It was a slow night at Mother Rackett's Drunken Mermaid Tavern (when all stories worth telling start). The old grizzle-bearded bartender (known as Foghorn to his friends; as Devil Donald to all others) was yarning with some of the girls and a few of the regular customers. This is the story he spun.
When all is said and done, I guess I come by my present occupation naturally, being the great-grandson of the famous Grainne Uaile.
I was born on the 22nd of February in the Year of our Lord 1610, in the town of Westport on Clew Bay, Conaught, Erin, the third son of Domael Burke and Findabura (O'Neil), local landholders of some means.
After a normal childhood, I was apprenticed to a cousin, Patrick O'Malley, the captain of the lugger Fair Oak, plying the North Sea and the English Channel. After serving aboard for six seasons, I learnt my letters, some math and navigation, but most important I learned seamanship and the sea.
At the age of 18, I signed on as an able seaman aboard the Bristol Queen, a stout merchantman shipping for the coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Spent the next four years before the mast on various ships in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal. At the age of 24, was promoted to mate on the East Indiaman Duncan's Pride, skippered by Captain Jock McLeod. Served aboard for eight months and as we were planning our return journey home, got caught in a typhoon southwest of India.
After a long and bitter struggle we were wrecked on a desert island in the Maldives. By the grace of God, I was the only survivor. I managed to survive on that inhospitable island for seven long years, until rescued by a Dutch East Indiaman, the Ron Pater, bound for the China seas.
After working my passage to Shanghai, was put ashore, and for the next five years found employment from various smugglers and pirates in the China Sea and Yangtze River. After many adventures managed to obtain a berth on an English merchantman, the Mary Beth, bound for home with a cargo of silk and spices.
In due time, with stormy passage across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape, and up the Atlantic to England, we arrived in Bristol on August 16, 1649. Collected my pay, booked passage to Dublin.
On arrival in my homeland, I discovered the havoc wrought by the archfiend Oliver Cromwell and his Protestant bastards. Traveled cross-country to Conaught, found that my home and family lands had been confiscated by the English bastards and my kin, including my parents and siblings, had been killed or outlawed. My countrymen were living in abject poverty.
Having a little money left, I bought a small fishing boat, and rented a small cottage, having determined to make my living by fishing, as had my ancestors. One day, in a hidden cove, discovered the hulk of one of Grandma's old galleys. During the next eight months, with the help of local seamen and fisher folk, repaired the old craft. Renamed our galley, Erin's Revenge.
We set sail from Clew Bay with a crew of disenfranchised Irish lads. Headed for the Southern trade routes, determined to take as many prizes as we were able. Four days out, encountered a Dutch built hoecker, which had been outfitted by an English company as a privateer, bound for the West Indies. We managed to capture her after a bitter fight. We signed on half the crew, as they were also stout Irish lads, and set the remaining officers and crew adrift in a jolly boat. Sunk our old galley, which had been damaged in the battle. Renamed the 12-gun hoecker the Sea Falcon, and set sail for the Spanish Main.
We had a smooth passage across the Atlantic, arriving at Port Royal, Jamaica. We refitted our ship, recruited a full crew, and began our lives as freebooters. Over the next six years, we had moderate success and took a few prizes, enough to increase our wealth and keep the crew happy.
At this time, I obtained the name Devil Donald. We had captured an English merchantman after a stiff fight and found an Anglican minister aboard. Took his parole along with other of the ship's crew and officers, and agreed to drop them off at a neutral port. However, the minister was caught trying to poison the ship's water supply and to subvert the crew to mutiny. After a brief trial, hanged him. His last words that I all my papist countrymen would burn in hell, and that I myself was the devil incarnate. From that time on, I became known as Devil Donald.
One fine day, south of Hispaniola, we come upon a French pinnace that had lost her rudder in a storm and was drifting aimlessly. Flying the French flag, we approached her from the bow and after two raking broadsides she surrendered, with only minor damage. The La Fontaine was a French built pinnace of 30 guns sailing as a privateer. We marooned most of the French officers and crew, and took her under tow to Port Royal. Arranged to have her repaired and her armament changed to give her longer range and bigger guns and more speed. Reduced her guns to eight 18-pounders, six 12-pounders, two six-pounders, and six swivel guns. Renamed her the Ban Sidhe, and with the Sea Falcon under my first mate and navigator, Benjamin Riley, recruited full crews for both ships and sailed forth to glory or disaster. Unfortunately, the latter was our fate.
Three days out sailing for the Windward Passage sighted a Spanish galleon sailing east, riding low in the water. We gave chase, overhauling her close to nightfall, when the lookout spied three Spanish men-of-war bearing down upon us from the south. Unfortunately, they had the wind and weather gauge on us, and rapidly overhauled us and started firing at long range, taking out our mainmast and causing other serious damage. The Sea Falcon was also badly damaged.
Something struck me in the head, causing me to lose consciousness. I woke next morning lashed to a bit of ship's railing, floating in a completely empty calm sea. The only thing of my brave ship remaining was the ship's bell, attached to the bit of railing I was lashed to. Of our ships or crew, there was no trace. I drifted for two days and landed on a nearby island, and managed to make my way back to Port Royal, in poor health and penniless. Mother Rackett, who knew me from happier times, took me in and gave me a job as bartender until I could fully recover my health, find a ship, and return to sea once more.