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History, islands and stories

Our Story Page

This page is dedicated to True, false and funny stories, they can be historic, factual or fiction. They must relate to the sea, seafaring or the west coast of Ireland and its people.

Our first article is a brief profile of Graunaile by Aine Ryan, this appeared in the Mayo News on Feb 2010. Anne Chambers book is a great read and very enjoyable, especially when anchored in the lee of Graunaile’s castle on Clare Island.

It is quite possible to sail around Ireland and read a book about local history for each area. We were once discussing anchoring in Blasket Sound and while the rest of the crew were stating the pro’s and con’s, I went back to reading my book about going around Ireland by De Courcy Ireland, I had just got to a page about Blasket Sound, 3 ships of the Spanish Armada anchored there on their desperate bid to return to Spain in 1588, a party was sent ashore but captured by locals and hung (before the birth of Irish Nationalism), a second party were sent ashore armed, they were also captured and handed over to the English who later hung them, later that night the anchors dragged and the ships collided and sank, causing the deaths of about 1500 men, any survivors were stripped, robbed and hung! by the locals or English soldiers

I had a solemn look around and realized that the boys were arguing the toss over whether or not we anchor our boat in a mass grave! I hopped up on deck and said that we were going to Fenit for the night, no buts!

Sometimes it is hard to fathom the vast history of our land, in the 1700’s Barbary pirates raided our coast and our own gang was not shy about raiding other places. the sea was the highway for thousands of years, long before the M4 and the M50. If you have something to share, please send it to us.

I’m sure everyone would enjoy the story about wharram’s catamaran being repaired in Achill. Jarlath Cunnane and Frank Guilfoyle might enlighten us.

William Maxwell’s account of the sea passageWilliam Maxwell’s account of the sea passage from Mulranny to Croy lodge via Bellacragher Bay in 1816

“At the Clachan of Mulranny, we struck into a pass in the mountains and turned our backs upon Clew Bay. A branch from the waters of Black Sod runs some ten miles inland and meets this opening in the hills, affording a communication by boats with Erris. There may kinsman’s galley was waiting for me, and in it, I embarked my person and establishment. Taking advantage of a south-westerly wind, the boatmen hoisted their close-reefed lug, and away we shot rapidly towards the entrance of the inlet. From the high lands which rose on every side, the squalls fell more heavily and frequent than I found agreeable; but in an hour we cleared this confined and dangerous Channel, and running between Currane Point (Dooniver) and the island of Innis Biggle, entered Black Sod Bay.

The passage down the inlet was marked with several incidents which were in perfect keeping with the wild and savage scenery around. A seal would suddenly raise his round head above the surface, gaze for a moment at the boat, and, when he had apparently satisfied his curiosity, sink quietly from our view. In rounding the numerous headlands through which this inlet irregularly winds, we often started flocks of curlews, which, rising in alarm at our unexpected appearance, made the rocks ring with their loud and piercing whistle. Skirting the shore of Innis Biggle, we disturbed an Osprey, or Sea-eagle, in the act of feeding on a bird. He rose leisurely, and lighting on a rock, waited till we passed, and then returned to his prey. We ran sufficiently close to the shore to observe the size and color of the bird and concluded that a grouse had been the eagle’s victim.

When we had cleared the islands, the breeze blew fresh and steadily; the boatmen shook out the reefs which had hitherto confined their canvas; the galley with increased velocity rushed through the rippling water, till, doubling a neck of land surmounted by a ruined castle, and running up a sheltered creek, I found myself at the termination of my voyage, and warmly welcomed by my Irish Kinsman, from whom for fifteen years I had been separated.”

