The Spanish Armada in Sligo

In May 1588, the Spanish Armada, the largest invasion fleet ever, set sail from Lisbon in Portugal.

Its purpose was to enforce a claim of Philip II of Spain to the English throne and to restore the Catholic faith to Protestant England.

Under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Armada comprised 130 vessels of varying size, type and nationality, roughly 29,450 men and 2,250 guns of all kinds.

It was supposed to rendezvous with land troops led by the Duke of Parma and proceed to invade England. Storms and English frigates scattered the unwieldy Armada and many of the ships were damaged or sunk in deadly sea-battles.

The Irish coastline claimed many vessels and even those crewmen that reached land were not guaranteed safety or continued life. Francisco de Cuellar was a captain of the galleon San Pedro of the squadron of Castille, one of the front line squadrons of the Spanish Armada. Following the battles with the English fleet in the Channel, de Cuellar was accused and convicted of breaking fleet sailing orders.

Condemned to death, he argued his case sufficiently to obtain a reprieve for himself. The reprieve was conditional that he remain on board the Levanter La Lavia under the supervision of the Judge Advocate, Martin de Aranda.

This then was how he came to be aboard La Lavia when she, in company with La Juliana and Santa Maria de Vision, also from the squadron of Levant, became trapped off the Sligo coast at Streedagh. These three ships remained stormbound off the coast for four days. On the fifth day the weather deteriorated and the storm increased and all three ships were driven ashore, foundering on Streedagh Strand.

Francisco de Cuellar survived this disaster and set out to reach safety, first here in Ireland, travelling from Sligo to the Causeway Coast in Antrim, from there to Scotland and from Scotland to Spanish held Antwerp.

From Antwerp he wrote a long letter detailing his adventures in Connaught and Ulster, that led to his subsequent escape.
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