A Hoard of Gold was Buried on Long Island 500 Years Ago
The story begins over a year before the famous Battle of Kinsale. On the 5th of March 1600 at a party in Baltimore Castle a young Fineen O’Driscoll was celebrating his 15th birthday.
The O’Driscolls of Baltimore had been a very powerful family in West Cork for hundreds of years and were seafarers involved in fishing, trading and piracy. Fineen’s father was known as “Sir” Fineen O’Driscoll as he was at that time loyal to the English Crown.
The family’s eight sailing galleys lay at anchor in front of the castle on the night of the party and an expedition was planned for the following day. Fineen met a young Margaret O’Sullivan from Skibbereen at the party, but he survived the night and she saw him off on his trip on the flagship of the fleet in the morning.
They had a large crew on board. After two days at sea other vessels came into sight off the Old Head of Kinsale. These were “Algerine” (Barbary) corsairs engaged in battle with two large Spanish galleons. The galleons had drifted off course in bad weather while carrying gold from the Americas to Spain and were at a terrible disadvantage against their attackers. The Spaniards lost out and the gold was transferred to the corsairs. Then, seizing an opportunity, O’Driscoll and his crew joined the fray. The Irishmen 0utnumbered the “Algerines” and after fierce fighting they took sixty prisoners and the gold was brought to an O’Driscoll stronghold at Oldcourt on the Ilen River. In the following years most of the prisoners were exchanged for white slaves taken from the West Cork area by earlier invading corsairs, but the gold was retained.
Fineen O’Driscoll, having become the chief O’Driscoll at the age of twenty one, then refocused his attention on Margaret O’Sullivan. Though by 1606 his fortunes
had declined somewhat Margaret was well pleased with him, but she considered that
the stolen gold would bring them no luck. While he had plans to use some of it for a building project on Sherkin Island she refused to marry him until the gold was buried somewhere out of sight.
Fineen had to compromise. He, with eighteen year old Margaret, five sailors and the gold, slipped down the Ilen river and sailed for Long Island. They dug a deep hole somewhere in the west of the island, buried the treasure and covered it with a pyramid of
rocks. They were married soon afterwards in Schull and subsequently set up home in Baltimore and raised a family.
They lived happily ever after? Not quite. One of the boys captured that fateful day in
1600 off the Old Head of Kinsale had not been sent home to the Barbary coast in the prisoner exchange that followed. Instead the captured seven-year-old was adopted by the O’Driscoll family, given a new name (Michael), a Christian education and employment. But he never took on Irish norms and values. In his twenties he was found to be over familiar with Fineen and Margaret’s daughter, twelve-year-old Mary O’Driscoll. Michael insisted on his right to marry her, but this was refused. Two years later Micheal stole one of the O’Driscoll boats and disappeared. Meanwhile Mary had taken up with an O’Donovan from Ballydehob. The families got on well and a wedding was planned.
Having spent a fortune over the years on maintaining family castles and strongholds Fineen had sorely depleted his coffers. In 1631, with less than a week to go to the
wedding, desperate measures were called for and, despite his future wife’s warnings about bad luck, he rowed to Long Island alone and at midnight dug up the gold. After a long row back to Baltimore with the gold under the floorboards he was horrified to find his castle in flames. The Sack of Baltimore had started during the night. The “Algerines” had returned with a vengeance.
Mary had already been kidnapped by Michael who was a member of the raiding party, but before the end of the day managed to stab him to death on board ship. Convinced that all was now lost she then jumped overboard to her own death. The Sack of Baltimore effectively ended the 400-year reign of the O’Driscolls as overlords of Baltimore.
Margaret and Fineen survived the raid, but he was by now a broken man. When it was
over it is said that he went back to his boat which remained afloat, grabbed the heavy bag of gold and threw it into deep water.
There is another ending to this story whereby a house was built over the hoard of gold on Long Island. Though the O’Driscolls, the O’Sullivans and the O’Donovans are still around, or not far away, nobody seems to know where that house once stood. But mysterious
figures can still occasionally be seen wandering around the western end of the island late at night.
For an interesting history of the O’Driscolls of West Cork go to http://www.odriscolls.me.uk/battle_of_castlehaven.htm