Alliance of Pirates: peaceful west Cork was once a notorious centre of piracy

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Ballinskelligs Castle in Co Kerry, a 16th century castle built by McCarthy Mor to protect the coastline from pirates. Photograph:   Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ballinskelligs Castle in Co Kerry, a 16th century castle built by McCarthy Mor to protect the coastline from pirates. Photograph: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In the shorthand view of Irish history the Battle of Kinsale marks the collapse of Gaelic Ireland and the final assertion of English control over the whole country. The townspeople of Kinsale may have seen it rather differently: in the decade after the battle, west Cork achieved international notoriety as a centre of piracy and a safe haven for the disposal of stolen cargoes.

Such flagrant piracy was a measure of the feebleness of the Irish state. Over the next 20 years there was neither effective legal sanction nor adequate naval strength to disperse what became a veritable private flotilla.

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