Baltimore is a small fishing village about 10 miles from Skibbereen in County Cork, Ireland. It is one of the most southerly villages in Ireland. It is the port from which visitors can reach the nature reserves of Sherkin Island and Cape Clear. Baltimore attracts a large number of tourists each year, hence it offers a number of top-class restaurants, lively pubs, thriving sea-angling, and watersports activities. The village is nestled in an idyllic setting of sea inlets, rocky hills, and islands.
Baltimore (known in the Irish Language as Dún na Séad, the Fort of Jewels) has been a fishing village since pre-Christian times. The name Baltimore is reputed to come from the Celtic god Baal - the name literally means 'The Great House of Baal.' During the Middle Ages, the O'Driscoll family ruled the local area. The O'Driscolls were fishermen and pirates who involved themselves in a bitter feud with the townspeople of Waterford in south-east Ireland. Many of the O'Driscoll castles and houses still remain; the worldwide O'Driscoll clan still meet each year in Baltimore.
After the Battle of Kinsale in 1602, the O'Driscolls were dispossessed of their lands and Baltimore was settled by immigrants from England. In 1631, the village was attacked by Algerian pirates. One hundred of the village's townspeople were kidnapped and dispatched to Algeria as slaves, never to return. Today this is reffered to as the Sack of Baltimore. The fate of the hundred unfortunate men, women, and children has never been established.
After the raid, many of the remaining settlers left the area, and Baltimore faded into obscurity. It was not until 1886 that its fortunes began to reverse. A fishery school and fishing fleet were built with the help of large public and private donations. Baltimore quickly became the largest fishing port in Ireland, with a great reputation for wooden boat-building. At one stage there was a direct rail link to Cork City, with 16 trains a day leaving Baltimore filled with full loads of fish1. The economy strengthened until the fishing markets collapsed at the onset of the Great Depression in the late 1920s. Once again Baltimore fell into decline and other fishing ports in Ireland become more prominent. However, because of the natural beauty of the area around Baltimore, and its long tradition of industriousness, the village did not stay out of the limelight for long. Baltimore was particularly well-placed to benefit from increased tourist revenues during the Irish economic boom of the 1990s.
Baltimore today is a picturesque, thriving village which can get thronged by tourists during the summer. The centrepiece of the village is the O'Driscoll castle which is the traditional homestead of the O'Driscoll clan. Its recent renovation into a private dwelling caused quite a bit of local controversy. A short walk leads down to the harbour where yachts, trawlers, and motor boats are berthed. Pubs, restaurants, and hotels are within close proximity of the harbour. Five minutes walk away is the Baltimore Beacon2, a large white, milk bottle-shaped structure built on top of a rocky promintory pointing out toward the port for incoming watercraft. Views from the beacon at sunset can be particularly spectacular.
Pubs and Restaurants
Baltimore sports a small number of top-quality pubs and restaurants. Good pubs include the Algiers Inn (great bar food and enormous burgers), Bushes Bar (favoured by the locals, especially the small room on the left as you enter), Declan McCarthy's(a good spot for traditional music sessions), and Casey's. Many of the pubs have a strong maritime theme and some of them have maps of the many shipwrecks in the Baltimore area. Good restaurants for a strong meal include the Jolie Brise (very nice pizzas), Chez Youen (same owner, but more expensive menu), the Lifeboat (across the harbour, good for tea and cakes), Cafe Art, Captain's Table, and the Pride of Baltimore (above McCarthy's).
Baltimore is a haven for water sports including sea-angling, sailing, diving, and wind-surfing. The Baltimore Sailing School and the Glenans sailing school are among the foremost sailing schools in the country. Due to the large number of wrecks in the West Cork area, the fishing is very good, and there are a large number of boats for hire in the village. There is also a diving centre in the village that runs accredited diving courses as well as offering advice and assistance to seasoned divers.
The Baltimore Seafood Festival takes place in the last full weekend of May each year. Wooden boatbuilding has long been an industry in Baltimore, and a Boat-building festival takes place in the village at the same time. There is also an annual O'Driscoll reunion, where members of the O'Driscoll clan from around the world converge to share information about their common heritage. In addition, there is the Baltimore Regatta, and the Deep Sea Angling Festival, both of which take place during the month of August.
