It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! Here’s a look at Ireland’s Piratey Past

As an island nation we have produced some of the world’s most renowned seafarers – they’ve led explorations around the globe, helped create the navies of several nations and displayed levels of heroism and gallantry that are truly remarkable. But we’ve also produced our fair share of the downright unmerciful, blood thirsty and unscrupulous pirates!

It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! Here’s a look at Ireland’s piratey past! Arrrrrrrgh

talk pirate ireland past

Statue of Grace O’Malley at Westport House

1. Gráinne Ní Mháille (AKA Grace O’Malley) the Pirate Queen

Fearless and formidable this 16th century icon ruled the land and sea on the west coast. She defied convention and rose to new heights where women were typically not allowed to tread.

In a time when women were effectively powerless she became incredibly powerful and even feared. As a women she was never officially a chieftain but she became a leader of men, taking control and fighting for what she believed in; independence, love and family. She ruled her lands with an iron fist, and became notorious around the Irish coast and further afield, commanding a fleet of ships with around 200 men, raiding rival clans and merchants. She fought for independence and to free for her people against the tyranny of the crown.

Her story is the stuff of legends.

talk pirate ireland past


2. Lost Beer of Inishturk – A Pirate Secret gone to the Grave

The story goes there were Danish Pirates who used the Dun at Portdoon on Inishturk to hide their boats and their bounty. And with them alone lay the recipe for Bier lochlannach, a priceless and highly spirituous beverage made from the heather-bloom.

One day the pirate base was attacked and taken by the Irish who did away with the inmates except for one Dane pirate and his son. The attackers offered to spare the captives if they told the secret of the highly prized drink. The old pirate, fearing the boy might be tortured into betrayal, said he would tell if his son was put to death first, so none of his kin might see his treachery. But with this done, the pirate captain tore himself from his captors, and ran, shouting insults, to the deep chasm, springing over the cliff and carrying his secret to the grave.

talk pirate ireland past

3. Anne Bonny and the Golden Age of Piracy

Anne Bonny is one of the world’s most infamous pirates. She left Cork at a young age and moved with her father to the States. There the fiery-tempered adventurer got involved with Calico Jack and together they set out for a life of pillaging, pirating and recklessness on the high seas.

At the time it was considered bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship but Anne could more than hold her own and did not conceal her gender to the rest of the crew. She was just as fierce and fearless in battle as the rest of the crew. In 1720 another women Mary Read joined the crew. She was disguised as a man and only Bonny and Calico knew the truth. The pair became two most famed female pirates of all time.

talk pirate ireland past

Baltimore, Cork

4. Sack of Baltimore – West Cork Village laid Waste by Pirates

The residents of Baltimore were taken completely by surprise when the village was raided by over 200 pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa. On 20th June 1631 the village was pillaged and attacked by the Ottoman Algeria and Republic of Salé slavers. They set the thatched roofs alight and captured over 100 villages, including women and children, and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa.

5. James Kirker – Pirate, Mercenary and Scalp Hunter

Kirker was born in Killead Co. Antrim in 1793. He left Ireland at 16 and moved to the States to avoid conscription in the Royal Navy. There he became an American privateer and raided British ships off the East Coast of the US. He later was involved with fur trading in the Rocky Mountains.

He is most infamously known for being scalp hunter. After moving to Mexico and setting up a new family with his second wife he was contracted by the Mexican government to kill or capture Apache Indians.

Dún Bhaloir

6. Legendary Tory Island Pirates

Tory Island is a world apart – the island’s history is wrapped up with mystery and legends. The first inhabitants of the island were said to be wicked Fomorians – a band of pirates and smugglers who were ruled by King Balor of the Evil Eye. On the east of the island was Balor’s Fort. One theory of the naming of the island comes from the Irish for pirate or robber torai.

7. Edward Jordon

Edward Jordon was born in Co. Carlow in 1771. He was an Irish rebel and took part in the Irish Rebellions of 1798. He was captured during the rebellion but pardoned and moved to Nova Scotia to start a new live as a fisherman.

But he found himself in a desperate situation drowning in debts. Captain Stairs and his crew were sent by merchants to seize the allotted quota of fish they were owned. But when Jordon didn’t have it they were forced to seize his schooner Three Sisters. Stairs offered Jordon and his family passage to Halifax on board the ship and so on the 10th September the Three Sisters set sail with Jordon, his wife and his four children and Captain Stairs and his crew.

A few days into the trip Jordon pulled out his pistol and shot at Captain Stairs but he missed and killed one of the crew. There was a struggle and Stairs managed to jump overboard and swim safely to shore where he alerted the authorities.

A reward was offered to capture ‘the pirate Jordon’ and a few weeks later the Royal Navy schooner HMS Cuttle captured Jordon. He was convicted of piracy and executed in Halifax. As a warning to other pirate his body was displayed in public in an iron cage called a gibbet at Black Rock in Point Pleasant. His skull was displayed in an exhibit on pirates in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22