De Cuéllar Trail Underlines Sligo’s Armada Heritage

Streedagh Beach in Sligo – location of a great Spanish Armada story (© Micheál Ó Domhnaill)

The Winter of 1588 was a treacherous one, indeed it is said that the storms were so severe that they were of the ‘once in a generation’ type. We know this because, in an event which must have had a staggering impact at the time – three Spanish Armada ships were wrecked in September of that year at Streedagh beach in north Sligo.

One of the few survivors described in incredible detail not only the tragic events on the beach itself – more than 1,000 Spanish sailors, soldiers and merchants died, but he also painted a fascinating picture of a desolate and impoverished Ireland of that time.

In a letter to the King of Spain, Captain Francisco de Cuéllar not only described in great detail how he survived the shipwreck at Streedagh, but his escape through counties Sligo and Leitrim, and this journey forms the basis for a very interesting walk known as the De Cuéllar Trail.

This fascinating walk is part history, part jaw-dropping scenery. No doubt de Cuéllar didn’t have time to admire the beauty of the Sligo landscape when he was washed ashore on that stormy night. But in the months that followed and as he made his way to safety, he described in detail the places he travelled through, the people he met and the adventures he had as he made good his escape, eventually making his way back to Spain a year later in 1589.

The walk begins at the Courthouse in Grange, which has recently opened its doors as the new Spanish Armada Interpretive Centre (Saturdays/Sundays 12pm-4pm). A series of beautiful interpretive panels have been erected in this old historical building and they provide a vivid description of the Armada story in Sligo, including photography of 9 Spanish Armada cannon which were recovered from the seabed at Streedagh in 2015.

Here’s a video of the Spanish Armada commemoration at Streedagh in 2017.

Before you leave the centre, pick up a free map of the route. This depicts the eleven separate locations dotted along the De Cuéllar Trail. For this article, I have chosen the first section, which centres on the vicinity of Grange Village – the remainder bring you further afield and a car will be required for those.

First, cross the road and head towards Streedagh Beach itself, around 3km away. Note that the road to Streedagh is quite narrow and doesn’t have a hard shoulder or footpath. In Summer in particular it can be busy with beach goers so it’s advisable to take care and to wear a reflective jacket.

Before you reach the cattle grid at the entrance to the beach, you’ll pass the Armada monument, a model of a Spanish ship of the time, and which was unveiled in 1988 to commemorate the event’s 400th anniversary.

From here you can continue down to the beach, which is a beautiful unspoiled beach popular with swimmers and surfers alike, with sand dunes to the right and views across them towards Ben Bulben. At the end of the beach you turn again for home, or you can also walk back along the back of the dunes which runs along a lagoon which fills at high tide.

You won’t find any evidence of the 3 Spanish wrecks, la Lavia, Santa Maria de Visón and la Juliana, the wrecks of which lie under the sands a short distance off shore. However you should keep your eyes open for material from the ships, some of which includes the likes of timbers and even cannonball, which sometimes make their way onto shore, in particular after stormy weather.

Having made your way back to the start of the beach, you’ll pass the Armada monument once again, keeping it on your left. As you follow along the road, you’ll see an ornate finger sign for the De Cuéllar Trail directing you to the right. Follow this road and path until you come to a rocky beach, where you’ll find the one remaining wall of Staad Abbey, which is reputedly where de Cuéllar went for help, only to find 12 of his Spanish comrades hanging from the rafters, the victims of English soldiers.

Returning to the village via the route you’ve followed, take the car to Ahamlish church and graveyard, another location linked with de Cuéllar. This is just a short drive north of the village towards Donegal. The ruins of the original 16th century church are long gone, but, along with the other De Cuéllar Trail sites, you just need a little imagination to revisit a particularly interesting chapter in Sligo’s history, and one which will provide you with spectacular sea and mountain views.

For information on this walk, and many others, visit