Pirates at Cheekpoint

There was many a story my father told me that I dismissed, in error, as fiction.  I remember one concerning a ship called the Earl of Sandwich which sounded particularly far fetched.  “Four of the crew” he said “turned to piracy and cut the throats of their fellow seafarers and passengers and made off with a treasure, part of which they buried at Cheekpoint” 

18th C sailing vessel

I later read an account of the incident in my grandmothers weekly copy of the Irelands Own and my jaw fell open.  The account is now freely available on the internet, for example here and there are many different accounts but the version I know, as told by my Father, was as follows.

The Earl of Sandwich departed in the winter of 1765 from the Canary Islands bound for England.  On board was a cargo of wine and other general freight, but it was a man by the name of George Glas that was most significant to what would unfold.  He was an adventurer and privateer who was returning to his home country with a fortune collected from years of being abroad and travelling with him was his wife and daughter.  The ship was commanded by a Captain Cochrane, which he and the crew had to battle hard through winter storms across the Bay of Biscay. 

Sometime in November the ship arrived off the Waterford coast near to the Hook and it was at this stage that four of the crew turned from sailors to pirates.  My Father couldn’t say why, but he guessed one, if not all of them had sailed with Captain Glass before and knew what he was stowing aboard.  However they knew, they must have plotted the whole trip, planning for a time that would be ripe for the taking of the ship.  The attack was swift and as they slit throats, or ran them through with swords, they tossed their fellow passengers and crewmates over the side.

Once free of interference they set to gathering their booty and celebrating their good fortune.    Realising that they needed to get away from the ship with their spoils they launched the ships tender but the gold they had gathered could scarcely be contained safely aboard.  There was also jewels to be carried and a measure of gold ore.  They scuppered the ship and pushed off, and rowed hard for the nearest landfall which was inside the Hook at Templetown.

Hauling the tender up on the shore, they hid the boat and most of the treasure before walking to the local Inn for food and beer.  Apparently the four strangers caused some suspicion by their arrival, which was heightened by their ability to spend Spanish gold. 

They left earlier than they had planned as they were conscious of the suspicious looks and returning to their boat, retrieved both it and the treasure.  They buried a sizeable portion (some say all of it) and departed upriver, hoping, my father said to blend in and cause less suspicion in the port, where hundreds of sailors would be gathered.  Next day they arrived at New Ross and quickly found an Inn to put their heads down and quench their thirst.  (My father didn’t mention female company, but it must have surely been a factor!).  The four strangers continued to arouse suspicion however, such was their ability to spend money and it was at this stage that misfortune struck them.

Their ship the Earl of Sandwich, which had been scuppered and presumed sunk, had in fact stayed afloat and washed up on the coast of Waterford.  The authorities were most perplexed by the ship with no crew and customs officers along the coast went in search of the ships tender and potential survivors.  Word of the four sailors spreading largess at Templetown reached their ears and a manhunt ensued.  Some say they were captured at New Ross, but my father said no, they fled downriver, heading back to retrieve their treasure and to hopefully catch a ship outward bound. 

The authorities chased them down at Fisherstown bank where they were rescued from a sinking boat, having pushed off from the shore at the sight of the onrushing troops.  Apparently they had stashed some of the money on the shore and were disturbed having just retrieved it.  Some of the gold went down with the boat and my Father said there was many the beam trawl was set on Fisherstown bank for years after in the hopes of dragging up Spanish Dollars.

Once returned to New Ross the pirates were “interviewed” and following this a search of the beach at Templetown yielded over twenty bags of gold.  An account here.  It is the origin of the placename and popular swimming place – Dollar Bay!  The men might have hoped for leniency having given up the treasure but instead they were sent to trial in Dublin, found guilty and sentenced to death.  They met their fate with the hangman and their bodies displayed as a warning from the quayside at Poolbeg.

the Pirates fate

The question remained however, was all the treasure retrieved.  My father said that for years after men searched the shoreline between New Ross and the Hook on both sides in the hope that the pirates had hid more.  A story persisted in Cheekpoint of suspicious lights being seen on Ryan’s shore, or voices of foreigners carrying up from the shore in the night, at the time of the pirates journey in their boat of gold! It was considered plausible that the canny pirates had stashed part of their haul in various locations to maximise their chances of retrieving the hoard.

My father couldn’t say if the treasure was ever found.  He claimed the landlord Bolton had almost dug up the countryside at the time, under the pretext of looking for slate or coal, which did occur, but I imagine this was an embellishment.  What I know for certain is that in the late 1990’s during a gale of wind a certain tree had fallen on Ryna’s shore and my father was one of the first over to inspect it. He had long suspected that the gold might be lying under its roots.  Alas he told me, when he got there, there was nothing to be seen, but, he said, “there were other footprints in the clay!”