Spanish Armada and Erris 1588 in Co. Mayo

On the night of the 17th September 1588 a great ship of the Spanish Armada La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada of the Squadron of the Levand, short of food and water and battered by the fierce incessant storms which saved England from conquest by Philip 11 of Spain, cast anchor off the shore of Doona for replenishment and repairs.

Its commander was a handsome dashing young man, Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva, a noble of the highest degree and former Captain-General of the Cavalry of Milan.

The ship, a carrack of Genoa fitted out as a battleship with 35 guns carried a complement of 419 soldiers and sailors, including many young scions of the noblest families of Spain eager for fame and fortune under their famous commander and indeed the La Rata had been in the forefront of every engagement with the English fleet as the Armada made it's way up the English channel, its crescent formation unbreached, to it's rendezvous with the Spanish Army of the Netherlands under Alexander Farnese Duke of Parma.

During the night the storm and strong currents of Duna caused the few remaining anchors of La Rata to drag and she piled up on the sands of Tullaghan Bay. Her other anchors had been lost when the Spaniards were forced to cut their cables to avoid English fire at Calais.

Don Alsonso managed to bring all his people safely ashore together with their jewels, gold and arms, including the ships guns. They then took possession of Fahy Castle at Doona, popularly known as Graneuaile's (Grainne Mhaol) castle although it was possibly that time in the hands of Brian Riabhach O Cheallaigh, an in-law of the Barretts. Grace O'Malley however is said to have lived in it afterwards when it passed into the ownership of her son-in-law Riocard a'Burca, lord of the Corraun Territory adjoining Achill and known to the English as the The Devil's Hook.

While there Alonso was approached by Deamhan an Chorainn and Justin Mac Donnell seeking help in their fight against Richard Bingham, the English appointed president of Connaught known to the Irish as the Fail of Connaught.

Don Alonso however had been informed of the two other Spanish Armada ships at anchor off Ard Elly on the western side of Blacksod Bay and determined to bring his men back to Spain. These ships were the Duguesa Santa Ana - 900 tons burdened with 23 guns and 357 men, and the Nuestra Senora de Begona - 750 tons with 24 guns and 297 men.

Don Alonso crossed the Owenmore and took Edmond Barrett's Castle in Doolough and all the other Barrett's Castles on the way to Tirraun where the other two ships were riding at anchor. He was joined by the crew of another vessel the Santiago, known in local folklore as An Long Mhaol, driven minus its mainmast which is said to be buried in a bog, between two strands directly under Duguesa Santa Anna which was driven north and wrecked at Loughros More Bay in Donegal.

Alonso then repaired a galleass, the Girona, and sailed with 1,300 men on board. The Girona was wrecked at Lacada Point in Antrim and all but nine were drowned. Thus perished the Flower of Spain. Their jewellery, which is all that survived, is on show in the Ulster museum.

Article by Mary Togher