Sláinte!: Ahoy Me Hearties

Anne Bonny, Firing Upon the Crew, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series. Photo: Wikipedia

By Edythe Preet, Columnist
September / October 2018

Celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19 by upping your knowledge of these Irish buccaneers of yonder years. Read on and ye’ll discover the Irish men and women who sailed the high seas as pirates, buccaneers, and privateers. Some lived to a ripe old age. Some were cut down in their prime. All left their mark on the pages of history.


Grainne Mhaol Ni Mhaille Statue, Westport House. Photo Wikipedia

Grace O’Malley (Grainne Ni Mhaille)

Ireland’s Pirate Queen (1530-1603)

Many think Grace O’Malley was merely the leader of a 16th-century band of cutthroats that pillaged and plundered any ship they encountered on the Irish seas. That’s a classic example of “alternative facts”. Grace really was an Irish Queen. The O’Malleys, one of the noble seafaring families of Connacht, had ruled the land surrounding County Mayo’s Clew Bay for centuries. Grace’s father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ni Mhaille, was an O’Malley chieftain, and when he died, Grace became lord of the clan. She managed the family’s landholdings, directed operations of its fleet, collected tariffs from ships fishing local waters, traded with ports as far distant as Spain, and crushed any who challenged O’Malley territory. Married twice to heirs of other noble Connacht families, both unions increased the O’Malley landholdings and the clan’s importance in the West. Mother of four children, the youngest was born at sea on a trading voyage. The next day, when Grace’s ship was attacked by Turkish pirates, she led the counter assault and captured the Turk’s vessel. As chieftain of the O’Malleys, Grace’s battles had primarily been with feuding Irish clans, but the tide shifted as England expanded its domination of Ireland. Gradually, the Irish lords pledged loyalty to the Crown, save for those in the North and the West. In 1584, Elizabeth I named Sir Richard Bingham as Governor of Connacht. Determined to destroy the Irish way of life, he called Grace “nurse to all rebellions in the province.” As the Irish fought against their fate, Grace’s fleet attacked Bingham’s troops, disrupted trade, ferried fighters to the rebels, and raided seaports. In 1593, Grace wrote to Elizabeth petitioning that the O’Malley lands Bingham had seized be returned to her, and pledging to support the Crown. The Queen sent back 18 interrogatories that Grace answered, but before Elizabeth could respond, Bingham imprisoned Grace’s half-brother and her youngest son. Grace immediately sailed to England and demanded a royal audience. On September 6, 1593 the two Queens negotiated for several hours, with Elizabeth agreeing to release Grace’s family members and restore the O’Malley lands, and Grace pledging to fight for the Crown rather than against it. When Bingham released her kinsmen but refused to restore the O’Malley property, Grace resumed aiding the Irish rebels until she retired to Rockfleet, her favorite property on Clew Bay, where she died in 1603. Read Sláinte! Bid Thy Guests Welcome Though They Come At Any Hour By Edythe Preet to learn more about Grace O’Malley.

Bonny from a Dutch version of Charles Johnson’s book of pirates. Photo: Wikipedia

Anne Bonny

Caribbean Buccaneer (1692-1787)

Born in County Cork, Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a married lawyer named William Cormac and his maidservant Mary Brennan. Little is known of Anne’s youth except her father dressed her as a boy and hoped she would become a law clerk. When the news got out about his daughter, Cormac was disgraced and fled to the Carolinas where he became a successful merchant, amassed a fortune, and bought a plantation. When Anne married a “wannabe” pirate named James Bonny who had eyes on William Cormac’s estate, her father disowned her. With access to her father’s fortune cut off, James and Anne moved to New Providence Island in the Bahamas that locals called “The Republic of Pirates.” There James came up with the “easy money” scheme of accusing men he didn’t like of being pirates and turning them in to the authorities for the reward. Anne, meanwhile, had fallen for a real buccaneer, “Calico Jack” Rackham, and they sailed off to Jamaica to pursue a life of piracy together. Anne had fiery red hair plus a red-hot temper to match, and was thought to have murdered a servant who crossed her while still a girl in Ireland. She and Calico Jack stole a fast ship and spent several years plundering galleons on the Spanish Main for treasure. In October 1720, their ship was attacked by a Jamaican naval patrol and all aboard were captured. Calico Jack, Anne, and the whole crew were tried and sentenced to death. As she was pregnant at the time, Anne pleaded for the court’s temporary clemency, which was granted. Then one night while awaiting execution, she disappeared from her cell. People assumed Anne’s father had bought off her jailers but it could not be proven. She was never seen again.

