In the early 1970's the City
of Derry Sub-Aqua Club was instrumental in discovering and having excavated the
important Spanish Armada ship, La Trinidad Valencera. The excavation was a
model of its kind, introducing many innovations to underwater archaeology
Professional archaeologists were brought in to supervise the local divers,
particularly Dr. Colin Martin, and the BBC through its "Chronicle"
programme unit supported and recorded the project. The excavation ran into many
unforeseen difficulties, not the least of which were the trans-national
problems arising from the ship's location in Republic of Ireland waters.
Eventually the site's legal
matters were resolved and the recovered objects were sold by the Irish
government for a peppercorn price to the Ulster Museum which had played an
extremely important role in the project, particularly in the area of
conservation. These objects had a particularly important place in the major
exhibitions at Greenwich and Belfast in 1988 marking the four hundredth
anniversary of the Armada.
One of the conditions of the
sale to the Ulster Museum was that the objects would be displayed in Derry when
suitable premises became available. All the parties agreed that the Tower
Museum, after some modification, would make an excellent home for these objects
to give a stronger international element to the more local ‘Story of Derry’
exhibition currently on display.
La Trinidad Valencera was
discovered in Kinnagoe Bay, on the North East Coast of the Inishowen Peninsula.
The bay itself is surrounded by high cliffs, with the wreck located about 20
meters from the low tide mark. The wreck is in very poor condition and is
mostly buried by sand. There is some interpretation on the site in the form of
information panels, but there is scope to develop a virtual recreation of the
voyage of the vessel from Venice to Spain, around Scotland, Ireland to its
wreck location. We know further that the survivors made their way down through
the peninsula where most were killed in an exchange with English troops outside
Burt Castle, another historic landmark at the foot of Inishowen.
Similar to the Laurentic
Project, the involvement of local divers, and in particular the City of Derry
Sub Aqua Club, was crucial in ensuring the success of the exhibition. A further
addition in relation for them was the donation of their original equipment as
the story of finding the wreck and the trails of excavating it appeared to be
of equal interest to visitors and the local populace as the Story of the Armada
itself. The diving clubs and divers also helped with the programming of events,
from in-depth talks to workshops, suitable for a variety of ages to promote the
project. Their input in the project brought a scientific exploratory angle
which garnered further interest from the public.