The Pirate QueenThe Pirate Queen

A profile of Grace O Malley by Aine Ryan

FOR almost four hundred years her name echoed in the folk memories of coastal communities along the western seaboard. Her feminist feats of daring and bravery were even captured in the poetic lyricism of 1916 Easter Rising leader, Patrick Pearse: “Oró sé do bheatha bhaile, Oró sé do bheatha bhaile. Oró sé do bheatha bhaile, anois ar theacht on tsamhraidh.”
Ironically, for centuries the epic story of pirate queen Grace O’Malley – Grainne Mhaol, Granuaile – remained moored on the margins of history. Her deserved prominence in history books was subjugated and overshadowed by the male lineage that largely weaves a thread to our past. However, there are still many monuments peppered around our western coast today that mark Granuaile’s 16th-century dominion. There are the castles at Rockfleet and Achill; as well as, of course, the commanding fortress guarding the entrance to Clew Bay outpost, Clare Island. According to local legend, Granuaile slept at night with the rope of her boat tied to her big toe. Moreover, Clare Island’s renowned Cistercian Abbey is reputedly her burial place and there in the restored abbey, the O’Malley coat of arms – Terra Marique Potens (powerful on land and sea) – still adorns the wall.
After Grace met the Lord Deputy of Ireland in Galway in 1577, Sir Henry Sidney observed: “There came to me a most famous feminine sea captain called Grany Imallye, and offered her services unto me, wheresoever I could command her, with three galleys and 200 fighting men, either in Scotland or Ireland; she brought with her her husband, for she was as well by sea as by land, well more than Mrs. Mate with him … This was a notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland.”
Grace O’Malley was born in 1530 in the lordship of Umhall, County Mayo, daughter of chieftain Owen (Dudara) O’Malley, from whom she honed her seafaring skills. Sixteen years later, in a politically arranged match, she was married to the Tánaiste of the Connemara clan, Donal O’Flaherty.
Ten years later and with two sons and a daughter, she assumed leadership of the clan after Donal was killed. Later, as her reputation as a skilled mariner grew, she returned to Umhall, where she settled on Clare Island for a time.
In 1566 she married Richard-Iron-Bourke and moved her fleet and army to his – less exposed – castle at Rockfleet, situated beside a sheltered inlet near Newport.
The following year she gave birth to their son Tioboid-ne-Long (Toby of the Ships), while aboard one of her ships, and just before she was forced to defend an attack by Barbery pirates.
Over the following decades, Grace O’Malley was jailed in Limerick and in the dungeons of Dublin Castle. She was also condemned to death by the English Governor, Sir Richard Bingham and only escaped with her life after her son-in-law led a daring rescue.
After helping the doomed Spanish Armada in 1588, Bingham declared all-out war, accusing her of treason.
Five years later, when Bingham seized her eldest son, Tiboid, Grace made her most daring voyage and sailed to Great Britain and up the Thames to London to put her case to Tudor Queen, Elizabeth 1. She so impressed the queen that the now aging mariner is given permission to continue her career by land and sea. It is believed that Grace died at her Rockfleet castle in 1603.
For further information Granuaile. The Life and Times of Grace O’Malley by Anne Chambers (Gill & MacMillan).
Dracula from BallycroyWas Dracula from Ballycroy?

The Mayo News reported earlier in the year of the link between Bram Stoker and Newport “It has emerged that Bram Stoker, the writer of the most feared and famous vampire, had close family connections with Newport.

Bram Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Matilda Blake Thornley inherited lands at Garracloon, Cong through her mother, Matilda Blake, who was a daughter of Richard Blake and Eliza O’Donnell.

The O’Donnell family in question is associated with Newport House.

The O’Donnell lineage can be traced back to the main O’Donnell family, Lords and Earls of Tír Conaill.  Researchers have traced the family of Bram Stoker for twelve generations from 1563 with the death of Manus O’Donnell, ‘Manus the Magnificent, a warrior lord who led the Geraldine league in revolt against Henry VIII.’

The O Donnells were finally defeated by Cromwell in the 1650s, many fled to Europe as the Wild Geese, the remaining families under Rory O Donnell settled in Ballycroy Co Mayo (about 2000 people)

Bram Stoker’s great-grandmother, Eliza O’Donnell (Newport) was a close cousin of Sir Neal O’Donnell. Bram’s mother, Charlotte, would have been acutely aware of the family history, Bram spent the first seven years of his life mostly confined to bed, listening to stories of Irish history and folklore from his mother. One wonders how his mind absorbed the exploits of his ancestors.

The family history, previously unknown, provides a new context to interpret the text of Dracula.  “Instead of trying to “shoe-horn” the story of Dracula into a metaphor for sexual repression or sexual deviancy, which are the main current interpretations, the new information we provide allows the text to be read as Stoker originally intended – i.e. Dracula is the story of a decayed aristocracy, with a glorious warrior past, bypassed by history, which now survives hiding in the shadows.”

