La Girona VI

Red Insects

Precious metals were not the only loot shipped to Spain from the American colonies. Among the finds from La Girona, scarlet and yellow silk ribbons decorated the officers’ clothing. The red dye was obtained from the cochineal insect which lived on the nopal cactus in Mexico. Cochineal was imported in very large quantities by the Spanish and was in demand all over the world for its rich, carmine color.

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This silk, still darkly colored today, is testament to the stability of cochineal dye, the reason it is still coveted today yielding four times the price of synthetic dye. Today, you are most likely to encounter cochineal on your lips: lipstick and (natural) food colorant.

The bright scarlet wool cloth of the English Redcoat officers, famous in the USA from the Revolutionary War, was from cochineal. The uniforms were more suited for formal battlefield than Minuteman attacks. The more expensive cochineal scarlet made targets of the officers.

To be continued….. (Click for the first post of this series)

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La Girona V

Gold and Silver

Today’s focus from Belfast’s Ulster Museum permanent exhibit “Treasures from the Girona” is the lengths the Spanish went to acquire costly metals. Gold was the lure Columbus held out to Spanish royalty. The Spanish found their El Dorado in the accumulated wealth of the Incas, acquired through force and murder.

Inca temples were covered in gold. The Spanish needed only to peel it off and carry it away. They found some gold to mine, minimal compared to the silver. Armada ships did not haul gold and silver from the American and the modern treasure hunter’s yield was not expected to be huge, nor was it. As silver and, to a lesser extent, gold filled Spanish coffers the ambitions of the Spanish monarchs were unleashed. It financed the building and launching of the Armada.

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Among the hundreds of silver coins were many eight-real pieces, often called “pieces of eight”. The “silver hill” of Potosi, discovered in 1544 in Bolivia, provided most of the silver bullion for the Spanish Empire. Ten percent of mine workers were Inca slaves. After these were worked to death, the Spanish acquired African slaves.

I wonder if the ship Captains discarded their kilogram of gold chain to the enveloping waves, in exchange for survival. My guess is, “no”. It was an emblem of rank, losing it was a personal disgrace.

(from the Museum Placard) The jewel in the following photograph epitomizes the wealth and outreach of the Spanish Empire in the late sixteenth century and has become an icon for the Armada. Just three of the original nine rubies survive. The jewel takes the form of an exotic animal, either a real Mexican salamander or a mythical creature, and reflects the great importance of the gold and silver brought from the colonies. The gold came from South America, with the rubies probably came from Burma. In legend, the salamander had the twin magical properties of being able to both extinguish and survive fire. This made it a powerful good luck charm on a wooden fighting ship, where fire was one of the greatest dangers.

Odds and ends….

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La Girona IV

The fate of La Girona

Today’s exploration of the Ulster Museum permanent exhibit “Treasures from the Girona” begins with the account of a survivor.

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He was extremely fortunate to escape with his life. After Calais, the attack of the English fireships, the Spanish ships suffered repeated North Atlantic storms, driven onto the irregular coast of which they had no knowledge or charts. It was with the assistance of Irish natives the survivors were able to regroup and embark on an ill-fated escape.

The reason for the heavy losses from the Girona wreck was the crew from several other ruined ships were on board.

The individuality of the lost comes across through their gold trimmings. It is said that wealthy Spaniards owned up to four sets of gold buttons, each with a different design.

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La Girona III

A Disaster Examined

In this post we explore further, using my photographs of the Ulster Museum exhibit “Treasures from the Girona”, how the Spanish galleass La Girona came to be wrecked on the north coast of Ireland. It was not the only ship lost. Of the 130 armada ships, a third (43) did not return.

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Religion was the crux, Catholic Spain wanted to forestall Queen Elizabeth I’s establishment of Protestantism initiated by her father King Henry VII.

This placard displays treasure. The text implies it was not recovered from La Girona. The bronze medallion was struck by the Dutch in commemoration of the victory.

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La Girona II

Historical Background to the wreck of La Girona

Pam and I woke early on June 8 for that 138 mile drive to my cousin’s farm on the Cooley peninsula, County Louth, Republic of Ireland. Learning the day before, from the Giants Causeway visitor center, of treasure recovered from a shipwreck off that coast, we planned to visit Belfast, where the Ulster Museum has a permanent exhibit, “Treasures from the Girona”. This is just a taste of the historical provided by this excellent exhibit….if you visit Northern Ireland make time to visit the Ulster Museum.

In this post we explore, using my photographs of the museum exhibits, how the Spanish galleass La Girona came to be in the North Atlantic off the Irish coast. The ship was part of a fleet supporting an invasion of England from Flanders.

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Religion was the crux, Catholic Spain wanted to forestall Queen Elizabeth I’s establishment of Protestantism initiated by her father King Henry VII and support of Dutch protestants against Spain. State sponsored piracy of Spanish ships was a secondary justification.

To be continued….. (Click for the first post of this series)

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La Girona I

Shipwreck!!!

Seen here on the afternoon of June 6, 2014 against the foreground of Giants Causeway pavement stones, Lacada Point is where on the morning of October 26, 1588 the Spanish galleass “La Girona” foundered and sank at Port na Spaniagh (the bay to the east of the point). Five souls of the 1,300 on board survived the wreck.

Our time at the Giants Causeway visitor center yielded this new fact. While it was only Pam who ventured close to the Lacada Point, the following day we were able to view the treasure recovered from the site 379 years later. A portion is on permanent display at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. We visited “Treasures from the Girona” the following day.

To be continued…..

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Hammond Hill Walk V

Facing the sun

I close this walk at the turnaround point, the high meadow, with a fireworks display of daisies.

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Hammond Hill Walk IV

“We Had A Great Ski — Tob”

New since I was last here, this bench, made from local “blue” limestone dedicated to the memory of cross country skiing.

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Here are sounds you may experience while sitting here on a summer afternoon.

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Hammond Hill Walk III

High Meadow

After birdsong, open spaces are an unexpected wonders of these walks. Nowhere listed on the map, and on private lands adjoining the forest, this meadow comes upon the hiker’s consciousness gradually as the trail approaches.

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I have seen those gigantic seed heads here and there and never taken the time to research and identification. Do you recognize it?

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To be continued…..

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Hammond Hill Walk II

Diamond Strands

Hammond Hills walks are a solo affair for me. Pam joined in days past, summer and winter, and fell out of love with the lack of flowing water and bugs. The pleasures of the place, for me, are the miles and miles of varied trails, the sounds among silences, unexpected vistas from hilltops.

The trails themselves are unlovely, beaten down by mountain bike tires or grooved by skis. On the hills I am always on alert, listening for the sounds of bodies hurtling down. The bureaucrats called this “mixed use.” It could be worse, motors are excluded. Today there were two bikers.

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A sprinkling of wild rose.

The song of the Hermit Thrush, a sound of diamond strands, always stops me. Here are two 30 seconds clips.

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To be continued…..

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills