A story of shipwreck, adventure and discovery was at the core of the recent Spanish Armada TIDE International Conference, which brought experts to Sligo from all over Europe. The main focus was the discovery of three shipwrecks at Streedagh Beach in Sligo, which led to the retrieval of several cannon and other priceless artefacts in recent years.
“For all of our visitors, it gave them an insight into the immense Armada history in Sligo and elsewhere along the north western coast,” says Cllr. Michael Clarke, Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, Project Partners to the Tide Project. “It was also wonderful to have the support of the Spanish Ambassador Ion de la Riva, who was in attendance, and of course our colleagues from the EU Atlantic Area project and at ERNACT, as TIDE Lead Partners. We’d like to thank our local voluntary group Spanish Armada Ireland for all of their work in organizing this event. Their work, enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise showcased the amazing story of the Spanish Armada and we hope that the input of our expert speakers will help deliver a significant and unique tourism asset for Sligo and the north west for many years to come.”
The Armada story as it relates to Sligo is well known. On September 21st 1588, three Armada ships, La Juliana, Santa Maria de Visón and La Lavia were wrecked at Streedagh Beach during what was known as the Great Gale, with the loss of over 1,000 lives. This conference cast new light on those events and provided visitors with much to discuss and debate.
“The primary aims of the conference itself were twofold,” said conference director Micheál Ó Domhnaill. “Firstly, we wanted to explain to people the precise information we have of what happened when the ships were wrecked at Streedagh in 1588, and also how modern technology has enabled us to continue to discover more about these wrecks than ever before.”
The uses of virtual and augmented reality were central to some of the presentations by experts who arrived to Sligo from Spain, Portugal, France, the UK and Ireland, and whose work on other shipwrecks has enabled us to greater appreciate the history of these wreck that lie on the seabed. For the visitor, this means that we get an immersive experience of the nature of shipwreck sites, and the continuing development of digital technology means that we can map and view content, discovering new aspects relating to our wrecks and even using our smartphones to get a virtual snapshot of their locations.
“Shipwrecks like those of the Spanish Armada at Streedagh are protected by law, and therefore unlicensed diving on them is prohibited,” says Fionnbarr Moore of the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the National Monuments Service, one of the speakers at the conference. “In any case, the wrecks are covered in sand most of the time, and it is only on rare occasions that they become exposed, which is when we decide if an intervention is required by our dive team. This new technology will enable people to get a valuable insight into the wreck site and also a greater understanding of the Armada story.”
Another major innovation at the TIDE Conference was the development of an Armada Diorama, a large 3D model which depicts the Streedagh wreck site, and which can now be viewed at the Spanish Armada Visitor Centre in Grange. It was designed and built by Dublin-based artists Nathan Wheeler and Dave Flynn and is an artistic representation of the wreck site immediately after the three ships sank in September 1588.
“We know from the writings of one of the survivors, Francisco de Cuéllar, that the damage to the ships was immense,” says Nathan. “A storm likely to have been the equivalent of a hurricane blew them ashore, and de Cuéllar wrote afterwards that the three ships broke up within a matter of hours. We wanted the diorama to represent this short period between when the ships were driven ashore and when they finally sank.”
“It is a magnificent piece of work,” says Eddie O’Gorman, Chair of Spanish Armada Ireland, the local group that organized the conference in partnership with Sligo County Council and that maintain the Spanish Armada Visitor Centre. “When people visit the centre, one of the first questions they ask is – where is the wreck site? As you know, the ships themselves lie under tonnes of sand, but the diorama gives us a clear idea of how the scene would have looked in the aftermath of the tragedy, and it is a wonderful way to depict the events that took place so many years ago.”
All of the conference lectures at the Glasshouse Hotel in Sligo were fully subscribed, and delegates also had an opportunity to visit Streedagh and the Armada monument, as well as take in some other important aspects of Sligo’s history, including a visit to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery and to the grave of W.B. Yeats in Drumcliffe.
For those of you interested in Armada history, the Spanish Armada Centre opens every Saturday and Sunday throughout the Summer in Grange between 2-6pm. Details at www.SpanishArmadaIreland.com.
Photos by Charlie Brady Photography.