It is highly probable that  Eliza O Donnell was fostered to the same family in Claggan, Ballycroy as her cousin Neal and heard the stories first hand, that was passed on to her daughter and Grandson in true Celtic style. (the Newport O Donnell children were fostered to a family in Ballycroy for their education, a norm at the time)

Were they the same stories that spellbound Eliza and Neal and inspired Bram Stoker?


Spanish Armada in Ireland The Spanish Armada in Ireland refers to the landfall made upon the coast of Ireland in September 1588

Following its defeat at the naval battle of Gravelines, the Armada had attempted to return home through the North Atlantic, when it was driven from its course by violent storms and toward the west coast of Ireland. The prospect of a Spanish landing alarmed the Dublin government of Queen Elizabeth I, and harsh measures were prescribed for both the Spanish invaders and any Irish who might assist them.

Up to 24 ships of the Armada were wrecked on a rocky coastline spanning 500 km, from Antrim in the North to Kerry in the South, and the threat to Crown authority was readily defeated. Most of the survivors of the multiple wrecks were put to death, and the remainder fled across the sea to Scotland. It is estimated that 5,000 members of the fleet perished in Ireland.



The Spanish Armada was a fleet of 130 ships that sailed from in August 1588 under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. It met with armed resistance in the English Channel, when a fireship attack off Calais broke its formation and was driven into the North Sea after the Battle of Gravelines

When the fleet entered the North Sea 110 ships remained under Medina Sidonia’s command. Many were damaged by gunfire or were unfit for service in the harsher conditions of the waters off northern Europe. Many had also cut their anchors in the flight from the fireships – a crucial loss in the struggle to survive the coming Atlantic storms.

The Course Home

A meeting of Armada commanders was held on the flagship, with some proposing a course for Norway, others for Ireland. Medina Sidonia made his choice, and orders were issued to the fleet:

The fleet was to approach the coast of Norway, before steering to the meridian of the Shetland IslandsShetland Islands and on to Rockall. This allowed passage outside the northern tip of Shetland, clearing the coast of Scotland at a distance of 100 miles. Once out in the broad Atlantic, the ships were to steer to a point 400 miles beyond the Shannon estuary on the west coast of Ireland, giving themselves a clear run to northern Spain.

The Course Taken

The Armada’s sailing orders were almost impossible to follow. The weather was difficult. The poor condition of many of the crews and their ships caused great distress. The pilots did not have the benefit of the charts of Lucas Wagenaer and Mercator (published soon after the expedition with a much-improved picture of the waters of the North Atlantic). And their best training and experience in the navigational techniques of dead reckoning and latitude sailing fell far short of what was needed to bring the fleet safe home.

The Armada failed to keep its course around the north of Shetland at 61 1/2’N. Instead, on August 20, it passed safely to the south, between Orkney and Fair Isle, and was carried into the Atlantic at about 59 1/2’N. From there it was due to sail from North Uist in the Hebrides Islands until it caught sight of the distant islet of Rockall but failed again. Southerly winds blew from August 21 to September 3, caused by an anticyclone over Scandinavia, which prevented the fleet from running west-south-west as ordered. One report reflects the frustration of the fleet’s pilots: “We sailed without knowing whither through constant fogs, storms, and squalls”.

During this period the sailing orders were rendered useless, and the pilots made a great miscalculation of their position, most likely because they were unaware of the effect of the eastward flowing Gulf Stream, which must have hindered the fleet’s progress – perhaps by as much as 20 miles a day. The paymaster of the San Juan Bautista, Marcos de Aramburu, recorded a log of his progress from late August onwards when the rest of the fleet was within sight. The inference from his observations is that the ship’s estimated position as it turned for home was entirely wrong, some 300 miles to the west: its real position lay in the east, perilously close to the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. This single deficiency, “made the difference between safety and disaster”.

After seven weeks at sea, the opportunity to make landfall and take on supplies and effect repairs must have been welcome, but navigation in these waters demanded intimate knowledge. The experience of Spanish mariners in the intricacies of North Atlantic conditions was largely confined to trading voyages to the south and south-west of Ireland, and it is likely that the fleet’s pilots preferred to maintain Medina Sidonia’s course, despite the hardships on board their ships. Most of the remaining fleet – 84 ships – avoided land, and most of those made it home, although in varying degrees of distress.

