Chambers at Large on the de Cuellar Trail in the counties of north Sligo and north Leitrim, Ireland.
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Captain Francisco de Cuellar was one of the few sailors to wash up onto Streedagh Beach in North Sligo, Ireland in 1588 following a fierce storm. He wrote a memoir chronicling his return to Spain the following year and I followed his journey through North Sligo, and beyond, beginning on Streedagh Beach near Grange, where The Armada Interpretive & Visitor Centre now resides.
Inside this old building are artefacts typical of the time, including replica Spanish weaponry found when three ships: La Lavia,Santa Maria de Visonand La Juliana, were shipwrecked on Streedagh beach, one of Ireland’s lesser known strands, stretching for almost 3km. Escape from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life by taking a walk along this almost deserted sandy shoreline.
Escaping from Streedagh beach, de Cuellar headed north, very probably towards Glencar Waterfall, a serenely majestic area where he met three other Spaniards and together, they decided to seek shelter with Irish Chieftan O’Rourke of Breifne.
I wonder if they passed the more alluring Devil’s Chimney, only a couple of kilometers from Glencar, which is the tallest waterfall in Ireland. It was graced with its unusual nomenclature as, in certain weather conditions, the water appears to be running up the mountain rather than down! In fine weather, during the summer, this amazing waterfall may shrink to a trickle, but is well worth a visit other times of the year, especially when there is a bit of a breeze.
De Cuellar very probably found refuge in one of O’Rourke’s strongholds, which is now a complete ruin but overlooks the wonderful countryside of Glencar.
Or he may have found refuge in Parke’s Castle, which stands proudly on the shores of Lough Gill, made famous by the Nobel Prize winning poet WB Yeats in his poem Lake Isle of Innisfree. O’Rourke paid dearly for sheltering the Spaniards as he was executed for treason at Tyburn, London in 1591.
Setting off once more for home, de Cuellar headed for Killybegs in Donegal, probably passing by Glenade Valley and Eagle’s Rock, a standing tower of limestone in the Dartry mountains, where I photographed the cover of my book Opprobrious. (The locale also features in the book Reprehensible and I urge you to take a peek at both when scrolling through my website.)
En route to Killybegs de Cuellar was taken captive by a burly blacksmith who forced him to work at his forge. After sometime the intrepid captain made his escape and headed to Rossclogher Castle on the shores of Lough Melvin in north Leitrim, where he spent three months recuperating under the protection of McClancy, a sub-Chieftain to O’Rourke, who was also executed for treason. The intrepid De Cueller then made his way into the north of Ireland, crossing into Scotland, finally arriving in Antwerp, Belgium on October 4th 1589.
The countryside of north Sligo and north Leitrim is stunningly beautiful, with majestic mountains overlooking magnificent lakes and spacious shorelines. I may be a little bias as I live in the area, but it’s a rambler’s paradise and one of the more unspoilt areas along the Irish west coast or Wild Atlantic Way, a route well worth following when visiting the Emerald Isle.