navigational landmarks on this magnificent coastline, was constructed c.1799. This large stone structure resembling an inverted milk bottle symbolises Baltimore for many homecoming sailors, and commands splendid views of Carbery’s 100 Isles in Roaringwater Bay and beyond.

Baltimore is the principal mainland terminal for ferries to Sherkin Island and, further offshore, Cléire / Cape Clear Island. Cruise boats also take visitors to the other islands and out to Fastnet Rock; in recent years dolphin and whale spotting excursions have become increasingly popular. Vessels of  every size and type can be hired for day trips, sea-angling expeditions etc.

Local boatbuilders have long had a great reputation for constructing sturdy wooden craft.

Baltimore is famous for its sailing schools, and also caters for other aquatic sports such as wind-surfing, kayaking, diving etc.

Glebe Gardens comprise a courtyard garden, a wildflower meadow and an amphitheatre overlooking the sea.

Rolf’s Country House on Baltimore Hill is a pleasant holiday complex with guestrooms, self-catering cottages, a restaurant / café and a wine bar / terrace where art exhibitions are regularly held.

The Sacred Heart church (RC) at Rath dates from 1831.

The Lag is a scenic tidal backwater of the neighbouring Ilen River estuary.

Lag Bridge Garden in Rath comprises 1½ acres of natural ‘rockery’ overlooking The Lag; The ‘bridge’ is the causeway to Ringarogy Island.

Ringarogy Island, which is inhabited, has some mildly interesting ruins. Nothing is left of Dun na nGall (“Fort of the Foreigners”), briefly occupied by Spanish troops in 1601, as most of the stones of this former O’Driscoll castle were ferried to Skibereen in the C19th to build the pro-cathedral.

Spanish Island can be reached on foot from Ringarogy at low tide. 12 people lived on this island at the beginning of the C19th. The only building on the island is the ruin of a stone-built farmhouse, and there are a number of shingle beaches. Owned by a family who live in England, the island is currently for sale.

Inishbeg Island in the Ilen River estuary can be reached from the mainland by its own road bridge. The Inish Beg Estate, best known for its 97 acres of subtropical Gardens, features a walled garden, two woodland gardens, a cherry avenue and extensive walks and drives through 50 acres of woods. The Estate now also offers top class self-catering cottage accommodation and, unusually, a chance to practice horse & carriage driving. The island is also home to the Irish Water Sports Centre, where various courses are available and both sailing and power boats can be hired.

Oldcourt on the Ilen River estuary is the site of yet another O’Driscoll castle, taken by Crown forces in 1602 as they marched south after the Battle of Kinsale. It is now a boatyard.

Creagh Gardens are based on a number of woodland glades and feature a serpentine millpond amid a scene reminiscent of the background of a Douanier Rousseau painting by which it was inspired. The walled garden, dating from Regency times, is divided into orchard and kitchen gardens. The extensive main gardens, created by Gwendoline and Peter Harold-Barry in the first part of the C20th on the grounds of the Georgian house, and now kept up by their heirs, would have pleased the great English C18th garden designer Capability Brown, whose penchant for “natural” landscapes is faithfully reproduced here, reflecting the beauty of the Ilen River estuary on which they are situated.

The Stolen Village: Baltimore & the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin was published by the O’Brien Press in 2006.

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