The Girona

La Girona was a 50-gun Spanish warship, with oars and sails, which left Spain in 1588 as part of the Spanish Armada. It was one of the 130 ships that were sent by King Philip II of Spain to invade England. The Armada was defeated by an English naval force and what was left was later dispersed Northwards by bad weather before it could return to friendly ports. Many of the Armada ships were forced to flee into the unwelcoming Atlantic seas along the west coast of Ireland and up to 24 vessels were lost on our shores.

Gallaleass similar to Girona - Courtesy of PCDG Girona Gold
Gallaleass similar to Girona (Image Courtesy of Portballintrae Community Development Group – Girona Gold)

La Girona was among the ships which was destroyed along the Irish coast. It had anchored in Killybegs harbour, Co. Donegal, to repair a damaged rudder and had taken on other men who had been rescued from other Armada ships which had already sunk. The ship set sail for Scotland, in the hope of finding further succour and assistance there, on 26th October 1588 with over 1,300 men crowded onboard and made it into the open seas when a fierce gale dashed the ship onto rocks at Lacada Point, near the Giant’s Causeway. It is popularly believed that La Girona may have first struck the reef known as The Storks in the sea just off Dunluce castle. Only nine men survived.

The first salvage attempts of the Girona were made within months by Sir George Carew, who complained at the expense of “sustaining the divers with copious draughts of usequebaugh” (whiskey). Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the Constable of Dunluce Castle, is alleged to have recovered 3 brass cannon and 2 chests of treasure from the wreck.

In 1967, La Girona was re-discovered by a Belgian underwater archaeologist named Robert Sténuit. He excavated the wreck site and found a huge haul of jewellery, gold and silver coins, religious tokens and other valuable artefacts, many of which are currently on permanent display at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. The museum paid £132,000 for the discovered renaissance artefacts in 1972.