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Does a plot of land on Causeway coast contain remains of 200 Spanish sailors who perished when Armada foundered?

By David Young, PA

Published 02/09/2015

A depiction of when the La Girona warship sank in 1588 off the coast of Ireland. Around
24 vessels of the Spanish Armada were wrecked in the violent storms
A depiction of when the La Girona warship sank in 1588 off the coast of Ireland. Around 24 vessels of the Spanish Armada were wrecked in the violent storms
Archaeologists are planning a geophysical survey of a large plot in a graveyard near Dunluce Castle in Co Antrim

Archaeologists are to deploy cutting edge technology to discover whether a plot of land on the Causeway Coast contains the remains of hundreds of Spanish sailors who drowned when the Armada foundered.

According to local legend an ancient graveyard near Dunluce Castle was used to give a Christian burial to more than 200 sailors whose bodies washed up on the coast when the La Girona warship sank in 1588.

Around 24 of the huge fleet Spanish king Philip II sent to invade England were wrecked in violent storms off the coast of Ireland. The greatest loss of life came with the sinking of the La Girona. Of the 1,300 on board, only nine survived.

The 50-gun galley was smashed on rocks off Lacada Point near the landmark Giant's Causeway and the bodies of many drowned sailors were washed ashore.

Archaeologists from Stormont's Department of the Environment (DoE) are planning a geophysical survey of a large unmarked plot in an old graveyard at nearby Dunluce in a bid to establish if it was used as a mass burial site for the Armada victims.

The graveyard surrounds the ruins of St Cuthbert's - a church dating back to the 13th century.

Andrew Gault, one of the DoE archaeologists working on the project, said: "There would have been hundreds of bodies washed up along this coastline and the local tradition is that a lot of them were buried in St Cuthbert's graveyard and there's a specific area of the graveyard where local tradition would say that took place.

"We can see there's a very conspicuous area within the graveyard where there weren't any headstones erected and it's quite sunken and hollow. So that's a bit of a smoking gun.

"So we are hoping to do some further investigation using a geophysical survey, which is a non-destructive non-intrusive technique. It will help firm up exactly whether there is a Spanish Armada era grave in that location."

The grave examination is part of a wider DoE project to unearth the lost history of Dunluce.

The once thriving merchant town, sitting in the shadow of the imposing medieval Dunluce Castle, was destroyed by fire in the mid-1640s and lay buried in the earth for more than three centuries before archaeologists began uncovering its secrets.

Some of the streets and homes of Dunluce have already been rediscovered and focus has now shifted to the remnants of St Cuthbert's parish church.

Archaeologists have been using laser scanners and GPS technology to map all the plots and specialist photographic techniques to decipher headstone inscriptions no longer visible to the naked eye.

As part of an outreach initiative, local history groups have been invited along to help in this work.

Jean Clayton, from the Portrush Heritage Group, discovered that two of her ancestors are buried in the graveyard.

"There's tremendous local interest in this site," she said.

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