A few drops of whiskey slide on the fallen rocks of the ruined Staad Abbey in Grange (Ireland). The waves hitting the rocks dented by centuries of storms break the silence of the ceremony. The small bottle, empty of that revitalizing ambrosia for generations of sailors, houses a small paper with blue ink letters and a bracelet with the flag of Spain. José Luis Bernal, a 65-year-old man from Cádiz and a retired naval soldier, is moved while hiding the treasure under the rubble of the old convent. The surrounding beaches spat out the remains of three ships of the Spanish Invincible Armada for centuries.sunk there on September 23, 1588. The escabechina of the English armyallied with the Atlantic Ocean, forged a union between Spain and Ireland that has attracted Spaniards, Irish and members of the current Navy to County Sligo determined to recover the historic alliance in defeat.
The last standing wall of the abbey, in an unbeatable meadow for modern cows, was one of the first shelters that Captain Francisco de Cuéllar saw when he fled from the enemy. There he hoped to find help, but he found 12 of his men hanged by him. Some 1,100 soldiers died in those bays and De Cuéllar, revered by the natives even to call hamburgers or routes but almost unknown in his homeland, marked with his escape the beginning of a myth. The Spanish Armada Ireland, an association based in Sligo (20,000 inhabitants), has cared for this memory and recovered cannons, weapons and remains of weapons from the bottom of the sea. The Lavia, The Juliana and Saint Mary of Minkthree ships lying under those waters, whose legacy is exhibited in Dublin.
The tributes have seduced Spaniards living on the island or peninsular travelers who are fond of this historical episode, explains Eddie O’Gorman, 70 years old. The Irishman leads the local groups that this September have achieved the presence of the Spanish ambassador in the country, Ion De la Riva, and senior officials of the Navy to accompany the events in honor of these sailors. “With the 400th anniversary, in 1988, we began to work on more partnerships. We were surprised that in Spain Francisco de Cuéllar and what happened with the Navy was almost unknown, the exchange students end up fascinated because we know more than they do,” says O’Gorman.
Streedagh beach serves as the setting for the initiative. Hundreds of crosses raked on the sand, one for each fallen Spaniard, surround a straw boat, bow to land, remembering those who could not dock. Dozens of flags with the Burgundian cross, the emblem of the house of Austria, which then dominated the Spanish empire with Philip II on the throne, surround the little boat while those present, Spanish or Irish, place yellow and red flowers on the deck. It is not raining but the clouds and the wind illustrate the arduous task of getting there pursued by the English, an old common enemy of the attendees.
Ambassador De la Riva, with one year of service, admits that he barely knew about this legacy until he took office. “We want this route to join other historical ones such as the Quetzal route of 1992, in reminder of the discovery of America, or that of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world to make a route of shipwrecks in Ireland,” explains the Spanish representative. “Ireland is a very beloved country but nothing is known about it in Spain, there are common issues from the Celts to the IRA and ETA,” he indicates. This is proven in the taverns and pubs, full of smiles and broken Spanish in a country where for centuries Latin features existed between pale skin and red hair as evidence that some crew member did survive that massacre.
The vice admiral and director of the Madrid Naval Museum, Enrique Torres, 61, feels “in historical debt to a key episode, we are grateful to Ireland for rescuing and honoring our memory, we should be the promoters.” 38 members of the patrol car have attended with him. Sentinel.
One of the national officials of this meeting, Carlos Burgos, has led a group of 12 attendees and diverse backgrounds united by the Navy. The president of the Hispano-Irish association, 57, has been promoting ties between both nations for years with actions such as searching in Valladolid for the remains of the Irish revolutionary Grid Hugh O’Donnell, arrived in 1602 to the then imperial capital to ask Philip III for help against, of course, the English. “We want to promote relations between Spain and Ireland, history has brought us together since the Milesians and the first inhabitants of the island. We defend music, languages, art, literature, labor relations… Philip II was born in Valladolid and sent the Navy to stop England and also stop them against Ireland,” says Burgos.
The paraphernalia of Sligo, adorned by Spanish flags these days, amazes Cristina Montijano, 15, from Cordoba, a student this year in the area. “I had no idea about this, it is a bit sad that I don’t know about it and strange that it is celebrated here and not in Spain. My grandmother had told me something, but it doesn’t sound familiar to me about school,” says the young woman amidst the gust of wind on the ominous beach. Dogs dig holes in the sand as the first broken flower petals fly over the bay. In a few hours, between the wind and the tide, they will erase the crosses as the memory of those they represent was erased for centuries.
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