In Search of the San Marcos of the Spanish Armada
On the afternoon of September 20, 1588, the San Marcos – one of the jewels in the crown of the Spanish Armada – sank after hitting rocks close to Mutton Island, off the coast of Ireland. Four men out of 490 made it to shore. Now a new initiative, named the San Marcos Project, is underway to locate the remains of the ship, using cutting edge search and survey techniques to recover the ill-fated galleon.
The Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England and putting an end to her involvement in the Spanish Netherlands and in privateering in the Atlantic and Pacific.
However, the Armada was driven out to the North Sea by an English fire ship attack off Calais, which broke its formation. In the ensuing battle, the Spanish fleet was forced to abandon its rendezvous. The Armada managed to regroup and withdraw north, and the commander decided that the fleet should return to Spain as many of the ships were damaged by gunfire or were running low on supplies. The Armada sailed around Scotland and Ireland but violent storms, along with a large navigational error brought the fleet too close to the coast and more than 24 vessels were wrecked on the western coasts of Ireland. Many of the survivors of the multiple wrecks were put to death, and the remainder fled across the sea to Scotland. It is estimated that 5,000 members of the fleet perished in Ireland.
The Spanish Armada sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588. Image source.
Built in 1585, the San Marcos was the pinnacle of naval technology, designed to provide a heavily armed escort to the Spanish and Portuguese treasure ships returning from the New World. Weighing 790 tons, it had more than 60 guns, and carried 350 soldiers and 140 sailors. When King Phillip II of Spain was massing his naval forces to support the invasion of England in 1588, the San Marcos was a natural choice to provide heavy firepower and support to the Armada. Due to her fearsome capabilities, she would transport one of the senior commanders of the venture, the Marquis de Pinafiel.
Archaeologists first began finding relics from the vessels that sank off Ireland’s west coast in 1967, including cannons, cannon balls, coins, jewellery, and navigational equipment, which were placed on display in museums in Derry, Belfast and Dublin. In the 1970s, diver Danny Comerford found what he believed was the wreck of the San Marcos, including an anchor of approximately 11 foot in height, at a depth of 20 metres in an area between Mattle Island and the Curragh Shoal.
Underwater archaeologists in Ireland have already found many relics from the 16 th century Spanish Armada vessels that sank off the western coast of Ireland. Image source.
According to El Pais, the new search for the doomed galleon has begun based largely on information provided by Danny Comerford. John Treacy, the director of the San Marcos Project, and a history lecturer at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, is pleased with the progress made in finding the vessel. “The results are very encouraging, particularly after having found a space on the seabed that fits with the sinking of a large vessel,” said Treacy.
In June, after exploring a three-kilometre area on the seabed, his team’s sonar detected the large anchor. “The design is the same as anchors used on Spanish vessels in the 16th century,” he said. “But we need to get confirmation from the Department of Arts & Heritage’s submarine archaeology unit. The aim would then be to find one of the 33 bronze cannons she carried. We are about to find the Armada’s very own Titanic.”
Featured image: The Spanish Armada in Ireland. Image source.