A special talk on piracy off the coasts of Waterford, Wexford and East Cork was delivered during the Imagine Festival by UCC’s Dr Connie Kelleher, who recalled the many smuggling coves that once dotted the south east coast line.
At his talk, delivered at St Patrick’s Gateway, she listed several well-known areas such as Dunmore East, the Dungarvan and Youghal areas, along with parts of County Wexford.
Many English pirates moved here in the 1600s after a decree against privateering and raiding foreign vessels was issued by King James I, several years after the Battle of Kinsale (1601).
This made Ireland safer for English ships but also meant that such crewmen could be hanged if adjudged to be involved in piracy off the Irish coast – but only if brought to England
Such pirates located themselves off the Cork coast , near Crookhaven, Baltimore, Schull and Roaringwaterbay in Cork.
The preponderance of ‘outlets’ made it was easier to hide and also allowed them raid ships coming from the American trade routes, bound for Spain, France or Holland.
The local Irish joined in as did some local officials keen to take a slice of the proceeds when such goods were landed.
Several other small coves were mentioned by Dr Kelleher of UCC, who has carried out much archaeological research around the coast to seek out evidence of Pirate coves, such as steps that lead down to small bays and inlets, along with hiding places for storage and lamp outposts for signalling to ships.
Dr Kelleher also listed the coves of Portally, near Dunmore and Badger’s Cove as possible landing places for stolen goods from ships. Creaden Head and the beach nearby were also referenced, given its famed 40 steps and its cave.
Who knows, the Foyle Steps in Tramore may well have been used for such a purpose while the Bonmahon area may also have been used.
Dr Kelleher also believes that some local landlords and traders were in on the trade, including the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been a privateer: a privateer traded goods for England but also stole from foreign ships during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, giving a percentage to the crown.
Sir Francis Drake was notorious for this type of theft and trade in the Caribbean, Dutch and international objections saw this cease by King James – these privateers were outlawed and could be hung if caught in England.
Many thus moved from ports like Bristol to Waterford, Cork and elsewhere while the Newfoundland and Canadian trade was also growing at that time.
Dr Kelleher, drawing from a rich reserve of research, also referred to old quay to land goods that were found near Crookhaven, Schull and Baltimore in West Cork with several names in coastal area would suggest that there was more smuggling going on that we could imagine nowadays.
Gold, jewellery and fine silks were considered as goods with value, as well as rubies, silver and rum.
Weapons were also traded; sometimes ship lists of valuable goods were shown to be delivered to rich local landlords.
The De La Poer/Beresfords of Curraghmore (the seat of Lord Waterford) came up in these lists, as did Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork (who held the title from 1629 to 1643).
Dr Kelleher said that Ireland became something of a hunting ground for ships wishing to trade boats laden with goods from the Americas. Spices were also popularly traded such as cinnamon, along with pepper and sugar.
Richard and John Lamport were noted as being raiders. Sir Henry Mainwaring became a pirate for a while, but then later re-joined the British Navy, as he deemed the latter a safer option
John and Robert Nutt from Padstow, Cornwall were other infamous names that operated off the south coast during these times, with Dungarvan and Youghal frequently plundered, according to contemporary reports.
In one case, women were stolen and taken prisoner for later sale or forced marriage in Dungarvan.
There was also a confederacy of pirates formed so that the thieves would not fall out with one another, with the Dutch Government losing the south coast of Ireland as a piracy area in the 1600s.
Cape Clear was very much a piracy harbour, reckoned the Dutch (the original colonisers of New Amsterdam – later New York), who were wary of passing this region when coming back from the Americas. Large naval ships could not penetrate smaller harbours, so it suited the illegal trade to operate out of smaller, more difficult to navigate inlets and coves.
A Mark Cransborrow of Waterford was listed as having lost goods to pirates, with the then Mayor of Waterford, Sir Thomas Wyse, writing a letter of complaint regarding piracy to the Earl of Cork.
The O’Driscolls of Baltimore were also mentioned in Dr Kelleher’s talk as this was around the period of the Barbary pirates from Algiers who raided Baltimore in 1631 and took away the natives as slaves; to this day, there’s an Algiers Inn in Baltimore, incidentally.
We also heard about William Hull, a former Mayor of Exeter who married prominently in Ireland and became Deputy Vice Admiral of Munster in 1609.
According to Dr Kelleher, Hull’s castle at Castle Point on Leamcon, near Schull, in West Cork, was one of the foremost hubs for the pirates ‘working; on the North Atlantic.
Assisted by his colleagues James Salmon and the Jobson brothers, Hull, who was knighted in 1621, received stolen goods, in return for a large percentage of the profits.
As Dr Kelleher said, some of the buyers, like William Hull, were substantial landowners and often of Anglo-Irish stock, yet were prepared to buy illegal goods.
Connie also said there was, at times, some local connivance too and officialdom often turned a blind eye as no-one getting hurt in the process – bear in mind we’re talking about 300 years ago.
More research into piracy around Ireland is well worth doing and could be integrated into a tourism package to take visitors and show them pirates coves, along with our beautiful coastal scenery, be it on the Wild Atlantic Way or the Ancient East.
Of course, moving illegal goods off our southern coast has not completely died out; let’s recall the interception by the Irish authorities of some €80 million worth of cocaine found aboard the yacht named Makayabella on September 23rd, 2014.
All of this made for a most entertaining story and address by the Cork-based academic, who is an archaeologist specialising in maritime research and is also a diver too.