A ship of the “Modern Spanish Armada” was welcomed to County Sligo by the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, as part of a weekend of events to remember the fallen of the Spanish Armada of 1588.
Minister Flanagan was in the coastal village of Grange to officially open the Spanish Armada Interpretive & Visitor Centre.
The centre is the fruition of many years of hard work by the Grange and Armada Development Association to give a visual display for tourists informing them about the three ships wrecked off Streedagh Beach, just one mile outside the village.
The opening was part of the annual ‘Remembering the Armada Festival’ which is run in the village around the anniversary of the sinking of the three ships on September 25 1588.
As part of the weekend of festivities a Spanish Navy Ship, the OPV Atalaya under the command of Commanding Officer Lt Cmdr Álvaro Calderón Izquierdo, is visiting Ireland for the third year in a row.
The ship will lie at anchor off the coast of Sligo on Saturday and Sunday and several of its officers and other crew will disembark to take part in the Twilight Parade at Streedagh Beach at 6pm Saturday.
While Minister Flanagan acknowledged that the three day voyage was somewhat less than comfortable for the Spanish Navy, he said “It was much more comfortable than that which was experienced by your predecessors.”
He also welcomed representatives of the Irish Navy who will partake in events over the weekend.
1,800 men are believed to have drowned when the La Lavia, La Juliana and Santa Maria de Visión grounded near Streedagh beach. One of the some 100 survivors was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who chronicled his experiences in Ireland and his journey home to Spain.
Deputy Head of Mission at the Spanish Embassy Javier Gonzalez Sanjuan said Armada wrecks have a deep emotional value but it is only thanks to Grange and Armada Development Association and support of Irish institutions such as the Irish Government and the county council that those wrecks have become part of the cultural identity of this western region of Ireland.
“Some historical events of the Spanish Armada have different expressions and provoke different experiences. It is an example of how history can be a springboard for a common future whose best expression of a closer union among the peoples of Europe,” he said.
The work of the group was also commended by Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, Cllr Martin Baker.
Chairman of Grange and Armada Development Association Eddie O’Gorman said to have a Government Minister officially open the event has made the group even more determined in their aims.
“It’s a big endorsement of everything we are trying to do to make Grange the Armada Centre for the island of Ireland. This is the start of a suite of facilities based on the Armada and de Cuellar stories that will bring tourist footfall to Grange and the wider North West region,” said Mr O’Gorman.
He added that the group has received huge Spanish support even from the Royal family.
“The fact that this is the third year running we have a ship from the modern armada visiting is an indication of growing Spanish interest and engagement in all we are trying to do in remembering the fallen of 1588. The Ambassador is a great advocate and King Felipe VI is aware of our work,” said Mr O’Gorman adding that the group were the first Irish recipients of The Plate of the Order of Isabel La Católica, the highest civil order granted by King Felipe VI, in 2017.
The festival will see lectures from speakers such as Dr Stephan Boyd (Lecturer in Dept. of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at University College Cork), Dr Francis Kelly (Expert on the life & career of Captain Francisco de Cuellar), Dr Connie Kelleher (Underwater Archaeology Unit) and Dr Karena Morton (Head of Conservation. National Museum of Ireland).
As well as the De Cuellar Trail, a walk in the footsteps of the aforementioned Spanish captain on Saturday and a musical event entitled Canon in Sea, a production inspired by the discovery of nine Spanish Armada cannon, at Streedagh Beach in Sligo in 2015, the weekend will conclude with a family day featuring market stalls and music in Grange village