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The Irish slaves in North Africa

The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates By Des Ekin O'Brien Press, ?14.95

The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates By Des Ekin O'Brien Press, ?14.95

Tom MacSweeney The clash of civilisation and religious belief between Christian and Islamist dominates the world's media these days, with sometimes dire predictions about the future.

But even in the distant past, some Islamists brought a vision of hell here from their world when they invaded West Cork, humiliating a British King and causing economic calamity in Ireland.

We are dealing with a time in which cruelty and force held the power of life and death, but history has lessons for us and, from the pages of Des Ekin's book, they flow - how the well-to-do care little for those without resources and how some communities are considered dispensable by State bureaucracies.

To set this in the context of what was formerly a fishing village and is now largely a sailing and holiday centre seems incongruous. The village of Baltimore, sheltering inside the narrow entrance beneath its famous white beacon - looking across towards what becomes a wide harbour to Sherkin Island - is a peaceful place.

So the horror of inhabitants finding their homes besieged and set on fire, opening their doors to Barbary Pirates, then dragged off to become slaves in North Africa - men, women and children - may be difficult to imagine. Des Ekin paints an effective word picture of what happened to them.

It began on Monday, June 20 of 1631 when 230 troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Barbary Coast Pirates from North Africa carried out the 'sacking of Baltimore.' The author appears to have spent a lot of time researching the tale of the life of slavery to which the villagers were subjected in Algiers and how some captives converted to Islam because their lifestyles as slaves were actually better than at home in Ireland under British rule.

Along the way we meet the author of Don Quixote, a captured slave at one stage of his life, are told how the British authorities argued over who was responsible for the raid, then virtually abandoned the Irish captives. There is the inevitable Irish traitor who led the Turkish raiders into Baltimore and was later tried and publicly hanged for his crime at a spot overlooking the Baltimore coastline.

The 'Sack of Baltimore' has been forgotten in much of Irish history, but Des Ekin suggests it could have had associations with 'ethnic cleansing' and 'land grabs.' History, as I said, has lessons for us - but are they ever learned?

Tom MacSweeney presents

Seascapes on RTE radio.