By Mark Horton
Last updated 2011-02-17
The dramatic cliffs of the Antrim coast tower over the site of one of the richest shipwrecks ever discovered in our coastal waters. It was here that in June 1967 a diver and treasure hunter, Robert Stenuit, located the traces of what proved to be the wreck of the Spanish Armada galleass, Girona, a craft that had sunk on 28 October 1588.
Over the next two years, Stenuit amassed over 12,000 artefacts from the wreck, and in 1972 they were purchased as an entire collection by the Ulster Museum, where they are now displayed. The bay where the wreck was found is still known locally as 'Port na Spaniagh'.
The Girona was one of 130 ships that set sail from Lisbon in 1588. After defeat in the English Channel the expedition was aborted, and the fleet attempted to return home via Scotland and Ireland. The scattered ships were battered by storms, however, and between 15 and 28 September, 28 ships were wrecked on the Irish coast. The Girona was actually sailing northwards back to Scotland, crammed with 1,300 men on board, when it struck the razor sharp rocks off Lacada Point. It seems likely that the repaired rudder failed, and the ship was literally cut into two by the rocks. Only nine sailors survived and were able to climb the massive cliffs to safety at nearby Dunluce Castle.
The most spectacular finds from the wreck were the 45 pieces of gold jewellery belonging to the commander and officers. These included six gold chains (one of which was 8 feet long), crosses and military decorations, finger rings and 12 portrait cameos of Byzantine Caesars. One ring has a hand holding a heart, with a motto on it in Spanish: 'I have nothing more to give you.' The site is the only protected wreck in Northern Ireland waters.