One of Spain’s most experienced commanders, Juan Martinez de Recalde, did have experience of the Irish coast. In 1580 he had landed a Papal invasion force in the Dingle peninsula, in the run-up to the Siege of Smerwick, and had managed to evade an English squadron of warships. In the Armada he was given command of the galleon San Juan de Portugal of the Biscayan squadron, which engaged with the English fleet in the Channel and held off Francis Drake in the Revenge, John Hawkins in the Victory, and Martin Frobisher in the Triumph.

After the defeat at Gravelines, he led his squadron into the North Sea information with the rest of the fleet.

In the Atlantic, Recalde’s squadron was forced from the appointed course and toward the coast of Ireland along with many other ships — in total, perhaps 28. There were several galleons, but most of the ships were merchantmen, which had been converted for battle and were now leaking heavily, and making sail with severely damaged masts and rigging and most of their anchors missing. The ships seem to have maintained contact until the beginning of September when they were scattered by a south-west gale (described in the contemporary account of an Irish government official as one, “the like whereof hath not been seen or heard for a long time”). Within days, this lost fleet had made landfall in Ireland.


Government Preparations

The head of the English Crown administration at Dublin was Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam, who had succeeded John Perrot. In August of 1588, he was presented with credible intelligence that the battle in the English Channel had been won by the Spanish and that the invasion of England was set to be completed. Then it was understood that the Spanish were in the Atlantic and the entire fleet was about to fall on the coast of Ireland. The degree of alarm among the English at Dublin was extreme, and Fitzwilliam put out false reports that reinforcements from England were due to arrive there with 10,000 troops.

The English feared that the Spanish would land in disciplined formations, with the Irish rising out to join them from territories that were almost beyond the control of the government. But reliable intelligence was soon received at Waterford and Dublin that the ships were fetching up in a chaotic manner at disparate locations in the provinces of Ulster, Connacht, and Munster, along a coastline spanning 300 miles (500 km). The order went out from Fitzwilliam for the apprehension and summary execution of all Spaniards; the use of torture was sanctioned in pursuit of the survivors, and those aiding them were to be charged as traitors to the Crown.



The first landfall of the Armada ships was in the southern province of Ireland, which had lately been colonized by the English in the Plantation of Munster following the suppression of the last of the Desmond Rebellions

Desmond Rebellions

The Desmond Rebellions occurred in 1569-1573 and 1579-1583 in the Irish province of Munster. They were rebellions by the Earl of Desmond – head of the FitzGerald dynasty in Munster – and his followers, the Geraldines and their allies against the threat of the extension of Elizabethan English…

in 1583. Fitzwilliam received orders from London to lead an expedition there, and intelligence from the governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, soon confirmed that further landfalls were being made throughout the west and north of the country.

Seven ships anchored at Scattery Roads, and it is probable they enjoyed the services of a pilot who knew the coast. An attempt to land was repulsed, although certain supplies were secured while repairs were undertaken. One galleon, the Annunciada (703 tons, 24 guns, 275 men), was fired and scuttled off Kilrush on September 12, with the crew transferring to the Barco de Danzig, which made it safely to Spain after the squadron departed the Shannon estuary on 11 September.

Blasket Islands: Recalde’s squadron consisted of three ships: the San Juan de Portugal (1,150 tons, 500 men, 20 guns), the San Juan de Bautista (750 tons, 243 men), and another small vessel — almost certainly a Scottish fishing smack that had been seized to assist with navigation and inshore work. As the ships made their way through a storm to the coast of Kerry, the lookouts sighted Mount Brandon on the Dingle peninsula and to the west the lofty Blasket IslandsBlasket Islands, a complex archipelago studded with reefs.

Recalde steered toward the Blaskets in search of shelter, and chose to ride on a swell through a tight gap at the eastern tip of the Great Blasket Island. His galleon made it through to calm water and dropped anchor over a sandy bottom beneath sheer cliffs. The Bautista and the smack soon followed. Such was the difficulty of this manoeuvre that it could only have been contemplated with prior knowledge of the coastline. The anchorage ensured that the only wind that might drive the ships off would bring them clear to the open sea.

