How was the invincible armada defeated

The Spanish Armada in Ireland - disintegrated on Ireland's coast

On a tour along the north and west coast of Ireland, travelers to Ireland discover various places and names with a Spanish connection. Spanish Point in County Clare is one of the best known. This initially strange reference goes back well into the 16th century. At that time, the Kingdom of Spain was both at the height of its maritime power and in constant feud with England. This feud led to the Spanish king ultimately sending the famous Armada, his massive navy, against the British island. The venture failed. The mighty ships of Spain fled back to Spain around the Irish island. However, the Spanish Armada in Ireland was massively shipwrecked in a storm. She narrowly escaped total annihilation by the elemental forces of Irish nature.

Historical background - the feud between England and Spain

In the 16th century the world was divided. While a progressive bourgeois system developed in England, which promoted worldwide trade, the medieval feudal system persisted in Spain. At the same time, Spain and England, along with Portugal, were the dominant powers in the world at the time. In addition, the strict Catholic faith of the Pope was maintained in Spain. Meanwhile, Protestant England stood outside the Catholic Church and followed its own set of beliefs. These two opposing social and religious systems competed for supremacy in the world of that time.

This battle was mainly fought on the world's oceans. In the 15th century, ships explored the seas in search of new trade routes. They discovered the American continent and sailed around Africa. At the same time, the actors, especially the aforementioned Spain, Portugal and England, fought each other through raids and looting.

In this context, the situation came to a head in the middle of the 16th century. Finally, King Philip II of Spain decided to invade England. In doing so, he intended to eliminate the Spanish rival for good. Opposite him was the English Queen of the House of Tudor, Elizabeth I, on the English throne.

Many places in Ireland still remember the disaster off the Irish coast today (Photo: Yvonne Treptow-Saad)

The Spanish Armada in Ireland - mighty ships on the high seas

The term Armada means roughly “armed force”. In the Middle Ages, the Spaniards referred to their armed war equipment in such a general way. King Philip II transferred the term to his navy. He called her Armada invencible: Invincible force. Indeed, the Armada's ships looked terrifying. They were large ships with massive, massive superstructures. A multitude of cannons fitted the flanks. Huge sails caught the sea breeze and ensured that the mighty warships sailed quickly.

At the same time, the much-vaunted bulk of the Spanish Navy was its greatest disadvantage. Due to their weight and size, the draft increased and the maneuverability decreased. In contrast, the English fleet relied on minimalism and pragmatism. Their ships were smaller and less bulky. This made them more maneuverable. As it turned out, this was the key advantage in defending the British Isles against the Spanish naval forces. This was the main reason why the Spanish Armada later got into distress in Ireland.

Mural in memory of the fall of the Spanish Armada off the Irish coast (Photo: Yvonne Treptow-Saad)

Attack on England!

The Spanish invasion of England was not a lucky star. The Grand Admiral of the Spanish fleet, Alvaro de Bazán, died during the preparations. He was followed by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, Alonso Pérez de Guzmán. However, he was neither a seaman nor familiar with the preparations for the invasion so far. Worse still, the man who thought himself a miscast became easily seasick on the open sea. Accordingly, he asked for his replacement several times, which King Philip II, however, refused to do.

The naval battle in the English Channel

Ultimately, the Spanish ships left on July 31, 1588. The Armada invencible consisted of 130 ships and a crew of 27,000. Their way led through the Atlantic to the English Channel. Their destination was the Netherlands, ruled by Spain at the time. The Spanish land army of the Duke of Parma was waiting there. Together with these reinforcements, the invasion of England was to begin.

However, the English knew about the invasion plans. They were waiting for the Spanish ships in the canal. In the following days there was a sea battle off the English coast. However, neither warring side gained an advantage. The English kept the Spaniards at a distance with their agile boats and long-range guns. But the Spaniards hardly suffered any damage or losses. Nevertheless, they did not get any closer to the Netherlands or the English coast. Finally the Armada entered the port of Calais in France. There the English attacked surprisingly and the Spaniards fled the harbor in a disorderly manner. Having lost their protective order, the sluggish Spanish ships were now easier for the English to fight. The losses increased and only an emerging storm ended the naval battle. The storm saved the no longer invincible Armada.

Escape to Ireland

However, the morale of the Spaniards was destroyed afterwards. In addition, their ships suffered severe damage, a lack of ammunition and food. Since the English blocked the way back through the channel, the Spaniards sailed north around the British island. Finally, in the west, the Green Island came into view. Here, in the stormy North Atlantic, the ailing Armada finally got into trouble. The ships, some of which were unable to maneuver, were easy victims for the high waves.

The ships of the Spanish Armada sank along the north and west coasts (Photo: Neil Saad)

The Spanish Armada in Ireland

Of the nearly one hundred remaining ships, 24 crashed on the wild Irish coast. Over three thousand sailors escaped to the mainland. However, in Ireland, at the time under English occupation, she expected no sparing. Fearing that the Spanish army would rally in Ireland, the order was given to kill all stranded Spaniards. Irish people who hid or helped the Spaniards were threatened with death. Of the three thousand stranded, over one thousand died in captivity on the Emerald Isle. The rest of them fled to Scotland. The Spanish Armada in Ireland was another disaster for the Spanish king.

On the trail of the Spanish Armada in Ireland

Today many places in Ireland commemorate the stranded and sunken ships. So off the coast of Donegal, in Kinnagoe Bay, lies the sunken one La Trinidad Valencera. It is a popular destination for experienced divers. Three Spanish ships went aground near Sligo Town in County Sligo. Almost two thousand sailors drowned. Only a few reached the saving country. Among them was Francisco de Cuellar. He then made an adventurous journey through the north-west of Ireland. In fact, after some confusion, he made it back to Spain. There he recorded his experiences. His account is an entertaining story that also describes well the life of the Irish in the 16th century.

Other ships experienced their disaster along the west coast of Ireland. Ships of the Spanish Armada landed or sank via Mayo and Galway, via the Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula down to Cork. Where the Spaniards escaped ashore, they awaited no mercy from the English soldiers and Irish loyal to the king. In the end, only 67 ships, half of the armed forces, made it back to Spain. The invasion of England had failed and the Armada invencible weakened in the long run.

Even today, parts of the wrecks wash up on the beaches in the west of Ireland after stormy waves.