Gordon Lyons urged to exploit tourism potential of the Spanish Armada

Tourism minister Gordon Lyons has said Derry’s links to the Spanish Armada will continue to be exploited as a means of encouraging tourists to visit and prolong their stay in the north west area.

However, Mr. Lyons has said he does not believe that the extraordinary story of the destruction of the fleet off our coasts in 1588 is in a position to compete with the Giant’s Causeway,

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbour or Dunluce Castle in terms of revenue generation.

One of the largest ships of the Armada, La Trinidad Valencera foundered at Kinnagoe Bay in north Inishowen.

A painting of a scene from the Spanish Armada.

Mr. Lyons acknowledged that since its discovery in 1971 it has been a point of interest in the north west and is now a local museum attraction and will continue to be in the future.

“The history of the Spanish Armada is covered in the La Trinidad Valencera permanent exhibition located within the Tower Museum in Londonderry. There are discussions underway to promote the gateway linkage of Londonderry and the Causeway Coastal Route and beyond.

“As part of this work the links with the Spanish Armada could be further explored. In addition, Tourism NI are also supporting Derry City & Strabane District Council on their Derry on the North Atlantic (DNA) museum project as part of their City Deal programme.

“It is proposed that the new museum will comprise galleries dedicated to ‘Discoveries of the Deep’ and ‘Sunken Treasures’, relating in part to the La Trinidad Valencera, the Spanish Armada and the exciting stories, discoveries and artefacts uncovered by the City of Londonderry Sub Aqua Club in 1971,” he said.

Back in the 1970s, the City of Derry Sub Aqua team discovered the wreck of La Trinidad Valencera, the fourth largest galleon of the Spanish Armada fleet, off Kinnego Bay in Inishowen.

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The artefacts discovered in north Donegal over the past several decades are complemented by a rich historical lore, sometimes extremely dark in nature.

For example, more than 300 sailors and soldiers, survivors of La Trinidad Valencera, were reputedly massacred by a force under the command of a Major Kelly, together with two English captains, the brothers Hovenden, somewhere between Elagh Castle and Burt, in September 1588.

By contrast, Francisco de Cuéllar, a Spanish sea captain, who was wrecked with the Armada off Sligo, wrote warmly of the hospitality he received in the Derry area.

In his memoir, ‘Captain Cuellar’s Adventures in Connacht and Ulster,’ written in Antwerp, in 1589, Cuéllar wrote of being welcomed by the Bishop of Derry Redmond O’Gallagher at Ó Catháin’s Castle on the river Roe.

“This bishop was a very good Christian, and went about in the garb of a savage for concealment, and I assure you I could not restrain tears when I approached him to kiss his hand. He had twelve Spaniards with him for the purpose of passing them over to Scotland, and he was much delighted at my arrival, all the more so when the soldiers told him that I was a captain.

“He treated me with every kindness that he could for the six days I was with him, and gave orders that a boat should come to take us over to Scotland, which is usually done in two days.

“He gave us provisions for the voyage and said Mass to us in the castle and spoke with me about some things concerning the loss of the kingdom, and how His Majesty had assisted them; and that he should come to Spain as soon as possible after my arrival in Scotland, where he advised me to live with much patience, as in general they were all Lutherans and very few Catholics.

“The bishop was called Don Reimundo Termi...an honourable just man. God keep him in His hands and preserve him from his enemies.”

Mr. Lyons was asked by the East Derry MLA Claire Sugden what work he has done to investigate and optimise tourist opportunities arising from the north coast’s links with the Spanish Armada.

She specifically mentioned La Girona, which sank off Lacada Point.

He said: “Whilst the story of the Spanish Armada is compelling, it is a lesser-known part of the history of the North Coast and in terms of revenue generation would not be in a position to compete with the key sites of the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbour or Dunluce Castle.

“As such, at this time Tourism NI do not hold specific market intelligence on the tourism potential of the Girona and the Spanish Armada.”