Thursday, February 22, 2018

Streedagh Strand – Spanish Armada Shipwrecks

Streedagh Strand Memorial
Photograph (c) Richard Golden

Streedagh Strand is peaceful and quiet now. The cries of those souls who tragically perished there are no longer heard and over four centuries of tides have washed away their blood.
In September 1588 three ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked off Streedagh Strand on the coast of Sligo. They were caught in a sudden violent storm that raged over a three-day period, culminating in the destruction of the ships and the loss of over 1,000 lives. The ships were La Lavia, of Venetian origin, Santa Maria de Visóri from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and La Juliana from Barcelona.
In 1985, a group of English divers - known as the Streedagh Armada Group (SAG) - discovered the wrecks. Following some investigative work at the time, many artefacts were recovered, including three guns from the wrecks of La Juliana and one from La Lavia.
Protracted legal proceedings involving the State and Streedagh Armada Group finally determined that ownership of the three wrecks was vested in the State.

La Juliana
Streedagh Strand
Photograph (c) Richard Golden
In 2015 the Underwater Archaeology Unit (UAU) investigating the wreck of the La Juliana identified five bronze guns and one possible iron gun lying exposed on the seabed. Five carriage wheels and two large anchors were also visible. Four more large gun-carriage wheels were also recorded, bringing the total number to nine, one of which was recovered. A partially buried bronze cauldron was also recovered which contained the remains of pitch indicating that it was used on board for repair work to the ship.
Bronze Canons from the Spanish Armada Wreck La Juliana
Streedagh Strand - photo from Flickr
Nine ornate bronze guns of various calibres were recovered from the wreck site of La Juliana. All these items were in remarkable condition with crests, embossed figures of saints, the date of production, weight details within scroll motifs and makers' symbols perfectly preserved. Seven of the guns recovered show the year of manufacture as 1570. The saints depicted, many martyred, span several centuries, from Roman times through to the medieval period.
The La Juliana was engaged as a transport vessel in several key battles. This ship took part in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the coalition of European Christian maritime states brought together by Pope Pius V destroyed the Muslim fleet of the Ottoman Empire off the western coast of Greece. The ship carried 32 guns during the 1588 Armada campaign with a complement of 325 soldiers and a crew of 70 men.

The Spanish Armada
 Phillip 11, the Catholic King of Spain,
In the second half of the sixteenth century many of the countries of Europe were embroiled in wars that had their origins in the religious upheavals which had followed the Reformation. A state of undeclared war existed between England and Spain at the time of the Armada. The assembling of this great fleet by Phillip 11, the Catholic King of Spain, and its purpose appears to have been the worst kept secret in Europe. The situation came to a head with the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in February 1587, and with the attack on Cadiz by Sir Francis Drake in April of the same year. It was then that preparations began for the great Armada of 1588.
The fleet arrived off the Lizard on July 29th. An English fleet of 90 ships sailed south to meet the Armada. On the night of August 7th, the English sent fire ships in amongst the Spanish fleet. This was a dreaded tactic as the ships were filled with explosive and incendiary materials. In panic, the Spaniards were forced to abandon the venture. The Spanish ships were given instructions to sail home via the East coast of England, around the north of Scotland and Ireland before turning southwards for Spain.
Streedagh Strand
Photograph (c) Richard Golden
Of the original fleet of 130, up to 26 ships may have been lost around the coast of Ireland, and possibly as many as 40 in all were lost on the return journey to Spain. The human cost of the expedition was high: some 1,913 soldiers and 1,016 sailors lost their lives.
Captain Francisco De Cuellar, a survivor, wrote a fascinating account of the wrecking of these three ships and the subsequent events. De Cuellar describes the dreadful conditions of the wrecking and the terrible loss of life, one thousand drowned and those survivors who reached the shore being stripped and robbed by the local "savages".
Following the defeat of the Armada, Elizabeth had medals struck with the legend, "God breathed and they were scattered". The devout Phillip was heard to comment on hearing of the failure of the Armada, "I sent my ships to fight against men, not the winds and tides of God".

The wreck of La Juliana is significant for many reasons. It was a Catalan-built ship, which is critical, as we have very little knowledge of ship construction and the Iberian shipbuilding tradition in this period. The La Juliana provide an opportunity to gain further insight into one of the wrecks from Armada campaign. It provides the most complete collection of bronze guns recovered from any Spanish Armada ship to date.
The diversity of the bronze cannon and the details on each one makes them national treasures. The variety and size of cannon shot will provide further information on the types of gun carried on board ships like La Juliana and the type of the munitions supplied for such a campaign.
The use of the fire-ships and the subsequent orders to the Armada to return to Spain were turning points in European history. If the wind had changed direction and blown the fire ships away from the Armada at Calais we might all be speaking Spanish today.

For further information see:
(1) CANNONS, SAINTS AND SUNKEKL SHIPS—AN ARMADA WRECK REVEALED Author(s): Fionnbarr Moore, Karl Brady and Connie Kelleher Source: Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter 2015),
(2) The Irish Legacy of the Spanish Armada Author(s): Laurence Flanagan Source: Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter, 1988)
(3) Finds of the Spanish Armada Author(s): Cormac F. Lowth Source: Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Spring, 2004)

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