When Irish Pirates Ruled the Seas

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

You may have heard of Wild Geese Irish Whiskey, but did you know they also make rum? The Wild Geese Rum Collection honours the memory of a band of Irish people who escaped slavery and political upheaval in Ireland to become Caribbean pirates.

The “Wild Geese” as they became known were 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.

wild geese rum ad

The “Wild Geese” fled Ireland to escape indentured slavery and political persecution. They made themselves known over four centuries in the 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.

Loose Canons

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 the merchant vessels of all nations, and they upset the capitalist trading system that was trying to establish itself.

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 didn’t leave shore unless they had insurance not only for natural disasters, but for the menace of piracy as well.

pirate flag blowing in wind

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

A Life Of Freedom

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 game, the act of piracy was hugely criminal and came with horrible consequences. But many took their chances for the promise of a life of freedom.

black pearl pirate ship at sea

Piracy was also attractive to Africans and African-Americans in the early 19th century, who made up 20% of the numbers. Like many Irish pirates, they were escaping slavery. The risky freedom of piracy was preferable to captivity.

Comrades In Arms

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 got along quite well and even consistently showed solidarity for each other, developing strong feelings of group loyalty. Communities of pirates were willing to join forces at sea and in port, even when the various crews were strangers to each other.

gif of pirate walking to ship

And once they got together, they liked to eat and drink. Unlike legitimate sailors, who laboured under an institutionalised hierarchy (and the lower ranks got the worst rations), the “wild geese” shared whatever bounty they stole equally. 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. This 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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