Streedagh, (co-ordinates 54.4040 -8.5590) signposted from Grange, some 10 miles north of Sligo Town, isn’t even a village as such, there is no concentration of buildings to form a village or a hamlet. Streedagh is little more than a townland whose highlight is an impressive 3km long sandy beach located on the north-western shore of a long thin sandbar linking Streedagh Point to Connor’s Island.
However, that same delightful 3km long sandy beach at Streedagh is steeped in history, being the final resting place of three ships and up to 1,800 men from the Spanish Armada.
The Spanish Armada was a fleet of 130 ships that sailed from A Coruna 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.
In their efforts to escape, the Spanish Armada ships sailed up the North Sea, around the top of Scotland and intended to sail down the west coast of Ireland, then back to Spain.
However, many of the ship were damaged by gunfire or were running low on supplies, making them unfit for service, some had also cut their anchors in the flight from the fireships, which severely diminished their ability to navigate close to shore. Also, the Armada commanders made a large navigational error that brought the fleet too close to the dangerous Atlantic coasts. A combination which ended in the wrecks of numerous ships off the coast’s of Scotland and Ireland.
Three of these ships were wrecked off Streedagh, though there is some uncertainty regarding the identity of one of these ships, the positively identified wrecks at Streedagh are those of the La Lavia and the Santa Maria de Vison, the third wreck was for many years thought to be that of the La Julianna, though information now reveils that this particular ship was probably wrecked near Glenagivney in County Donegal, and that the third ship wrecked at Streedagh was possibly called the San Pedro.
Just before you cross the cattle grid to enter the beach area at Streedagh, you will see on your right-hand side a monument to commemorate the three ships belonging to the Spanish Armada which were wrecked on Streedagh beach on 25th September 1588, whilst attempting to shelter from a ferocious Atlantic storm. However the severity of the storm was such that the three ships were washed ashore and completely destroyed within the space of an hour.
140 of the Spanish sailors who didn’t drown in the carnage of the shipwrecks, were massacred by English troops garrisoned in Sligo. A small number of sailors did survive, thanks to a mixture of good fortune and assistance from some of the Irish chieftains of the area.
The remains of the three Armada wrecks found at Streedagh were discovered in only 15 to 30 feet of water in 1985, by a team of divers working under the direction of Doctor Colin Martin of Edinburgh, who had led previous diving explorations of Armada shipwrecks.
An Interpretative Centre is currently being planned in Grange to enhance the public’s understanding of Grange and of the area’s heritage, particularly in relation to the Spanish Armada.
There are some recovered artifacts, which were removed from the wreck site for restoration and storage, include three bronze cannons weighing one and a half tons each and measuring over seven feet in length, two smaller stone firing guns and a cannon ball, all of which are now housed by the Office of Public Works in Dromahair, County Leitrim.
Also discovered at the wreck site was a rudder from one of the ships measuring 35 feet in length, though this is believed to remain on the sea-bed and as you can see from the above photograph, the remains of one of the smaller landing boats, locally known as the Butter Boat, on the low tide mark at Streedagh.