When Irish Pirates Ruled the Seas

When Irish Pirates Ruled the Seas


What we will do with the drunken sailor? Let’s steal all his rum.

A new rum has hit town. It honours the memory of a band of Irish people who escaped indentured slavery and political upheaval in Ireland to become stinky pirates in the Caribbean. Known as “wild geese” these Irish escapees became wildly successful in the plundering and marauding business. And they liked a good drink. But why make a rum celebrating Irish Pirates? Well, because it has an interesting backstory, big enough to catch the interest of the Irish diaspora.

The “Wild Geese” were the Irish who fled Ireland because of indentured slavery and political persecution. They made themselves known over four centuries in pirate world – about 15% of pirates in the Caribbean were, in fact, Irish. And these guys loved a drop of booze. They drank whatever they could get their hands on, mostly stolen from other vessels and from mainland settlements.

The impact of the pirates at this time changed the way the Atlantic looked for several hundred years. The pirates were loose canons, and they defied traditional seafaring alliances. They attacked merchant vessels of all nations, and they upset the capitalist and trading system that was trying to lay itself down. These pirates were a scourge to the trade routes along the “Middle Passage” (a route that saw millions of slaves from Africa shipped to the New World). For pirates, these routes held riches. If they could capture a ship plying its way to America, they were in for a damn good time. The treasure up for grabs along these routes was worth the risk of capture. In fact, piracy caused such a disruption during this time that growth for the exporting countries was often momentarily halted. But it did ramp up the insurance industry of the time: ships now didn’t leave shore unless they had insurance not only for natural disasters, but for the menace of piracy as well.

While a good portion of the buccaneers of the seventeenth century were known to be made up of Irish indentured slaves who had escaped, their ranks also included embittered Dutch sailors, abandoned French colonists, and abused English and Scots.

The pirates of the early eighteenth century, however, were men who acted on their own. These pirates were unauthorised entities who worked outside the more socially accepted scenarios and did not discriminate when conducting their raids. If you had loot they were going to get you. By this late stage of the piracy game, the act of piracy was hugely criminal, and came with horrible consequences. But many braved the consequences of being caught if it meant a life lived with freedom.

Piracy was also attractive to Africans and African-Americans in the early 19th century, making up 20% of the numbers. Like the indentured slaves of Ireland, they were escaping slavery, and preferred freedom that came with piracy, rather than a return to captivity.

So how did the pirates treat each other? From all walks of life, and living in cramped quarters, you’d think they would have killed each other quite regularly. But that didn’t happen. Most reports show that they all got along quite well and even consistently showed solidarity for each other and developed strong feelings of group loyalty. The communities of pirates were willing to join forces at sea and in port, even when the various crews were strangers to each other.

And once they got together, they liked to eat and drink. Unlike legitimate sailors, who suffered from an institutionalised hierarchy (and the lower ranks got the worst rations), the “wild geese” equally shared whatever bounty they stole. Often they would get more food than legitimate sailors. In fact, scarcity of food turned legitimate sailors to pirating because they were fed up with being half-starved.

Pirates considered booze to be of equal importance to food. But like all pirates should, they burned through the booze way faster than on traditional, legitimate ships, where booze was rationed.

A drink called “Flip,” was a pirate favourite, made of rum, beer, and sugar, served warm, often in a tin can. Punch was also a favourite…which was pretty much anything they could get their hands on and share. One rum version was called “bumboe.” Sounds good!

But you, dear reader, don’t have to raid your liquor cabinet to make a gross and weird-tasting pirate punch. You can just drink an award-winning rum, with aftertones of piracy and danger. And, you don’t have to worry about falling overboard.

Ships ahoy!


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