Poem first published here. This poem was shortlisted in the final six of 200+ entries at the Kendal Branch of Ottakers for the Adult Prize in the Ottaker’s and Faber Seventh Annual National Poetry Day Competition in October 2003.
One of the cannons uncovered at Streedagh, Co Sligo, from the wreck of the Spanish Armada ship La Juliana, which sank in 1588. Photograph: Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht/PA
Extracts from the Log of an Armada Survivor
The ‘Santa Maria de Vision’, ‘La Lavia’ and ‘La Juliana’ of the Levant squadron all foundered on Streedagh Strand in Donegal Bay, in the north of Ireland in the same violent storm. Captain Francisco de Cuellar survived.
21st September 1588
On this day we observed the coast of Ireland.
The grey hills were barely visible through the rain.
We beat against the westerly wind for three days more,
But heavy weather overwhelmed our shredding canvas,
And drove us ever closer to the shore…
24th September 1588
On this day we shadowed the coast of Ireland,
Fearing terrible fates at the hands of the natives,
For none of us had ever visited this land before.
We worked the pumps and re-set the straining hawsers,
Ceasing only when there was point no more…
25th September 1588
On that day we engaged the coast of Ireland.
When the jagged rocks ripped the bellies from our three ships,
I wrapped this journal in a waxed cloth cover and prayed.
Those of us trusting in God leapt over the side,
We never saw again the ones who stayed…
By one hour we survived the coast of Ireland.
Clinging to barrels and hatches we made dry land.
From the three ships we lost eleven hundred before,
None but three hundred outliving the raging storm,
We felt our feet on solid ground once more…
26th September 1588
On this day we embraced the coast of Ireland,
For the Irish were not bent on murdering us.
We were mightily relieved the rumours were not true,
As the intent to strip our clothes and valuables
Was their concern, than ought else we might do…
Twelve men hung dead from the Monastery’s gratings,
The English garrison’s response to our ‘invasion’.
Below wild dogs and ravens fed on the stripped corpses
Of our unburied comrades washed upon the shore.
Amongst them Don Diego Enriquez…
31st March 1589
On this day I departed the coast of Ireland,
Alongside others wishing not to stay behind.
It will be many months before we reach home again,
And, although it may fair ill reporting failure,
I’m bound by duty to return to Spain.
©David Lewis Pogson 2003