One of the most impressive Armada wrecks lies off the North Antrim coast. La Girona sank on the morning of 26th October 1588 and it was her discovery that probably rekindled interest in the Armada. In 1967 and 1968, off the coast of Portballintrae, a team of Belgian divers (including Robert Sténuit, the world’s first aquanaut) brought up the greatest find of Spanish Armada treasure ever recovered from a wrecked ship. The Girona’s recovered gold jewellery is on show in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. The wreck site was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act on 22 April 1993.
La Girona was a galleass powered by sail and oar. Capable of carrying 500 men, she was the flagship of the Naples Squadron under the direct command of Hugo de Moncada. Her captain was Italian Fabricio Spinola of Genoa – and her complement included 120 Spanish officers. As well as cannon, she carried 8 000 pieces of shot.
At the time of her wreck, the galleass La Girona was carrying 1 300 men including survivors of other ships, commanded by Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva whom de Cúellar describes as a “gallant captain”. Badly overladen, she struck a reef at Lacada Point and sank almost immediately. Only 5 of her crew survived.