Tuesday 21 July 2015

C16th Spanish Armada guns recovered from Sligo coast

One of the cannon recovered off Streedagh. Co Sligo
Photo used with kind permission of
Grange and Armada Development Association*.
Six bronze cannon and a gun-carriage wheel, all dating from the 16th century, are the latest artefacts to have been recovered from Spanish Armada wrecks off the coast of Streedagh in County Sligo. Their transfer to the National Museum of Ireland will begin today or tomorrow under the care of conservation officers. A ship's cauldron and a number of smaller items had already been brought ashore, and it is hoped that a further bronze cannon with a dedication to Saint Sebastian will be recovered shortly.

The dive site is currently focusing on the wreck of La Juliana, which was discovered on the seabed during recent winter storms, and is at particular risk from both the effects of weather and illegal interference. Work has been taking place at the site since early June, when two large guns were recovered engraved with depictions of San Iovane and San Matrona.

The variety of guns being recovered graphically illustrates the history of the ship itself from its origins as a Meditterranean trading vessel when it was built in 1570 to its use as a warship during King Philip II of Spain's ill-fated campaign of 1588. La Juliana formed part of the Spanish Armada fleet of 130 ships, 26 of which were lost around the coast of Ireland. At 860 tons, La Juliana carried 325 soldiers and a crew of 70 mariners. She wrecked along with two other ships, La Lavia and Santa Maria de Vison, at Streedagh on 21 September, with the cumulative loss of over 1,100 lives.

La Lavia and Santa Maria de Vision are believed to be still buried under protective layers of sand.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, T.D., who visited the site with representatives from the Spanish Embassy at the start of the dive, said yesterday: 'The quality of material being recovered is remarkable and the gun carriage wheels, designed for siege warfare on land, paint a very clear picture of the scale and intent of the planned invasion of England by King Phillip II of Spain.'

As well as the two guns recovered in June, four more large bronze cannon have now been recovered. One highly decorated gun displays a variety of motifs including flames, stars and a bearded figure of a saint clad in robes holding a key, most likely depicting St Peter with the keys of Heaven. The gun also has two highly ornate lifting handles in the form of dolphins with looped tails. Two of the other guns recovered bear images of St Rocho and St Ilaria while another, still on the seabed, bears an image of St Sebastian.

The Minister said that she wanted to again thank the local communities in Streedagh, Grange and Mullaghmore including the Grange Armada Development Association and the Sligo Sub Aqua Club for their continued support and assistance during the project: 'They continue to maintain a watch over the sites, and I am very grateful for their vigilance and support. I am very much aware that they would like to see the material being brought back for exhibition locally when the conservation work has been done. I know that the National Museum would not stand in the way of such a proposal and that the local Development Association is actively exploring how suitable facilities could be developed.'

The Minister confirmed that it may be two years before any of the artefacts would be ready to go on display.

*Grange and Armada Development Association will be hosting a Reliving the Armada event on Streedagh Beach, Grange, Co Sligo, on 19 September, as part of the Celtic Fringe Festival.