At the end of 1588 ships from one of the largest invasion fleets ever assembled – the Spanish Armada – were wrecked on the coasts of Ireland.
One of the most famous – the treasure ship La Girona – was dashed to pieces on the rocks just off Dunluce Castle on 28th October with a fearful loss of life. Over the next few days between 260 and 270 bodies were washed up on the shore and were buried by locals in St. Cuthbert’s graveyard opposite the Castle where they still lie in unmarked graves.
La Girona was not the only ship to perish on the northern coasts. In Kinnego Bay in Donegal, the Trinidad Valencera also foundered, leaving its crew to struggle across the countryside on foot. And further south, three ships sank off Streedagh Strand near Grange in County Sligo with one of the survivors, Francisco de Cuellar making his way north to Castleroe outside Coleraine in the hope of getting a boat of Scotland.
For years such events went largely unrecorded and unremembered but now a new Armada Group – the North Coast Armada Connection – hopes to renew interest in the topic and to commemorate those who died in northern waters.
To do this it is teaming up with an already established Armada group based in Grange. Chairman of the new group, which held it’s first meeting in Ballymoney recently, Dr. Bob Curran said: “For a long time the Armada has been a neglected piece of history but its impact on the coastal areas of Ireland and to some extent those of Scotland has been immense. The story of de Cuellar for example reads like an adventure story as he makes – and sometimes fights – his way across the north of Ireland. However, we wanted primarily to commemorate those who died in the various tragedies along our coats. It has always been one of my ambitions to hold some sort of service for the 200 sailors who are buried in St. Cuthbert’s with no-one to remember them. Not all of them of course were Spanish – there were Poles, Italians and a number of other nationalities amongst them and recently in many countries there has been a rising interest in those who perished here.
“It seemed only natural because of the de Cuellar connection for us to liaise with the Association down in Grange and to make them aware of our own rich heritage concerning the Armada. We have had several meetings with them – both here and in Grange – before setting up this group and we are looking forward to collaborating with them and with others, such as a group in County Clare where La Girona’s sister ship landed. We have identified a number of areas in which we can co-operate, particularly culture and education. But first we want to raise awareness of the Armada impact both here and in Grange.
“Whilst the main objective is commemoration of the Armada there is also a tourism aspect to it which can only benefit the local economy. One of the long term goals both for ourselves and for the Grange group is to establish a de Cuellar trail based on his diaries which can only benefit both our communities. There is a rising interest in the Armada right across Europe and this is also an opportunity for the local community in the tourism market”
“One of the projects being considered is a comic based on the adventures of Francisco de Cuellar <who left a detailed diary> aimed at Key Stage 3. There are also links between schools planned as well as a series of tours and events.”
The recently-formed group had its first meeting to consider a formal action plan on 5th September and further details can be had by e-mailing the Chairman, Dr. Bob Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org