1974:0012 - KINNAGOE BAY, Donegal

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Donegal Site name: KINNAGOE BAY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number:

Author: Mr. C. Martin, St. Andrew’s Institute of Maritime Archaeology.

Site type: Armada Wreck


ITM: E 663363m, N 946219m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.259031, -7.003235

The wreck of this Venetian merchantman, requisitioned by the Spaniards for the Armada in 1588 and eventually wrecked in Kinnagoe Bay, Co. Donegal, was discovered in 1971 by the City of Derry Sub-Aqua Club. Since then three seasons of work have been completed by the Club in conjunction with the Institute of Maritime Archaeology at St. Andrews University and Magee University College of the New University of Ulster. The project has been financially helped, and greatly assisted in other ways, through the joint production by BBC Chronicle and Radio Telefis Eireann of a television documentary film.

In 1971 and 1973 the Valencera site was thoroughly explored and mapped, and metal detector and probe surveys were completed. Systematic excavation, planned in the light of the pre-disturbance surveys and using operational techniques developed and field tested in 1973, began in 1974. Initial results have proved outstanding. Because of the peculiar nature of the seas floor at this spot ( a factor which is itself being subjected to detailed research) much of the ship’s cargo, and probably parts of the hull itself, have been preserved virtually intact. The vessel had been an invasion transport, and much of the military equipment she carried has been found in its original wrappings. A tightly-packed deposit of material, encapsulated in the sand, revealed parts of gun-carriages, wagons, light carts, draught harness, wickerwork, and a barrel still half full of gun-powder. Other discoveries include handspikes, palisade stakes, scaling poles, leather and rope-soled shoes, musket stocks, cloth and sacking, pike staves, a mallet, finely turned wooden platters, and a complete pair of bellows. A considerably quantity of pottery and petwer has been found. Ship’s fittings and stores are represented by two large anchors, one of which still retains some 18 feet of its massive hemp cable, pulley blocks, rope of various diameters, and pieces of tar and resin. Navigator’s dividers, a steelyard and weights, copper buckets, and a large provisions barrel are probably to be associated with the running of the ship rather than with its cargo.

Six guns of five different types have been identified, while iron and stone roundshot indicates the presence of a further four types. A stone-shotted swivel gun of composite iron and bronze manufacture proved to be in a fully loaded state, with even the leather tightening pad behind the wedge in place. A rather large stone-throwing piece is represented by a wrought-iron breech-block with lifting rings. Two long culverin-types, a 4 and a 6-pounder, probably come from the ship’s original armament as a merchantman; the larger carries the mark of the Venetian gun founder Zuanne Alberghetti. A matching pair of 50-pounder siege cannons cast at the Malines foundry of Remigy de Halut in 1556 are undoubtedly part of the Armada’s siege train, and are to be associated with the field carriages and other artillery equipment found on the wreck.

The organic material posted special problems of recovery and conservation, and techniques for dealing with it had to be evolved in the field. Under the guidance of the conservation departments at the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland a laboratory has now been set up at Magee University College. Further work on this site, at a rate controlled by progress in conserving the material already recovered, is expected to continue for several years. A Trust is being founded by the Derry Club, Magee University College, and the St. Andrews Institute, to supervise the development of the project. The longer term question of finding a suitable museum, or of establishing one, to house what will be an unparalleled collection of 16th century nautical, military and domestic objects is under active consideration.

A full interim report is to be published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.