Ulster Museum

The Spanish Armada

Spanish treasures in the Ulster Museum

Permanent display

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The story of the famous Spanish Armada of 1588, which planned to invade England, has always fired people’s imagination. This is reflected in the Armada gallery with its many stunning treasures made of gold and silver. These and other spectacular items were recovered from two Spanish wrecks that sank off the north Irish coast.

Discovered in 1967 by Robert Stenuit, the ‘Girona’ was a floating treasure chest of wealth. Designed to carry 500 men, there were 1,300 on board when the ship went down in stormy seas near the Giant’s Causeway. People, their possessions, fine clothes and lofty ambitions all sank to the ocean floor. Only five people survived.

The piles of gold and silver coins are only a small sample from the hundreds recovered. Fashionable gold rings includes one bearing a loving message which translates as ‘I have nothing more to give thee’.

Look out for the small salamander or lizard made of gold and rubies. Worn as a lucky charm it failed to protect those on board.

In contrast to the Girona, the ‘Trinadad Valencera’ had more organic objects preserved from the wreck, including rather surprisingly a pine cone whose seeds were eaten. A significant amount of material from the Trinadad is on loan to the Tower Museum in Derry/Londonderry.

On the far side of the gallery material from both ships is more of a military nature. The canons and cannon balls are a reminder of the main purpose of the Spanish Armada. It was a huge naval force which aimed to invade England. Many ships and sailors never returned home.