Captain Luke Ryan (Hibernian Magazine, May 1782) Photo: Historyireland.com

Luke Ryan

Privateer & Captain of The Black Fleet (1750-1789)

If prodigy were a term applied to piracy, Luke Ryan would be a candidate. Born in a coastal village of County Dublin, his youth was spent working in shipyards and at sea. At age 16, he abandoned a ship’s carpenter apprenticeship and joined a regiment of Ireland’s Wild Geese that fought for France on the Continent. But the sea inexorably called him. When the American Revolution erupted, England began issuing letters of marque to Irish smugglers, raising them to the status of “privateers” empowered to attack enemy ships and seize their cargoes. Seduced by the lure of legal piracy, Ryan who had returned to the sea and been doing well as a smuggler, signed on. Soon realizing that American ships were few locally whereas British merchantmen loaded with goods were plentiful, Ryan acquired letters of marque from France that was both at war with England and allied with the Americans. In May 1779, Ryan’s ship, loaded with contraband, was seized by British revenue agents, his crew was captured, but Ryan escaped. What ensued could have been a scene out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Ryan freed his men, reclaimed his ship, and sailed for France where his agent Jean Francois Torris introduced him to Benjamin Franklin who had been searching for swift ships and canny captains to help the Revolution. At age 25, Ryan began sailing under American colors in the ship he renamed The Black Prince with a loyal crew he had rescued from certain death, and carrying letters of marque from three nations. America and France might look aside at Ryan’s triple commissions, but capture by the British meant death. In just the first two years of his agreement with Franklin, Ryan and his group of ships, known as The Black Fleet, captured more than 114 ships and were the most successful of all the American privateers that wreaked havoc on the British. One American naval officer observed, “I have sailed with many brave men, but none the equal to this Captain Luke Ryan for skill and bravery.” Just as England began negotiations to end the American Revolution, Ryan was captured. Since he had never been granted American citizenship, he was tried as an Irish traitor to the Crown and condemned to death. Three appeals repeated the sentence, but on the fourth Ryan was pardoned. He tried to claim 70,000 pounds his French agent had been holding, but was told it had been stolen. Because he could not pay a doctor for inoculating his family against smallpox, Ryan was thrown in Debtor’s Prison where he died from an infected wound. He was only 39 years old. Sláinte!


September 19 – International Talk Like A Pirate Day Back in 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball when Mark missed a shot and hollered “Aaargh!”. Naturally, they finished the game hurling volleys of pirate jargon at each other. It was such a hoot, they decided to dress like pirates and talk like pirates every year on September 19th. Friends joined in the fun, Pulitzer prize-winning writer Dave Barry published an article about the farce, and social media spread the word. Unlike real pirate life which was grim, this celebration is all in fun. There’s even a group of swashbuckling gals in Florida that call themselves Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O’Malley!


For a brief time after leaving port or capturing a well-provisioned ship, pirate grub was tasty, but it quickly turned terrible. Meat spoiled, fruits and vegetables rotted, and hardtack biscuits developed weevils. While vittles were fresh, the galley produced large platters of Salmagundi, a layered “salad” of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, easily grabbed with fingers or plucked from the plate with a dagger.

Ingredients & Method:

Chop into small chunks turtle meat, chicken, pork, beef, ham, pigeon, and fish. Marinate with spiced wine and roast. Add the meats to boiled chopped cabbage, anchovies, pickled herring, mango, hard-boiled eggs, palm-hearts, onions, olives, and grapes. Add pickled chopped vegetables and garlic, chili pepper, mustard, salt, and pepper. Serve in a mound upon a large dish. (Recipe: National Geographic Magazine – 8/19/2014, “Eat Like a Pirate” by Rebecca Rupp

Spiced Rum:

On long sea voyages, kegs of water quickly turned stagnant and slimy. That didn’t happen with alcohol. Thirst quenchers on a pirate ship were usually beer, wine and rum (often flavored with spices). Over-indulging could have dire consequences as when “Captain Jack” Rackham, Anne Bonny, and the whole crew were so intoxicated they were easily captured by authorities.

Ingredients & Method:

1 750 mL bottle decent 1 750 mL bottle decent aged rum 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 3 whole cloves 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces 5 whole allspice berries 5 whole black peppercorns 1⁄2 piece star anise 1⁄8 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg 3 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger 2 3-inch strips fresh orange zest, white pith removed
Combine everything in a large jar and seal. Keep in a cool, dark place for a couple of days, shaking it once a day to distribute the ingredients. Start tasting it after 48 hours; adjust ingredients if necessary, and when it tastes just right (probably no longer than 4 days total), strain and bottle.(Recipe: Paul Clarke, serious eats.com) ♦

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