Part 13 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end. From Skibbereen in County Cork, a 15-minute drive southwest along the scenic R595 will bring you to the town of Baltimore. On the 17th century Down Survey map, Baltimore sits on the tip of a peninsula reaching toward the sea—a perfect location for fishing, boating and a bucolic agrarian lifestyle.
In the early 17th century, it was an English settlement pursuing exactly such industry:
“In Southwest Munster, where planters both introduced inshore ‘seine’ netting and invested considerable sums in shore-based facilities for salting and barreling the catch, the export of pilchards rose significantly, at least in the 1620s and early 1630s. The industry was characterized by small-scale plantation-type development, and the trade, which was based on Kinsale, Brookhaven, Baltimore, Bantry, and Berehaven, was dominated by English and continental shipping.” ~ F.X. Martin, F.J. Byrne, A New History of Ireland: Early Modern Ireland, 1534-1691. Oxford Press, 1987.
On the same map, just above Baltimore is a notation for Rathmore, meaning large fort. This is the name I used for the Earl of Barrymore’s fictitious coastal castle in my book, The Prince of Glencurragh. It is to this castle that the book’s main characters are going, so that Barrymore can take them under his wing and negotiate a suitable marriage settlement for Faolán Burke and Vivienne FitzGerald. Today, a bed and breakfast by that name offers a gorgeous hilltop view at the mouth of the River Ilen.
On a more recent map, you might see Old Court, a site at which I believed there was an ancient castle. I’d hoped to explore it, because this is where I’d imagined Barrymore’s castle would be located. If you go there today you’ll see a boat building and storage business, but it is indeed set among the ruins of a castle or fort, and a stone window still looks out over the water. We found it on a cool, rainy day in June, and so instead of ancient stones beneath our shoes we had a bit of mud that only served to make the experience its most authentic.
American readers will recognize the name Baltimore and maybe even Old Court. The City of Baltimore, founded in 1729 in the state of Maryland, started as and English colony in 1661, displacing the Piscataway tribe of Algonquians who had inhabited the lands for centuries. The city was most likely named for Lord Baltimore of the Irish House of Lords, Cecil Calvert, and his family’s Baltimore Manor in County Longford. Maryland was considered a safe haven for Irish Catholics hoping to escape religious persecution, and Calvert had obtained permission from the king to establish the colony.
This Baltimore has enjoyed a high percentage of Irish in its population because it drew a large number of Irish escaping Ireland's famine of 1845-1853. They settled in southwest Baltimore and found work on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Today, on the Baltimore Metro Subway, you can catch a ride to Old Court Station on Old Court Road in Lochearn, Maryland.
But the Ireland Baltimore has a much more troubled history. In my last post I mentioned that the town of Skibbereen gained population and importance when settlers moved inland from Baltimore to escape Algerian pirates. A terrible raid in 1631 devastated Baltimore, as described in detail by Des Ekin in his book, The Stolen Village.
The site of Baltimore had been purposely chosen for an English settlement because of its remoteness, allowing greater religious freedom. It also had a reputation for smuggling, especially when it was in the hands of the O'Driscoll clan.
“In would come fine wine and brandies, silks and spices, tobacco and salt. Out would go wool, linen, leather goods…and the occasional fugitive fleeing the hangman’s noose.” ~ Des Ekin
But such remoteness also had its vulnerability, and on a dark June night of that year, three ships arrived carrying Algerian pirates who stormed ashore, killing two of the town’s residents and capturing 107 men, women and children. These captives joined 17 French captives already aboard the ships, and then all were taken to Algiers to be sold as slaves. A French priest observed:
“It was a pitiful sight to see them put up for sale. For then wives were taken from husbands and children from their fathers. Then, I declare, they sold on the one hand the husbands, on the other the wives, ripping their daughters from their arms, leaving them no hope of ever seeing each other again…” ~ Father Pierre Dan
Most of these poor souls were never seen again, because the ransoms were too high, and though King Charles I was petitioned for relief, his councilmen advised against paying, stating that it would only encourage the pirates. And to make matters worse, rumors circulated that the town had been set up for the raid by Sir Walter Coppinger, who wanted the settlers removed so that he might have the land and the lucrative pilchard business for his own (for more about this see my post, Coppinger’s Court).
The terrible event remains a stain on Baltimore’s past, but the town has revived as a summer haven for fishing, swimming and sailing, and as a base for exploring Cape Clear, Sherkin Island and Lough Hyne, Ireland's first marine nature reserve. And you can rent a 4-bedroom cottage called Old Court at Skibbereen.
Thanks to Eddie and Teresa MacEoin, Trinity College Down Survey, Des Ekin’s The Stolen Village, Irish Central News, Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Old Court Boats, and Wikipedia. Except for the map, all images belong to the author.
Part 1 – Kanturk Castle
Part 2 – Rock of Cashel
Part 3 – Barryscourt
Part 4 – Ormonde Castle
Part 5 – Lismore Castle
Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen
Part 7 – Timoleague Friary
Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand
Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court
Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum
Part 11 - Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy
Part 12 - Skibbereen
An heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?
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