Two shipwrecks discovered off the Donegal coastline may be linked to the late 16th-century Spanish Armada and a separate late 18th-century French armada, despatched to assist Irish rebellion efforts.
However, identification of the two wrecks outside Burtonport harbour may take some time, Connie Kelleher of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s underwater archaeology unit, said yesterday.
The two shipwrecks, one of which is definitely a warship, are lying 200m apart in just four metres of water off Rutland Island close to Burtonport.
Lead shot balls were retrieved during dives in which Ms Kelleher participated yesterday morning. Pottery has also been recovered from within the hull of the possible Spanish Armada ship, which is filled with sediment.
A full excavation of material is under way, as part of a long-term management plan for the location.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan has awarded €50,000 for the work, and the Geological Survey of Ireland’s vessel Keary, named after late geologist Raymond Keary, is providing a support platform for the dive team.
Many of the wrecks already located lie off the north and west coasts, off Inishowen in Co Donegal; Co Sligo; Clare Island, Co Mayo; Co Galway; and Co Clare; and the Blasket Sound in Kerry.
Five of the hulls, or remains of same, have been located off Donegal, and the three wrecks off Streedagh strand in Sligo were the subject of a protracted court action.
The two wrecks now under investigation were originally pinpointed by Donegal divers, including Liam Miller, Oscar Duffy and Michael Early in 2008-2009.
At this stage, identification is uncertain, but Ms Kelleher believes they may be “enormously significant”.
The later wreck, possibly French, could be linked to Napper Tandy’s revolutionary efforts.
Tandy (1740-1803), who worked with Wolfe Tone in founding the United Irishmen, accepted a French government offer of a corvette, the Anacreon, and sailed from Dunkirk with United Irishmen and arms, arriving on Arranmore island, close to Burtonport, in September 1798.