Remembering the Spanish Armada

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | October 1, 2016 15

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In 1588, 3 ships of the Spanish Armada, were wrecked at Streedagh Beach in Sligo, Ireland, as they retreated following defeat to the English.

Over 1,100 men died at Streedagh as a result. Last weekend a Spanish navy vessel, the OPV Centinela, made the return trip to the shores of Sligo to honour the memory of the fallen Armada soldiers.

The 1,100 people who lost their lives when three Spanish Armada ships were wrecked off the Irish coast four centuries ago were honoured at a festival in Sligo last weekend. The poignant ceremony brought the sixth annual Celtic Fringe Festival to a close at Streedagh Beach on Sunday afternoon.  spanishshipstreedagh

routes_of_the_spanish_armadaThe OPV Centinela, a Spanish Navy ship, performed a moving tribute to their fallen comrades. The ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Miguel Romero Contreras, said the ceremony “was very special for all of us on board” after he and his most junior seaman, Alvaro Couce, laid a floral wreath on the Atlantic ocean. “The emotion of a day like this is difficult to put into words,” he said. “Remembering the passing of so many countrymen many years ago far away from home was a very important event for us, and I would like to thank sincerely the people of Sligo for making us feel so welcome here.”

It was the first time a Spanish military vessel had journeyed into Sligo Bay since the ill-fated voyage of the Spanish Armada, when La Lavia, La Santa Maria de Visón and La Juliana were lost as the Spanish retreated following a failed invasion of England.

“The Celtic Fringe Festival enables us to engage with part of our local history which has often times been neglected,” said Eddie O’Gorman, Chair of the Celtic Fringe Festival. We have – due in no small part to the recovery of cannon from La Juliana last year – been able to reach many more people than ever before. With increased interest here and abroad in the Armada legacy we have here in Sligo, we’d hope that next year’s planned International Armada Conference in Sligo will really fire the imagination of Armada enthusiasts around the world.” armadacannonarmadaposter-final-c

In May 1588, the Spanish Armada, the largest invasion fleet ever, set sail from Lisbon in Portugal. Its purpose was to enforce a claim of Philip II of Spain to the English throne and to restore the Catholic faith to Protestant England. Philip had been married to Elizabeth I half sister, Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. In Ireland King’s Country (Offaly) and its origional country town Philipstown and Queen’s County and its county town Maryborough (Portlaoise) were named after Philip and Mary. Under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Armada comprised 130 vessels of varying size, type and nationality, roughly 29,450 men and 2,250 guns of all kinds.

It was supposed to rendezvous with land troops led by the Duke of Parma in the Spanish Netherlands and proceed to invade England. Storms and English frigates scattered the unwieldy Armada and many of the ships were damaged or sunk in deadly sea-battles.

The Irish coastline claimed many vessels and even those crewmen that reached land were not guaranteed safety or continued life. Francisco de Cuellar was a captain of the galleon San Pedro of the squadron of Castille, one of the front line squadrons of the Spanish Armada. Following the battles with the English fleet in the Channel, de Cuellar was accused and convicted of breaking fleet sailing orders.  Condemned to death, he argued his case sufficiently to obtain a reprieve for himself. The reprieve was conditional that he remain on board the Levanter La Lavia under the supervision of the Judge Advocate, Martin de Aranda.

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This then was how he came to be aboard La Lavia when she, in company with La Juliana and Santa Maria de Vision, also from the squadron of Levant, became trapped off the Sligo coast at Streedagh. These three ships remained stormbound off the coast for four days. On the fifth day the weather deteriorated and the storm increased and all three ships were driven ashore, foundering on Streedagh Strand.

Francisco de Cuellar survived this disaster and set out to reach safety, first here in Ireland, travelling from Sligo to the Causeway Coast in Antrim, from there to Scotland and from Scotland to Spanish held Antwerp. From Antwerp he wrote a long letter detailing his adventures in Connaught and Ulster, that led to his subsequent escape.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.
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