By Julie Lenore Baker
If you are fortunate enough to live on the beautiful west coast of County Cork you are probably familiar with its tales of pirates, in particular a pirate called Canty. If you are a stranger to this area and its tales you may be interested to hear the story I am about to tell you, not only the historic facts but also the very unusual way that I came to learn of them.
Firstly for the history; the beautiful west coast of Cork has many tales of piracy dating back to the 1600’s when English pirates found it a convenient place to hide out and at the same time observe and ambush ships travelling across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to the newly discovered Americas.
They recruited crew to man their ships from the local people who eventually rose through the ranks and became as fearful as their masters, this is how a pirate called Canty came into being, he frequented the area where his now name sake cove is located and was as ruthless a cut throat as any of his contemporaries, he is even said to have a great treasure buried somewhere in the cove but if he has, it has yet to be discovered.
If you are unimpressed by the above account there is a second history of this cut throat pirate which is that he was of local stock as in the account above, some say lived in a castle on the head of the cove and took to piracy to pay for its upkeep others say he ran a hotel at the head of the cove where he lured innocent travellers with the prospect of cheep board and loggings only to killed them, take their possessions and throw their bodies off the cliffs in to the sea.
There are indeed the visible remains of stone buildings on the head of the cove although they are now crumbling and overgrown so it is not possible to tell what they originally were.
I got these account from information found online but I have a third account for you taken from my Irish grandfather; a native of Dublin. He passed away when I was a child in the 60’s and our lives sadly only overlapped for about seven years but for those seven year he filled my childhood with magical tales of his life back in “the old country” and one in particular that always stuck with me was that of his “friend” Old Canty a ghostly apparition that he was often visited by when he worked in the Canty’s Cove area.
Being a child when I heard this tale I never really questioned its validity and even now as an adult I still felt that the tale of the ghostly apparition had such a ring of truth to it that I recently asked some family members what granddad had said to them on the subject only to discover that he had never spoken to any of them about it so I now feel duty bound to keep the tale alive.
Granddad was born in Dublin in to a poor family and as soon as he was 12 years old he was taken to live with an old fisherman in the Canty’s Cove area, a fisherman’s life was hard and as this fisherman only had one son to help him in the boat he needed a boy to stay on land, help process the fish, and mend the nets.
Granddad told of how the job of mending and sorting out the nets could go on long into the evening and he would often be left alone in the cove after his master and his master’s son had gone home, they would expect to find the nets mended and in the boat by morning ready for another day out on the water so he had to stay there until the job was finished.
Maybe he was lonely and like many lonely children do he created an imaginary friend for himself after all he had probably heard all the tales of the pirates of the 1600’s from the local fishermen so maybe his young fertile mind conjured up a ghostly apparition of this fearful pirate who gave his name to the very cove granddad found himself working in or maybe he really did see a ghostly presence of the long gone Irish pirate known for his ferocity.
The tale always started the same way, granddad would be on the beach with his back to the sea and the nets hung out as he darned and mended them.
He used to tell me that he always knew before his “friend” was about to visit, it was usually when the catch had not been good and spirits were low, he would be alone in the cove and the sun would be setting, the birds would stop singing and the water would fall calm and he would hear the crunching of boots on the pebbles, he would turn round and see Old Canty holding a lamp aloft, as soon as granddad turned round Old Canty would stop and smile at him and with his free hand beckon to granddad to follow him, which he never did as Canty was beckoning into the sea but when Canty realised that granddad was not going to follow him he would point out to sea in a particular direction then turn round and walk back to the sea and eventually disappear in to it.
As granddad got older and was permitted to go out in the fishing boat he realized that after each visitation of Old Canty the direction he pointed out was the direction where there was a good catch of fish to be had, information that granddad used to his benefit.
Now, I will be the first to admit Granddad loved to tell a tall tale and as we all know fishermen are legendary for their tall tales, the classic being of course, “the one that got away” but there was always something eerily real about this one although even if he did see a ghostly apparition of this one time fearful pirates is it really likely that Canty would have changed his ways to the extent that he would come back to help a lonely fisherman’s apprentice? who can say but it’s certainly a compelling story and if there was ever a place where such an unlikely event could happen it surely has to be on the magical, west coast of Ireland.