Work continues at historic ship wreck

Underwater archaeologists from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and staff of the Geological Survey of Ireland will spend the coming week exploring a wreck discovered off the Burtonport coast that may be connected to the Spanish Armada of 1588.

Underwater archaeologists from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and staff of the Geological Survey of Ireland will spend the coming week exploring a wreck discovered off the Burtonport coast that may be connected to the Spanish Armada of 1588.

Connie Kelleher of the underwater archaeology unit said it was too soon to say whether the ship had been part of the 16th-century Armada, though she said, “It’s looking like the right period, definitely,” Divers have also uncovered pieces of pottery that appear to be Iberian in origin.

The wreck was discovered by local divers with Inishfree Charters in Burtonport, who also discovered another shipwreck nearby that is believed to date back to the 18th century. The local divers have been working with the department since making the discoveries.

Last week’s announcement of 50,000 euro for the excavation work from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, have enabled archaeologists to conduct the more in-depth excavation and “really give the dive the regard it deserves”, Ms. Kelleher said.

State underwater archaeologists spent a week at the site last year conducting exploratory tests and returned late last week for the more intensive excavation. They have uncovered cannon balls and musket shot, an officer’s button, brick, sheep bones, wicker work and a leather belt that may have come from a horse harness. Ms. Kelleher said the evidence uncovered to date indicates the ship was either a small war ship or a ship carrying supplies for a war ship.

The Geological Survey of Ireland is supplying one of its research vessels, the RV Keary, as the main dive vessel for the work, and will carry out detailed marine geophysical surveys in the area of the wreck.

Liam Miller, who owns Inishfree Charters and was part of the dives that discovered both shipwrecks, said the find will shed light on different elements of the period, from ship construction to life at sea. “Everyone has a different take on what they will find interesting about it,” he said.

The wreck will be left with a protective cover when the state specialists finish early next week, but Ms. Kelleher has suggested the protected site could become part of a “wreck trail” for divers, who would apply for department permission to visit the site. There would be “a community benefit”, she said.

Work at the underwater site was filmed in recent days for broadcast later this year on the RTÉ programme Nationwide.

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