De Cuéllar’s Trail



1. Streedagh Strand

It was here at Streedagh, that three ships of the Levant squadron La Lavia (728 tons) vice flagship of the squadron, La Juliana (860 tons) and Santa Maria de Visón (666 tons) foundered 25th September 1588.

The wrecking of these three ships resulted in horrendous loss of life. In the region of 1100 of those on board drowned in the surf or died on the beach, at that hands of the Queen’s Sligo garrison, as they reached the shore.

On the fifth day, there sprung up a great storm on our beam, with a sea up to the heavens, so that the cables could not hold nor sail serve us, and we were driven ashore with all three ships upon beach, covered with very fine sand, shut in on one side and the other by great rocks.

2. Staad Abbey

On returning from the beach, if the visitor walks to the top of the lane directly opposite the Spanish Armada Memorial, as you look across the intervening farmland, it is possible to discern close to the shoreline, the single surviving gable wall of Staad Abbey. To where, on gaining the shore do Cúellar walked in search of help, unfortunately the English had been there before him.

At dawn of the day I began to walk little by little, searching for a monastery of monks, that I might repair to it as best I could, which I arrived at with much trouble and toil. I found it deserted, and the church and images of the saints burned and completely ruined, and twelve Spaniards hanging in the church by act of the Lutheran English, who went abroad searching for us to make an end to us all who had escaped from the sea.

3. Glencar Waterfall

At Glencar lake, de Cuéllar comes upon a group of unoccupied huts, that it would appear were used for storage of oats. On entering one of these huts he finds that three others Spaniards seeking refuge already occupy it. There are his first contacts with compatriots, since leaving the beach.

and, reaching the mountain range that they gave me for direction, I met with a lake, around which there were about thirty huts, all forsaken and unoccupied, and ther I wished to spend the night.

4. O’Rourke’s Castle (Castletown)

Here at Casteltown, the O’Rourkes of Breffni maintained one of their many strongholds in the district. A “dissident” chieftain, Brian O’Rourke offered shelter and succour to the escaping Spaniards for which amongst other “crimes” againts the Crown, he suffered the ultimate punishment, he was executed at Tyburn in London, on 3rd November 1591.

I arrived at his house with great exertion, enveloped in straw and swathed about the body with matting, in such a plight that no one could see me without being moved to great compassion.

5. Lurganboy

De Cuéllar was part of a party of twenty Spaniards that went in search of a ship, word of which they had received while staying with O’Rourke. Separated from his compatriots because of injuries sustained in the wrecking, lost and disoriented, he stumbles along in what he hopes is the general direction he should be going.

Going along thus, lost with much uncertainty and toil, I met by chance with a road along which a clergyman in secular clothing was traveling. He was sorry for me, and spoke to me in Latin, asking me to what nation I belonged and about the shipwrecks that had taken place. God gave me grace that I was able to reply to everything that he asked me in the same Latin tongue; and so satisfied was he with me, that he gave me to eat of that which he carried with him, and directed me by the right road that I should go to reach castle, which was six leagues from there.

 6. Largydonnell

Here in the lonely Glenade Valley, while following the directions given him by the Clergyman, Francisco now falls in with another traveler, who tricks him into going to his forge in the valley where it is his intent to hold de Cuéllar captive and force him to work for him.

I set out there experiencing much trouble on the road, and the greatest, and that which gave me most pain, was that a savage that met me on the way, and by deceiving me, took me to his hut in deserted valley, where he said I must live all me life, and he would teach me his trade, that of blacksmith.

7. Rossclogher Castle

Here at Rossclogher just outside Kinlough on the southern shore of Lough Melvin de Cuéllar came under the protection of McClancy with whom he stayed for three months. Maglana, as de Cuéllar referred to McClancy, paid like O’Rourke with his life, shot and than beheaded, at Lough Melvin, in 1589.

The wife of my master was very beautiful in the extreme, and showed me much kindness. One day we were sitting in the sun with some of her female friends and relatives, and they asked me about Spanish matters and of other parts, and in the end it came to be suggested that I examine their hands and tell them their fortunes. Giving thanks to God that it had not gone even worse with me than to be a gypsy among savages, I began to look at the hands of each, and to say to them a hundred thousand absurdities, which pleased them so much that there was no other Spaniard better then I, or than was in greater favour with them.

Causeway Coast

8. Giant’s Causeway

Here close to Giant’s Causeway on the 28th of October, 1588 the galleas La Girona foundered on a reef at Lacada Point. The last know Armada wreck in Ireland, she carried as well as her own crew, the survivors of two previous shipwrecks. Of the 1300 souls on board, only five survived. Francisco de Cuéllar reached the area around the 24th January 1589, at which time he hears of the loss.

I went to the huts of some of the savages <Irish> that were there, who told me of the great misfortunes of our people who were drowned at that place and showed me many jewels and valuables of theirs, which distressed me greatly.

9. Dunluce Castle

Following the sinking of La Girona, de Cuéllar stayed in the area for a time. He must have been extremely close to Dunluce Castle, the stronghold of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, The MacDonnells of North Antrim had no great love for English authority in Ireland. Sorley Boy had given shelter to five survivors of galleas La Girona. Even so, de Cuéllar felt uneasy in the area.

My chief cause of misery was that I had no means of embarking for the Kingdom Of Scotland until one day I heard of the territory of a savage whom they called Prince Ocan <O’Cahan> where there were some vessels that were going to Scotland. Thither I traveled, crawling along, for I could <scarcely> move, but as it led to safety I did all that I could to walk and reached it quickly. The vessels had left two days before.

10. Castleroe

The O’Cahan village of Castleroe lay close to the English garrison post of Coleraine. It was widely regarded as a hotbed of insurrection and consequently, the English military kept a very close eye on affairs there. With no way to Scotland, de Cuéllar felt trapped. The people were, however, kindly allowing him to rest in one of the cabins until his leg healed. Then he set out to speak to the O’Cahan chieftain.

he did not wish to see or hear me, for he said, he had given his word to the great Governor of the Queen not to keep any Spaniards in his territory or permit one to go about in it. The English… having marched off to invade a territory and take it, Ocan accompanied them with all his force so that one could go openly about the village which was composed of thatched huts. In them there were some very beautiful girls with whom I was very friendly.

11. Binevenagh

As de Cuéllar’s position become more dangerous, he was forced to leave Castleroe and head north. The Bishop of Derry, Redmond Gallagher, was reputedly sympathetic towards shipwrecked Spaniards and might provide him with transport to Scotland. On top of a mountain overlooking Derry Coast <believed to be Benevona> he shared a rough shelter with some fugitives from the English.

I had arrived at a very large laguna <tidal marsh> along the bank of which I saw a herd of cows walking and I was approaching to see if there was anyone with them to tell me where I was, when I observed two boys savages advancing. They came to collect their cows, and take them up the mountain, where they and their fathers were hiding for fear of the English; and there I spent two days with them, being treated with much kindness.

12. Magilligan Point

With the assistance of Gallagher, de Cuéllar found passage to Scotland, leaving Ireland from Magilligan Point. From Scotland, he sailed for Flanders in one of four small boats. As they approached Dunkirk, they were bombarded by Dutch mercenaries who held the coast. Only two boats managed to get through a once again, de Cuéllar had to stagger ashore. Secretly, he watched as 270 Spaniards were massacred by the Dutch, living only 3 alive. Finally he arrived in Antwerp where he was able to write an account of his amazing journey.

We blessed God who withdrew us from such perils and so great hardship nand brought us to land where there might be more succour.


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