The Stolen Village by Des Ekin
Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates
First published in 2008 by O’Brien Press Ltd
The Stolen Village opens with a thrilling description of a pirate raid on the small village of Baltimore, located on Ireland’s rugged southwestern shore, in June 1631.
The attackers, Barbary pirates, on board two sea going ships wait for nightfall before swooping on the small community peacefully slumbering, and awaking them to a horrific future.
Any who stood in their way were brutally hacked down on the spot and those who surrendered were dragged down to the waiting boats and ferried out to the ships and the prospect of a perilous voyage.
Anxious not to appear Islamophobic, Mr Ekin quickly points out that pirate leader, Murat Ray was in fact born a Christian in the Netherlands and had since converted to Islam and was now based in Algiers.
The Stolen Village further explains that many of the Barbary pirates were led by Christian renegades happy to raid their former homes.
107 luckless residents were snatched from their beds that night, men, women and children. Most were women, the youngest highly prized for their soft, pale skin.
After two villagers, deemed too frail to travel were released, the rest were herded below and the ships set sail, the hope of rescue fading with every mile that passed.
Their arrival in Algiers heralds a carnival like celebrations which must have left them deeply confused.
Until then the prisoners, or some would call hostages, had largely been well treated, and during their voyage would have become acclimatised to their captors, receiving food from them, and learning to follow instructions.
Now ashore once more, they are taken to the Dey’s fine palace to learn their fate, and anxiously listen to the legalistic arguments over their status.
Just as their hopes were rising that they would be set free, they would be crushed by the announcement that they were to be taken as slaves.
All pretence of civility now gone, the captives were ushered outside and herded to the infamous slave market.
Here, both men and women were ordered to undress.
A woman might be offered a robe by a kindly trader as she struggles to comprehend that all her clothes and other personal possessions now belong to her captors.
The trader takes her towards a small group of dealers waiting to inspect her, and after he has taken back his robe she realises her next clothes will be provided by her buyer, or not, as the mood takes him.
She would then wait her turn to be led outside, blinking in the strong sunlight, to the auctioneer’s block.
The men fared no better, many ending up as galley slaves or working from dawn to dusk in stone quarries.
Mr Ekin suggests the lives led by some slaves were no worse than those of indentured servants back at home, even suggesting that laundry would dry far quicker in North Africa than in rain swept Ireland.
He also mentions, somewhat casually, that the grand pasha decided one morning to clean out his harem of some its many occupants.
But rather than simply sending the unwanted home, instead he had several hundred young women tied into weighted sacks and thrown into the river.
To live in such constant fear of imminent death can only be paralleled with what inmates of Nazi concentration camps must have endured.
It is a very good book as it has a lively pace and is well written.