A special series of events has been held to remember one of the Causeway Coast and Glens’ most remarkable maritime stories. La Girona, a galleass of the Spanish Armada, sank at Lacada Point near the Giant’s Causeway in October 1588. Most of the 1400 people on board perished, and a huge amount of gold was lost.
The treasure lay undiscovered until 50 years ago when a team of divers raised a huge hoard from the wreck. The unique collection, which included many ornate pieces of jewellery, is lauded as being of global significance. It’s now on public display in the Ulster Museum. To mark the anniversary of the recovery of the Girona Gold, the Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Alderman Maura Hickey, led events at a number of key locations which tell the story.
Working with the North Coast Armada Connection group, the aim was to reflect on the historical significance of La Girona while remembering all those who died. The Mayor said: “The narrative of La Girona is one of great tragedy, with so many people losing their lives as the vessel attempted to reach the safe shores of Scotland it was blown unto our shores.
The recovery of the gold 50 years ago brought the story to life again, and those who died are remembered through this fabulous collection. During my term as Mayor I wanted to do something which would highlight the significance of La Girona and further increase the tourist potential for our wonderful Borough.” The series of events began with a poignant wreath-laying at the Giant’s Causeway, attended by the Mayor of Sligo, Councillor Marie Casserly. This was followed by an ecumenical service in the grounds of St Cuthbert’s Church. Around 260 bodies were recovered from the sea following the sinking of La Girona, and they are buried in the grounds of the ruin in an unmarked grave. As part of the service, a new stone dedicated to the lost souls who perished at sea was unveiled. It features an image of a salamander, in homage to one of the most noteworthy pieces of treasure recovered from the wreckage – a gold salamander set with rubies.
It is particularly poignant because it was a favoured wartime talisman due to the mythical salamander’s powers of protection. Events were brought to a conclusion with a celebration evening held at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, which included a display of some of the gold recovered from the wreck site. The evening celebrations began with music provided by Katie Bustard, a local harpist. Michael Rooney, recent winner of TG4 Composer of the Year, performed his composition, ‘The de Cuéllar Suite’ named after the famous sea captain and Spanish Armada survivor Francisco de Cuéllar, whose name is synonymous with the Armada story. A heritage trail is named after him in Sligo, and it’s hoped as the legacy continues that this will incorporate locations in the Causeway Coast and Glens. Earl of Antrim, Hector McDonnell also gave an informative talk.
The event concluded with Dr Bob Curran, historian and Chairman of the North Coast Armada Connection, who has produced a 4-page comic strip which recounts the story of La Girona.