A Cruel Harvest

AMONG the fascinating real stories to have emerged from this small land area over the centuries, the one of Algerian pirates sneaking into the West Cork village of Baltimore in 1631 and carting off over 100 of its inhabitants is surely ranked among the highest.

The facts are truly amazing. Aided by a Co Waterford man Hackett, (later hanged), Algerian pirates arrived in the dead of night to the sleepy English colony, and Gaelic remnant, of Baltimore. There they carted off 108 men, women and children to a life of slavery in the sultan’s army or as vassals in his kingdom.

Notwithstanding a putative screenplay by Sean Boyle and the mawkish poem The Sack of Baltimore by nationalist Thomas Davis (he also wrote the equally mawkish, A Nation Once Again), the story has never been fictionalised. More recently Des Eakin’s book The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, provided exhaustive research into the event.

That the extraordinary raid has never been novelised is a small wonder. However, Corkman Paul Reid has taken up the gauntlet. He moves the story on to the late 18th century and instead of Algeria the destination of the slavers is Morocco. Allowable conceits and evidence of a confident narrator.

Related from the dual narratives of the young tenant farmer Brannon Ryan and his femme fatale Orlaith, the story races through the unfolding cataclysm that besets their lives. At the point of starvation through poverty Orlaith pins her hopes on Brannon. But when he is abducted and presumably killed by the pirates, her life of destitution seems confirmed. Enter the rapacious landlord Randall – a touch of perfidious Albion here – and her future seems hopeless.

The movie potential for this novel is obvious. Russell Crowe as Brannon perhaps? For a first novel, Reid’s potential is obvious – brisk storytelling, excellent research and the idea itself – a story that begged to be told. (Available from Amazon.com).

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