Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
A “Nursery and Storehouse of Pirates.” Sir Henry Mainwaring described Ireland as such in 1618. He certainly knew whereof he wrote, for having once been a pirate, he was intimately acquainted with the illicit goings-on there, especially in southwest Munster. Differentiating between privateering and piracy was difficult during this time, and the latter was intricately woven into the fabric of daily living in the region. What gave rise to Mainwaring’s comparison of Ireland to a breeding ground came about when King James I of England revoked all letters of marque and delved into government corruption within the admiralty. This drove many Englishmen to seek safer ports of call and where better than Munster and its remote coastline?
Using a chronological format and a multi-pronged approach, Kelleher shines a light on an oft-ignored period in piratical history and the overlooked aspect of a key component, the symbiotic relationship between land and sea. What differentiates piracy here is that rather than individuals preying on vulnerable ships, these pirates banded together to create an alliance that benefited all. Kelleher begins her examination looking at what came before and how this alliance formed. From there, she explores the alliance itself, government corruption, places the pirates frequented and what traces of their presence have been found, piracy as a business, the social world in which pirates lived (particularly on land), and the suppression of this marauding. The last chapter looks at not only the decline of piracy in Ireland, but also how it changed. That transformation includes both locally and globally, for the knowledge of English pirates, shared with the marauders of North Africa, allowed Barbary corsairs to expand their prowling field to include Iceland and Ireland. The most notable in the latter was the sacking of Baltimore in 1631.
The alliance formed into a cohesive unit by 1608, although many members had been marauding prior to that year. They chose Munster as their headquarters because they knew the region and people willing to help them or at least turn a blind eye to their activities. Among the clans that played significant roles were O’Sullivan Beara, O’Driscoll, and O’Mahoney. Most names mentioned aren’t familiar to readers, but key individuals discussed include Admiral Richard Bishop, Peter Easton, John Ward, Grace O’Malley, Henry Mainwaring, William Hull of Leamcon, and Thomas Crooke. Equally noteworthy are the bases that are discussed, for although the alliance was based in Munster, it also had ties to Newfoundland (Canada) and Mamora (Barbary Coast).
The result is a well-rounded and deftly presented look at a successful pirate alliance. Kelleher presents her research in a logical and easily understood fashion for lay readers and academics alike. To further enhance the experience, she includes a glossary, notes, bibliography, and index. Many pages contain full-color pictures or maps. The quality of the volume is reminiscent of a coffee table book, even though its dimensions are of normal size.
Anyone drawn to the book by its title goes away with a far better understanding of how, where, and why Ireland was a nursery for pirates. The Alliance of Pirates is an invaluable and welcome addition to piratical history.
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