The Spanish Armada - Giants Causeway

 The Girona was a Galleass of the Spanish Armada, she carried  a compliment of 121 sailors, 186 soldiers, 50 bronze cannons and 224 rowers, though when she struck Lacada Point on October 30th 1588, it is estimated that she had a compliment of around 1200 men on board. This came about as follows:-     The second in command of the Spanish Armada was Don Alonso Martinez Levia who was aboard the ' Rata Santa Maria Encoronada', the 'Encoronada' carried a compliment of 420 sailors and soldiers plus 35 cannons, the ship had proven difficult to manoeuvre in the winds around the west coast of Ireland and had received a severe battering by gales before finding shelter in Blacksod Bay, County Mayo. Dropping anchor, Don Alonso intended to get fresh water and supplies, repair some minor damage and  wait for a break in the weather before heading south again. The winds though held strong and the anchors proved incapable of holding the 900 ton ship, she was gradually blown ashore on Fahy Strand, Ballycroy. The crew stripped the ship of cannons, stores and other valuables and set her alight, they then made their way to nearby deserted Doona Castle which they are said to have fortified with cannon in preparation for a confrontation with English troops who had local allies and were active in the area. Another two ships (and maybe more) arrived in the locality,  the 'Santiago' which subsequently foundered at Poulatornish, Broadhaven and  the 'Dunquesa Santa Ana' which also anchored in  Blacksod Bay.     The 'Dunquesa Santa Ana ' had 23 guns, 280 soldiers and 77 sailors on board,  for Don Alonso and his men it was a godsend. They carried out minor repairs to her, took aboard fresh water, loaded what had been salvaged from the 'Encoronada'  and set sail hoping to locate other ships of the scattered fleet.  Again, they encountered strong gales which drove them northwards and  into Donegal Bay, the winds did not abate and they were eventually driven ashore near Ardara in Loughros Mor Bay where the ship foundered.  Having got ashore, a local gave them assistance and shelter, word came that other Spanish ships were located further along the coast, with his compliment of men (estimated to have been around 1000) complete with cannons and valuables, Don Alonso marched  northwards  and discovered that three ships had come in on the gales at Killybegs. The 'Girona' was undergoing repairs to a damaged rudder sustained in the gales and the other two, the  'Lavia' and 'San Juan' had both foundered. This time, instead of heading south towards Spain, Don Alonso decided to take the 'Girona'  northwards to Scotland where he believed they could find relative safety, recuperate and  then make their way back to Spain from there. The 'Girona' set out from Killybegs with the surviving crews of two other shipwrecks and all their accumulated valuables and cannons.  Once again, increasingly bad weather was encountered which resulted in the rudder being damaged off Inishowen, now they found themselves being blown by gale force winds towards the north coast,  the power of the 224 rowers could do nothing to keep the ship offshore and she finally struck Lacada Point on October 28th, 1588.  There a varying accounts as to the numbers who survived, some say three, others five and some nine,  those that did survive are said to have received shelter and  assistance from Sorley Boy MacDonnell of Dunluce Castle. The rest is folklore. Stories tell of victims, perhaps even Don ALonso himself (who knows?) being buried in St. Cuthbert's Graveyard at Dunluce and others, of survivors settling and marrying into the local population.  Another fascinating insight into the conditions endured by survivors was recorded by Francisco De Cuellar who survived a shipwreck and walked across the north west of Ireland, he made it across to Scotland and eventually back to Spain.   
'Amongst all the  shipwrecks and battle sites in Ireland, this is one that deserves a cairn or even a plaque to recognize the loss of so many lives. It is haunting  to look down on Port na Spaniagh  as evening falls on a stormy winter day and the wind cries against the basalt cliffs. To imagine the plight of those twelve hundred sailors, noblemen and rural sons whose lives ended in the dark coldness of an Irish winter, so far from the warm fields of Spain. Their gold, silver and possessions scattered upon the seabed and their bones along the shoreline. Yet not a trace, a mark, or a simple plaque is placed to remind us of the tragedy that unfolded  here. Our imaginations are left to wonder....... Art Ward 1990    

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