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Decision to call election sank hopes of Spanish King's visit to NI: claim

By Brett Campbell

North coast councillors remain optimistic after plans to lure the King of Spain to the Giant's Causeway were apparently scuppered by Theresa May's snap Westminster election.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council had hoped to entice King Felipe VI to the shores of north Antrim as part of an Armada memorial event - marking 50 years since the treasure trove of the stricken La Girona was discovered on the seabed.

SDLP councillor Maura Hickey said the Prime Minister's decision to call a general election dashed all hopes of the monarch visiting Northern Ireland.

"We knew the King of Spain was going to be in London for a state visit around the same time so we thought it would be nice to invite him," she said.

"We had hoped we could get him here, but unfortunately it just didn't work out. As soon as the general election was called we knew he couldn't come because the visit would be cancelled."

A council spokesperson confirmed that "an informal approach was made to dignitaries in Spain" ahead of the memorial event held at the Giant's Causeway last Friday.

It was organised to remember all those who perished when the warship sank during violent storms in October 1588 after smashing into rocks at Lacada Point near Portballintrae.

Out of the 130 Spanish ships that set out to invade England at the end of the 16th century more than 20 foundered off the Irish coast.

It was hoped that a royal visit would have created an opportunity to promote cultural links between Spain and Ireland which officials believe could boost tourism from the continent.

Ms Hickey has refused to abandon efforts to entice the Spanish monarch to the place where approximately 260 bodies were washed up following the disaster.

"That doesn't mean to say that we won't get him over here another time. I'm staying optimistic about it and we have quite a lot of other plans to develop these links," she said.

All but nine of the 1,300 Spanish sailors onboard the 50 gun galley died in the disaster and over 200 bodies are buried in unmarked graves at St Cuthbert's Church, near Dunluce castle.

Ms Hickey said last Friday's event, during which a plaque was unveiled at the site of the unmarked graves, was about "remembering the souls of all those who perished."

Sligo mayor Marie Casserly, who also attended the event, told those gathered that there was a great opportunity to develop cultural links but also emphasised that the event was primarily about remembering the dead.

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