Map showing the route taken by the Spanish Armada.
Map showing the route taken by the Spanish Armada. / SUR

31 July 1588: The Spanish Armada reaches English shores

  • Around one third of the Spanish fleet was shipwrecked off the west coast of Ireland during heavy storms in autumn 1588

On 31 July 1588 what became known as the Spanish 'Invincible Armada' encountered the English Navy off the coast of Plymouth.

In May that year, during the undeclared Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604), as Spain's King Felipe II wanted to remove the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I from the English throne and restore Catholicism in England, the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia.

When the fleet was sighted off the English coast in July, Sir Francis Drake ordered 100 English vessels to prepare to confront it.

Over the following days, English ships continued to pursue the Spanish Armada as it headed eastwards along the English Channel, according to the website There were two duels, one near Portland Bill and another off the coast of the Isle of Wight, but both battles ended in stalemate.

The Armada continued eastwards and then strong winds pushed the fleet northwards up the east coast of England.

The San Martín, Medina-Sidonia’s flagship.

The San Martín, Medina-Sidonia’s flagship. / SUR

The Spanish ships sailed around Scotland before making it to the west coast of Ireland in autumn 1588, where they were anchored.

According to the diary of Francisco de Cuéllar, a captain aboard one of the Spanish ships, after five days the fleet was ravaged by severe storms.

Approximately one third of the Spanish fleet was destroyed in the Atlantic ocean; three of the ships were moored off the coast of Streedagh Strand, in what is now County Sligo.

De Cuéllar kept a detailed account of the shipwreck and the time he spent in Ireland.

The accounts suggest a mixed reception by the Irish when he and his fellow Spanish sailors came ashore.

The captain wrote in his accounts that some Irish clans helped the stranded sailors and even managed to secretly stow some of them back to Spain, while others were said to have been butchered to death by the locals.