The ships remained within their shelter for several days, and a crown force led by Thomas Norris and Edward Denny (husband of Lady Denny) arrived in Dingle to guard against a landing. Recalde sent a reconnaissance party ashore, but all eight members were captured. At one stage a westerly gale caused Portugal to collide with the Bautista, and when the wind died down another ship, the Santa Maria de la Rosa (900 tons, 297 men: Guipuzcoa squadron), entered the sound from the north and fired off a gun by way of distress signal.

As the tide ebbed, Recalde’s ships held their anchorage in the more sheltered part of the sound, while the Rosa drifted and then simply sank — perhaps on striking Stromboli Rock — leaving one survivor for the English to interrogate. The survivor’s information was that the captain of the Rosa had called the pilot a traitor and run him through with a sword just as the ship began to sink; he also asserted that the Prince of Ascoli, son of the king of Spain, had gone down with the ship — this information was false, but proved useful propaganda for the English.

Two more ships entered the sound — the San Juan de Ragusa (650 tons, 285 men), the other unidentified. The Ragusa was in distress and sank — perhaps on striking Dunbinna reef. The Bautista attempted to take advantage of an ebb tide and sail south out of the sound but ended up tacking about on the flood tide to avoid the numerous reefs, before sailing through the north-west passage. After a difficult night, the crew was dismayed to find themselves at the mouth of the sound once more. But the wind blew from the south-east, and the Bautista finally escaped on 25 September and made it home to Spain through a terrible storm.

Three days later Recalde led the remaining ships out of the sound and brought them to Spain, where he instantly died. Those survivors who had fallen into Denny’s custody were put to death at Dingle.


Nuestra Senora del Socorro (75 tons) anchored at Fenit, in Tralee Bay on the coast of Kerry, where it was surrendered to crown officers. The 24 men on board were taken into custody and marched to Tralee castle. On the orders of Lady Margaret Denny, they were all hanged from a gibbet.

The Trinidad (800 tons, 302 men) was wrecked on “the coast of Desmond” — probably at Valentia Island, off the coast of South Kerry — although there are no details of this event.

At Liscannor

the oar-powered galleassGalleass Zuñiga (290, Naples) anchored off-shore with a broken rudder, having found a gap in the Cliffs of Moher, which rise sheer from the sea over 220 meters. The ship came under surveillance by the sheriff of Clare and, when a cock-boat was sent ashore in search of supplies, the Spanish were attacked by crown forces and had to withdraw to their ship. One captive was taken and sent for interrogation. The Zuñiga escaped the coast with favourable winds, put in at Le Havre, and finally made it back to Naples in the following year.


Donegal: La Trinidad Valencera (1,000 tons, Levant squadron, 360 men, 42 guns) was taking on more water than could be pumped out as it approached the coast. Nevertheless, the 264 men in the Barca de Amburgo, another ship that was practically swamped in the heavy seas, were welcomed on board. The Trinidad anchored in Glenagivney Bay in modern County Donegal, where she listed to such a degree that the order was given to abandon ship. Some locals were paid for the use of a small boat, and over the course of two days, all 560 men were ferried to shore.

During a seven day march inland, the column of survivors met a force of cavalry


under the command of the foster-brothers of Hugh O’Neill, 3rd Earl of Tyrone. Upon pledges of safe conduct for their delivery into the custody of Fitzwilliam — given in the presence of the Earl of Tyrconnell — the Spanish laid down their arms. The noblemen and officers were separated out, and 300 of the ordinary men were massacred. The surviving 150 fled through the bog, ending up either with Sorley Boy MacDonnell at Dunluce or at the house of Redmond O’Gallagher, the bishop of Derry, and were sent to Scotland. The 45 noblemen and officers were marched to Dublin, but only 30 survived to reach the capital, where they were dispatched to London for ransom. O’Neill rebuked Tyrconnell for his betrayal of the Spanish and made efforts to aid all survivors within his territory.

Two further ships — unidentified — were wrecked on the Donegal coast, one at Mullaghderg, the other at Rinn a’ Chaislean.

The greatest loss of life in the 24 Armada shipwrecks in Ireland occurred on the sinking of the galleass La Girona, which had docked for repairs to her rudder at Killybegs, Donegal. About 800 survivors from two other Spanish shipwrecks were taken aboard there, from La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada (see also Connacht, below) and the Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal. La Girona set sail for Scotland, but on 26 October 1588, her rudder broke and she was wrecked off Lacada Point, County Antrim. Of the estimated 1300 people on board, only nine survived.


The Governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, sought reinforcements from Dublin but his request was denied by Fitzwilliam, who had few resources at his disposal. A proclamation made it treason on pain of death for any man to help Spaniards.

Many survivors were delivered to Galway from all over the province. In the first wave of seizures, 40 noblemen were reserved for ransom, and 300 men were put to death. Later, on the orders of Fitzwilliam, all the unarmed noblemen except two were also executed, along with six Dutch boys who had fallen into custody afterward. In all, 12 ships were wrecked on the coast of Connacht, and 1,100 survivors were put to death.

Galway: The Falco Blanco (300 tons/103 men/16 guns) and the Concepcion of Biscay (225 men, 18 guns) and another unknown ship entered Galway Bay. The Falco Blanco was grounded at Barna, five km west of Galway city, and most of those on board made it to shore. The Concepcion was grounded at Carna 30 km further west, having been lured to shore by the bonfires of a party of wreckers from the O’Flaherty clan.

Sligo: Three ships were wrecked on the coast of Sligo, with 1,800 men drowned and perhaps 100 coming ashore. Among the survivors was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who gave a remarkable account of his experiences in the fleet and on the run in Ireland (see his article for more details of the Sligo wrecks).

Mayo: In September a galleon was wrecked at Tyrawley (modern County Mayo). Of the men who came to shore 80 were killed on the beach by the axe of a single gallowglass warrior and 72 (including a bishop) were taken into Crown custody and put to death at Galway on Fitzwilliam’s orders. Tradition has it that another ship was wrecked in the vicinity, near Kid Island, but no record remains of this event. Also, the Gran Grin was wrecked at the mouth of Clew Bay

Aran Islands: Two ships were sighted off the Aran Islands, one failed to land a party in hard weather, and it is not known what became of them.

The GironaGirona (ship)

La Girona was a galleass of the 1588 Spanish Armada which foundered and sank off Lacada Point, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on the night of 26 October 1588 after making its way eastward along the Irish coast…: The single greatest loss of life occurred upon the wreck of the galleass Girona on the coast of Antrim after she had taken on board many survivors from other ships wrecked on the coast of Connacht (see Ulster, above).

Among those ships wrecked in Connacht was the merchant carrack


A carrack or nau was a three- or four-masted sailing ship developed in 15th century Western Europe for use in the Atlantic Ocean. It had a high rounded stern with large aftcastle and forecastle and bowsprit at the stem…

La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada (419 men, 35 guns), which had run for the Irish coast in desperate need of repair, along with four other ships of the Levant squadron and four galleons. The Rata carried an unusually large number of noblemen from the most ancient families of Spain — chief among them Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva (Knight of Santiago, Commander of Alcuescar, was general-in-chief of the land forces of the Armada entrusted with the conquest of England) — as well as the son of the Irish rebel, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald

James FitzMaurice FitzGerald

James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald was a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster in Ireland, rebelled against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland and was deemed an archtraitor...

The Rata was skillfully handled along the northern coast of Mayo, but could not clear the Mullet Peninsula, and so anchored in Blacksod Bay

Blacksod Bay

Blacksod Bay is a bay of the Atlantic Ocean in Erris, North County Mayo, Ireland. The bay is bounded on its western side by the Mullet Peninsula and to its eastern side by the coastline of Kiltane Parish where it extends southwards from Belmullet towards Gweesalia and Doohoma…on the 7th of September. The wind got up and the anchors dragged, until the ship was driven on to Ballycroy strand. All the crew got to shore under the leadership of de Leyva, and Fahy castle was seized and fortified with munitions and stores from the beached ship, which was then torched. The rebel’s son, Maurice Fitzmaurice, had died on board, and was cast into the sea in a cypress chest.

The Spanish soon moved on to another castle, where they were met by a host of fellow survivors, approaching from the wreck in Broadhaven of another ship, which had entered that bay without masts. De Leyva’s host now numbered 600, and the governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, chose not to confront them. After some days two ships of the Armada entered Blacksod Bay — the merchantman Nuestra Senora de Begona (750 tons, 297 men) and the transport Duquesa Santa Ana (900 tons, 23 guns, 357 men). De Leyva and his 600 men boarded the Duquesa. The Nuestra Senora sailed straight for Santander, Spain arriving some time later; the Duquesa however was somewhat damaged, and it was decided to sail north for Scotland. Stormy weather soon hit the Duquesa and she was grounded in Loughros Bay in Donegal, with all aboard reaching shore in what was a friendly territory.

