Shipwrecks around Portrush

The Girona was a galleass of the 1588 Spanish Armada which foundered and sank off Lacada Point, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on the night of 26 October 1588 after making its way eastward along the Irish coast. The wreck is noteworthy for the loss of life that resulted, and for the treasures recovered and still to be recovered…

The Girona had anchored in Killybegs harbour, Donegal, for repairs to her rudder while two other ships had been lost on attempting to enter the harbour. About 800 survivors from two other Spanish shipwrecks were taken aboard at Killybegs, from La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada, which ran aground off the coast of County Mayo, and the Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal.

With the assistance of an Irish chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, the Girona was repaired and set sail for Catholic Scotland on 25 October, with 1,300 men on board, including Alonso Martinez de Leyva. Lough Foyle was cleared, but then a gale struck and the Girona was driven ashore at Lacada Point, near Portrush in County Antrim on the night of 26 October 1588. Of the estimated 1300 people on board, there were nine survivors, who were sent on to Scotland by Sorley Boy MacDonnell; 260 bodies were washed ashore.

The first salvage attempts of the Girona were made within months by Sir George Carew, who complained at the expense of “sustaining the divers with copious draughts of usequebaugh [whiskey]”.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell recovered 3 brass cannon and 2 chests of treasure from the wreck. In 1967 and 1968, off the coast of Portballintrae a team of Belgian divers brought up the greatest find of Spanish Armada treasure ever recovered from a wrecked ship. The Girona’s recovered gold jewellery is on show in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Less well known Portrush wrecks…

In 1782 the French brig ‘De Sci’ was lost between Portrush and the White Rocks – a little east of the main point of Curran Strand. The ship had a valuable cargo on board and was bound for Ponticherry, in the East Indies, the contents being supplies for the French army. She was captured the day before by an English privateer off the Donegal coast, both ships then encountered a heavy northerly gale which resulted in them losing their sails as they ran for the shelter of the Skerry Roads.

Some of the crew from the English privateer where aboard the ‘De Sci’ which went too far east of the Skerries and in the gale force winds was driven aground on the White Rocks beach. The privateer managed to got into safe shelter and rode out the gale. All the cargo that was saved from the ‘De Sci’ was taken to a Mr. Hunter’s of Ballymagarry, who at that time was Lord Antrim’s agent and receiver of wrecks. Whether it is myth or fact, nobody can say but word spread that the French Captain had prior to be taken tied all his money around his waist and when he realized that there was no escape, leaped overboard off the Skerries.

It was also told by local people of the district that there was a large chest on board full of money to pay the French soldiers waiting for the De Sci to arrive in the East Indies, this was never found. The fact that the ship was going out to re-supply French soldiers adds some substance to the story of lost treasure……….maybe……….somewhere close to the White Rocks, it still lies unfound!.

In 1844 the schooner ‘Charley’ loaded with oatmeal in Portrush and bound for Scotland came to anchor in the shelter of the Skerries after encountering a strong headwind on leaving Portrush. The wind veered to the south and went to gale force, she dragged her anchor and ended up on the rocks. This was during the famine times in Ulster and oatmeal was selling at five shillings for 20lb, many people were in need of food locally who could not afford this price. As the gale subsided people with boats headed out to the ship and unloaded the cargo, dispersing it amongst those in need……..there were no fatalities in this wreck.

On 17th June 1851, a large brig called the ‘Charlotte’ of St John, New Brunswick bound for Portrush with a load of timber, was wrecked on Rathmore Head trying to get to the shelter of the Skerries due to not enough water to enter the harbour. No lives were lost in this wreck either.

In 1863, The MacDuff schooner ‘Providence’ was on route from Troon to Portrush with a cargo of coal, as she came by Bengore the wind came up from the west, which was dead ahead. She managed to get up to the Skerries but could not get right up into the sheltered deeper water and stood off the White Rocks. She dropped her two anchors, unfortunately the wind veered to the north-west and dragged her anchors and grounded her in the breakers of the Strand. Being in the breakers she broke up and her crew washed off, three were drowned.

Two boats came out from the shore to give assistance, one with a crew of fishermen and the other of coastguardsmen – -they also got into difficulties with the loss of two fishermen, David Martin and John Hammond, Jack Winters of the coastguard also lost his life in the other boat.

Article: Less well known Portrush wrecks
Art Ward