The Girona was a Galleass of the Spanish Armada normally carried a compliment of 121 sailors,186 soldiers, 50 bronze cannons and 224 rowers. The night when she struck Lacada Point on October 28th 1588, it is estimated that she had a compliment of around 1200 men on board. This came about as follows:- Second in command of the Spanish Armada was Don Alonso Martinez Levia who was aboard the 'Rata Santa Maria Encoronada', she carried a compliment of 420 sailors and soldiers plus 35 cannons. The ship had proven difficult to maneuver in the winds around the west coast of Ireland and had received a severe battering by gales before finding shelter in Blacksod Bay, County Mayo. Dropping anchor, Don Alonso intended to get fresh water and supplies, repair some minor damage and wait for a break in the weather before heading south again. The winds though held strong and the anchors proved incapable of holding the 900 ton ship, she was gradually blown ashore on Fahy Strand, Ballycroy. The crew stripped the ship of cannons, stores and other valuables and set her alight, they then made their way to the nearby deserted Doona Castle which they are said to have fortified with cannon in preparation for a confrontation with English troops who had local allies and were active in the area.
Another two ships (and maybe more) arrived in the locality, the 'Santiago' which subsequently foundered at Poulatormish, Broadhaven and the 'Dunquesa Santa Ana' which also anchored in Blacksod Bay. The 'Dunquesa Santa Ana' had 23 guns, 280 soldiers and 77 sailors on board, for Don Alonso and his men she was a godsend. They carried out minor repairs to her, took aboard fresh water, loaded what had been salvaged from the 'Encoronada' and set sail hoping to locate other ships of the sacttered Spanish fleet. Again they encountered strong gales which drove them northward and into Donegal Bay, the wind did not abate and the ship was driven ashore near Ardara in Loughros Mor Bay where it foundered. Having got ashore, a friendly local chieftain gave them assistance and shelter. Word came that other Spanish ships were located further along the coast, with his compliment of men (estimated to have been around 1000) complete with cannons and valuables, Don Alonso marched northwards and discovered that three ships had come in on the gales at Killybegs.
The 'Girona' was undergoing repairs to a damaged rudder sustained in the gales and the other two, the 'Lavia' and 'San Juan' had both foundered. This time, instead of heading south towards Spain, Don Alonso decided to take the 'Girona' northwards to Scotland where he believed they could find relative safety, recuperate and then make their way back to Spain from there. The 'Girona' set out from Killybegs with the surviving crews of two other shipwrecks and all their accumulated valuables and cannons. Once again, increasingly bad weather was encountered which resulted in the rudder being damaged off Inishowen. They then found themselves being blown by gale force winds towards the north coast, the power of the 224 rowers could do nothing to keep the ship offshore and she finally struck Lacada Point in darkness on October 28th, 1588. There are varying accounts as to the numbers who survived, some say three, others five and some nine, those that did survive are said to have received shelter and assistance from Sorley Boy MacDonnell of Dunluce Castle. The rest is folklore. Stories tell of victims, perhaps even Don ALonso himself (who knows?) being buried in St. Cuthbert's Graveyard at Dunluce and other survivors settling and marrying into the local population.
Personally I think more survived than is estimated, we know cannons were taken ashore to Dunluce Castle by Sorley Boy and also that one of two chests at Glenarm Castle came from the Girona, there is another one privately owned. Sorley Boy was not in favour with the English at the time and would not have made it public that he had Spanish mariners at Dunluce Castle. Any of those that got off the ship would have sought refuge with Sorley Boy or disappeared into the landscape as those that fell into the hand of people not allied with Spain were robbed and killed. A fascinating and harrowing insight into the conditions endured by survivors was recorded by Francisco De Cuellar who survived a shipwreck and walked across the north west of Ireland, he arrived at the Causeway and found out about the tragedy, he went to the site and it is recorded that local people showed him jewels found or taken from those that perished.
There was also a pile of bones that remained for decades in Port na Spaniagh which were known as the 'Bones of the Spanish'. Eventually De Cuellar made it across to Scotland and eventually back to Spain where he wrote his memoirs. 'Amongst all the shipwrecks and battle sites in Ireland, this is one that deserves a cairn, plaque or sculpture to recognize the loss of so many lives. It is haunting to look down on Port na Spaniagh as evening falls on a stormy winter day and the wind cries against the basalt cliffs. To imagine the plight of those twelve hundred sailors, noblemen and rural sons whose lives ended in the dark coldness of an Irish winter, so far from the warm fields of Spain. Their gold, silver and possessions scattered upon the seabed and their bones along the shoreline. Yet not a trace, a mark, or a simple plaque is placed to remind us of the tragedy that unfolded here which really is shameful. Our imaginations are left to wonder....... Art Ward 1990