De Leyva, who had been seriously injured by a capstan, pitched camp on the shore of the bay for nine days, until news came of another ship of the fleet, the galleass Girona, which had anchored in Killybegs harbour while two other ships had been lost on attempting to enter the harbour. With the assistance of an Irish chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, the Girona was repaired and set sail in mid-October with 1,300 men on board, including de Leyva. Lough Foyle was cleared, but then a gale struck and the Girona was driven ashore at Dunluce

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is a now-ruined medieval castle in Northern Ireland. It is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim , and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland…

in modern County Antrim. There were nine survivors, who were sent on to Scotland by Sorley Boy MacDonnell, 260 bodies were washed ashore.


Between 17 and 24 ships of the Grand Armada were lost on the Irish coast, accounting for about one-third of the fleet’s total loss of 63, with the loss of about 5,000 men.

By the end of September 1588 the queen’s deputy, Fitzwilliam, was able to report to her secretary, Lord Burghley William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, that the Armada alarm was over. Soon after, he reckoned that only about 100 survivors remained in the country. In 1596, an envoy of Philip II arrived in Ireland to make inquiries of survivors and was successful in only eight cases.

Following the defeat of the Armada, the English sent their own armada against the Iberian peninsula but failed to press home their advantage. Before the end of the Anglo-Spanish War, the Spanish landed 3,500 troops in the south of Ireland, during the autumn of 1601, to assist the Ulster rebel leader Hugh O’Neill at the height of the Nine Years’ War

Nine Years’ War (Ireland)

The Nine Years’ War or Tyrone’s Rebellion took place in Ireland from 1594 to 1603. It was fought between the forces of Gaelic Irish chieftains Hugh O’Neill of Tír Eoghain, Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tír Chonaill and their allies, against the English regime in Ireland. The war was fought in all parts of…

(1594 in Ireland). This expedition failed, and Spain and England concluded a peace in 1604

By the time of the peace, the Spanish had gradually reasserted their dominance at sea, and treasure from the New World was flowing in to their Royal Treasury at an increased rate. Elizabeth’s successor James I

James I of England neglected his fleet and chose to secure crown influence in Ireland. In 1607 the Irish Princes fled from Ireland

Flight of the Earls

The Flight of the Earls took place on 14 September 1607, when Hugh Ó Neill of Tír Eóghain, Rory Ó Donnell of Tír Chonaill and about ninety followers left Ireland for mainland Europe…, and the English conquest of the country was completed by the seizure and colonisation of their territories in the Plantation of Ulster.

Plantation of Ulster

The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation of Ulster—a province of Ireland—by people from Great Britain. Private plantation by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while official plantation controlled by King James I of England and VI of Scotland began in 1609


The first salvage attempts were made within months, on the coast of County Clare by George Carew, who complained at the expense “of sustaining the divers with copious draughts of usquebaugh” [Uisce Beatha – Irish for whiskey].

Sorley Boy MacDonnell recovered three brass cannon and two chests of treasure from the wreck of the Girona.

In 1797 a quantity of lead and some brass guns were raised from the wreck of an unknown Armada ship at Mullaghderg in County Donegal. Two miles further south, in 1853, an anchor was recovered from another unknown Armada wreck.

black and white picture of ships

the sun newspaper cover

map of the road

The Pirate QueenGranuaile and Doona Castle

The legendary reason for Ní Mháille’s (Granuaile) seizure of Doona Castle in Ballycroy was because the MacMahons, who owned the castle, killed her lover, Hugh de Lacy, the shipwrecked son of a Wexford merchant Ní Mháille had rescued.

When the guilty members of the MacMahon clan landed on the holy island of Caher for a pilgrimage, Ní Mháille captured their boats. She and her men then captured the MacMahons and killed those responsible for her lover’s death. Still not satisfied with her revenge, Ní Mháille then sailed for Ballycroy and attacked the garrison at Doona Castle, overpowering the defenders and taking the castle for herself.[19]