430th anniversary of ‘forgotten massacre’ on outskirts of Derry

Elagh Castle.
Elagh Castle.

September 20, 2018 marks the 430th anniversary of the brutal massacre of more than 300 sailors and soldiers somewhere between Elagh Castle, on the outskirts of Derry, and a few miles down the road at Burt.

These unfortunate men were the survivors from the Spanish Armada vessel, La Trinidad Valencera, which grounded at Kinnagoe Bay in north Inishowen in 1588.

The massacre was perpetrated by the irregular militia of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, who at that point in his career had sworn loyalty to Elizabeth I of England.

Reports of wrecks and landings of survivors of the Armada were coming in from the whole of the west coast of Ireland and the English authorities ordered that no prisoners were to be taken other than those who could be questioned or ransomed.

We do not know whether O’Neill had a direct hand in ordering the massacre, but his militia, which was quartered at Burt Castle, was commanded by a Major Kelly, together with two English captains, the brothers Hovenden.

In the early 1970s, there was a signpost located at Buncrana Road, somewhere near Coshquin. It simply said: “Armada Graveyard.”

It subsequently disappeared and is almost forgotten, but is believed to have pointed towards a certain field on the Upper Galliagh Road where, it is possible, about 50 sick and wounded survivors who, left behind by the approximately 100 more able men who escaped the massacre, were “dying daily”, according to contemporary Spanish reports.

The location of the remains of the 300 who died in the actual massacre is unknown, but it is probably somewhere in the lowlands towards Burt.

September 20 would be an opportunity to commemorate this massacre. Such commemorations have been held at the locations of other Spanish Armada wrecks, most notably each September at Streedagh Strand, Co. Sligo, where 1100 men died on the beach.

A commemoration has also been held at the site of that other Armada wreck, the Girona, near the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, where 1,300 lives were lost.

The modern Spanish authorities welcome these activities and often participate in them.

Is it not time to do something to remember the massacre which took place near Derry 430 years ago?