Commemorating the 430th anniversary of the Spanish Armada in Donegal

30 Jul 2018

The Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group have two exciting upcoming events to commemorate the 430th anniversary of the Spanish Armada in Donegal

La Duquesa Santa Ana re-enactment walk: Saturday 4th August 2018

To book please e-mail or call/text 087 921 4206.

The Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group and the Killybegs History and Heritage Group have come together to organise the first event that commemorates the 430th anniversary of the Spanish Armada in Donegal.

The groups are organising a 16th century style historic re-enactment walk from Kiltoorish, Rosbeg (south-west Donegal) to Killybegs, Co. Donegal. Walking in the footsteps of the survivors of La Duquesa Santa Ana will be a poignant recognition and memory of the many tragedies that befell at least one of twenty-six or so Spanish Armada ships wrecked off the Atlantic coast of Ireland between September and October 1588.

On the 28th/29th September 1588, the Andalusian hulk La Duquesa Santa Ana was shipwrecked off Loughros Mor Peninsula. All nine hundred on board managed to scramble safely ashore under the captaincy of Alonso de Leyva, second-in-command of the entire Armada fleet. It appears that the ship was successfully beached in or near Tramore strand on the 29th September. 

The survivors spent nine days in the area; one camp of ordinary soldiers and seamen encamped at the ship’s side and a second at the island castle of Kiltoorish, where the young noblemen and senior officers were stationed. We can only imagine that 900 foreigners camped around the Rosbeg area must have looked like a small town and a similar situation had developed in Killybegs where the crews of La Girona, and two other ships wrecked in the harbour had taken shelter and given assistance by the local chieftain, McSweeny Banagh, whose castle was located at the head of McSwyne’s Bay. Back in Kiltoorish, and with the assistance and welcome of another of the McSweeny family, McSweeny Na Doe, Alonso de Leyva’s plan was to escape the current ordeal of his second shipwreck, the first being the La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada in Blacksod Bay, Mayo on 15 or 16th September. News had come that another Spanish Armada ship, La Girona had been forced into Killybegs to undertake repairs as a consequence of the storms that raged off the Irish coast in the autumn of 1588. 

Preparations were made to make a one day march to Killybegs and ‘a hoped for escape back to Spain’. On the 8th or 9th October the Duquesa Santa Ana survivors, accompanied by McSweeny Na Doe, broke camp and traversed a terrain that would have been difficult with a mountain pass to be negotiated. The first sight of La Girona which had been lying at anchor in McSwyne’s Bay since the 15th September, must have lifted the men under de Leyva’s leadership. But as they got closer, they may have been dismayed when they saw the numbers of Spanish already camped in Killybegs. Notwithstanding, de Leyva took control and once La Girona was repaired, it set sail for Scotland with some 1,300 on board a ship that had the capacity of about half that number. There is evidence that up to 2,300 foreigners were left behind in the Killybegs area. Where did they go? La Girona sunk with the loss over one thousand lives off Lacada Point, Co. Antrim and it is reported that there were between five and nine survivors.

The route we will be taking is along track, main and minor roads. As part of this walk, we will be placing specially commissioned stone memorials to mark this human tragedy story.

One will be located on the pier at Rosbeg and a similar one in Killybegs. There will be family friendly stretches along the route and all walkers are encouraged to gather at Common School (Killybegs) at 6.00pm to march to a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial which will take place at 7.00pm. A group of historic re-enactors will demonstrate typical 16th century costume, weaponry and armour as part of the day. People could dress up in 16th century costume if they so wish and maybe bring a flower to throw into the harbour at Killybegs. All are most welcome, get in touch, get involved:

Registration will be available on the morning of the walk, however we would greatly appreciate that you pre-book by 1st August 2018, as places may be limited.

Warp and Weft of Heritage Weekend.

The second event is the annual Warp & Weft of Heritage weekend taking place mid-October (Friday the 12th to Sunday the 14th). There will be a series of lectures, events, social evening, film and fieldtrips all focused around the themes of the 1588 Spanish Armada including history, archaeology, heritage, folklore and 16th century Hiberno-Spanish links.

These commemorative events are of national and international importance. They also take place during the European Year of Cultural Heritage. As the Armada was made up of many European and non-European nationalities, this year will have far-reaching connections across the Iberian Peninsula and the former Spanish colonies. Over the last number of years, there has been an increased interest and recognition of this 16th century political and maritime event. Recent discoveries at Streedagh, Co. Sligo and the ongoing underwater investigations organised by GADA, will add to our knowledge of the Armada.

If you can support us in any way we would be delighted if you could contact us at: or our Facebook page: Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group.

Paula Harvey


Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group

To book please e-mail or call/text 087 921 4206.