Cannons & Current Events: Spanish Armada Cannons Raised Off Irish Coast

Ships from the 16th century Spanish Armada have come to light off the west coast of Ireland, allowing excavation and the recovery of many artifacts. This included cannons from the infamous navy, which were raised from the sea off Streedagh Strand, County Sligo, Republic of Ireland, around 15 June. In 1588, storms and squalls dashed the Armada against the rocky coasts of Ireland, and dashed King Philip II of Spain’s hopes of invading England. Nowadays, storms are pushing pieces of the ships onto the coast, prompting calls for excavation and preservation.

A cannon from La Juliana on the sea bed before it was raised.

A cannon from La Juliana on the sea bed before it was raised.

In 2014, a seven meter (20 ft) fragment of a rudder washed ashore on Streedagh Strand. This year, tides have brought in wooden beams and even a cannonball to the same area. The cannonball is about 80 mm (3.1 in) in diameter and 210 g (7 oz) in weight; it was probably for a small, mounted swivel gun. Pieces of hull boards and other fragments have also been found on the shore, mostly brought by harsh storms.

Streedagh Map

Three Spanish ships ran aground off Streedagh: La Juliana, La Lavia, and Santa Maria de Vison. All three belonged to the Armada’s “Levantine” squadron, under the command of Martin de Bertendona. Storms have shifted the sands of the sea bed and exposed more the La Juliana, enabling the Ministry of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to recover two cannons and a number of other artifacts.

Very little information is available at this time, but from pictures it appears that it is made of bronze. It is engraved with the date of 1570 and features a depiction of Saint Matrona. Saint Matrona is particularly venerated in Catalonia. Perhaps this means that there was a foundry in that region, but I can find no mention of anything of the sort in the admittedly narrow resources available to me. Neither can I find any other examples of cannon bearing a depiction of Saint Matrona. Previously, a small pedrero cannon from La Juliana had been raised from the wreck; during cleaning, it was found to be loaded. Some recovery efforts on this wreck will commence, according to Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The raised cannon along with a closeup of the depiction of St. Matrona.

The raised cannon along with a closeup of the depiction of St. Matrona.

La Juliana was also built in 1570 in Catalonia. A merchant ship, it was pressed into service to transport troops and materiel for the Armada. It weighed 860 tons and carried 32 guns, 325 soldiers, and 70 crew. During its retrograde to Spain after the expedition had failed, La Juliana had been moored off the coast near modern Streedagh along with La Lavia and Santa Maria de Vison. With the arrival of a favorable wind, they attempted to make for the open sea. But a gale blew the ships back into the bay and destroyed them on 21 September 1588. Many sailors were drowned, and most of those who survived and washed ashore were executed by English soldiers at the orders of the Lord Deputy of Ireland, William FitzWilliam.


King Philip II of Spain had hoped his navy would transport an army to England in order to topple Queen Elizabeth I. But after logistical problems and defeat at sea, the Armada sailed northwards up the east coast of the British Isle, north around Scotland, and then attempted to maneuver south through the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Ireland. It was then that navigational errors and bad weather spelled the end of the Spanish Armada. Between 17 and 24 of the Armada’s 130 ships were destroyed off the coast of Ireland, and only 63 returned safely to Spain. It is estimated that 5,000 Spanish sailors and soldiers were drowned in the seas off Ireland, or killed by English soldiers on the shore.


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