Short trips from Baltimore
Skibbereen is the largest town in West Cork, founded after the Algerian raid on Baltimore in 1631. It was the epicentre for some of the worst ravages during the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Today it is a thriving market town with many pubs, hotels, and restaurants and is the veritable gateway to West Cork.
Sherkin is a lovely island. It's relatively unspoiled and easily accessible via regular boats from the pier. There are a couple of good beaches and it's a very pleasant peaceful retreat from busier days in Baltimore. There is a 15th century abbey near the pier on Sherkin (you can see it from Baltimore). It was destroyed in the 16th century and had lain in ruin until quite recently, when restoration work on the abbey began. There are two pubs on the island - the Jolly Roger (a small friendly place with very decent bar snacks) and The Islander's Rest (a bigger place with accommodation). There's a small craft shop on the Baltimore pier3 made on Sherkin.
Lough Ine is a sea lough of outstanding scientific interest, not to mention natural beauty. This deep, square-shaped lough is encircled by land with the exception of a narrow, shallow channel known as the Rapids. As a result, it is a saltwater reservoir, relatively insulated from vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean. This exceptional situation has enabled a unique marine environment to develop in the clear, deep waters of the lough. It is a haven for otherwise rare species (for Ireland) of sea-urchins, starfishes, crinoids, oysters, corals and mussels.
Cape Clear is the most southerly inhabited island in Ireland, and is accessible from Baltimore by ferry.4. There is an important bird observatory there, and the island is the location of an annual storytelling festival. It is a Gaeltacht area, which means that the Irish Language is spoken by the island community. The island has a number of significant prehistoric sites, as well as the 12th century St. Kieran's church. The lighthouse of Fastnet is only four miles away from Cape Clear.
Accessible by road through Skibbereen, or by ferry from Baltimore during the summer, this picturesque fishing village (pronounced Skull) is worthy of mention. It has many good restaurants and pubs, and even one of Ireland's only planetariums. Close by is Mizen Head, the most southerly point on the Irish mainland, and Mount Gabriel, an impressively rugged sandstone hill, notable by the white geodesic tracking stations perched near its summit.
The Kowloon Bridge
Regarded as one of the largest shipwrecks in Europe, this massive ship ran aground on the Stags Rocks close to Baltimore during a strong gale in 1986. Experienced divers can hire boats from Baltimore to dive there. The ship's depth ranges from six metres to 36 metres under water.
Baltimore : The US Connection
There is an indirect connection between Baltimore, Ireland and the city of Baltimore in the US. In 1625, King James I awarded the Barony of Baltimore to George Calvert, who became the first Lord Baltimore 5. In later years, Calvert and his successors were instrumental in establishing the State of Maryland in America, and in recognition of the Calvert family, the name Baltimore was given to one of America's largest port cities.
The Sack of Baltimore
The yell of 'Allah!' breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:
O blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore!
- Thomas Davis
The raid on Baltimore in 1631 took place in the context of a number of pirate attacks on coastal communities across the north Atlantic - communities in Iceland and the Faroe Islands were devastated by similar raids. Murad Reis, a Dutch buccaneer who moved to Algeria and converted to Islam was the driving force behind the attacks. The incident began when two boats were commandeered by the pirates in Dungarvan, County Waterford. The stolen boats were sailed to Kinsale, but the master of one of the boats, John Hackett, refused to berth there as the town was a military stronghold. He chose instead to bring the boats to Baltimore. At two o'clock in the morning of 20 July, some 230 buccaneers attacked the village with firebrands and muskets. They first attacked the houses along the Cove, taking 100 people as captives. Then, they set their sights on the village of Baltimore itself, although it is said that one of the villagers, a William Harris, roused the townsfolk in advance, forcing the pirates to retreat. The pirate ships set sail for Algeria later that day, with the captives on board. Efforts were made to rescue the settlers, but to no avail. Nothing was ever heard from them again. John Hackett was subsequently tried and executed for his part in the raid. In the 19th Century, a famous poem about the event, 'The Sack of Baltimore' was written by Thomas Davis.