La Trinidad Valencera by David Atherton 127 pp., c.150 illustrations, mostly colour, 4 maps/plans Privately published, available from the author, 15 Temple Road, Derry-Londonderry, N. Ireland BT47 6TJ, UK (post and packing £3.50/€4.20), 2013, £15/€20 (hbk), ISBN 978-0956799319
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 234–236, March 2014
How to Cite
Martin, P. (2014), La Trinidad Valencera by David Atherton 127 pp., c.150 illustrations, mostly colour, 4 maps/plans Privately published, available from the author, 15 Temple Road, Derry-Londonderry, N. Ireland BT47 6TJ, UK (post and packing £3.50/€4.20), 2013, £15/€20 (hbk), ISBN 978-0956799319 . International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 234–236. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12050_21
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
Subtitled ‘The History, Discovery and Excavation of a Spanish Armada Vessel in Kinnagoe Bay, County Donegal, Ireland, by the City of Derry Sub Aqua Club’, this is a labour of love. It records how in the early 1970s, before the introduction of legislation to protect historic wreck-sites, and in the face of bureaucratic obstacles, the members of an amateur diving club were determined to protect the historic shipwreck they had found, to excavate it to high standards, and to see the finds lodged in a museum. Few such groups have been so determined and ultimately so successful. And fewer still have produced such an eloquent record of their achievement.
Of course there were problems along the way, and the aim of this book is to record what actually happened, and how the final success was achieved. Part 1 (pp. 13–30) summarizes the history of the Armada, and the story of the Trinidad Valencera, her wrecking, and the fate of the survivors. Part 2: ‘20th Century’ (pp. 31–102), presents an account of the discovery of the wreck and subsequent work. The club had started searching for the wreck in 1968, but had targeted the less accessible eastern end of Kinnagoe Bay. One February day in 1971, on a training dive from the shore close to the car park at the western end, some club members stumbled upon some bronze guns, two of them bearing the arms of Philip II of Spain. This was the wreck they had been searching for. The 13 divers decided to keep their find secret while they worked out how to handle it responsibly.
Two of them drove to Dublin to contact the authorities and seek advice. They tried the National Museum, the Military Museum, the Spanish Embassy and finally the law courts, where they were advised to establish their claim as Salvor in Possession under salvage law. This done, they lifted various artefacts, including the four large bronze guns. Then came a period of discussion and planning. The club agreed that ‘the conserved remains should, if possible, be kept in a single collection to be housed in a local museum’ (p. 34), and the wreck should be surveyed and excavated to the highest possible archaeological standards.
1972 was spent trying to organize funding, archaeological support, and conservation facilities, ‘it was better to leave things where they were for yet another year until all the resources were available to record, recover and conserve them correctly’ (p. 35). Excavation started in 1973, under the direction of Dr Colin Martin from St Andrews University. ‘Nothing was ever touched unless his archaeological team was present’ (p. 39). There follows an account of excavation methods, the finds, and how a holding conservation facility was established in a World War II bunker in the grounds of Magee College, Londonderry. The finds, many of which are illustrated, provided much evidence for life on board, and for the materials carried for the invasion of England. The wreck was protected ‘not only by the known lack of treasure, but also by the welcome given to genuinely interested visiting divers. Visitors to the site were never refused permission to dive provided they undertook to touch nothing’ (p. 54).
The club not only called in an archaeologist at an early stage, but decided ‘to provide the logistic support to enable the most efficient use of valuable archaeological resources’ (p. 74). They built a site hut, and then a raft which was moored over the site as a platform for a water dredge and a hookah system. ‘Many Club members recall spending more time laying concrete than diving’ (p. 74). This reviewer was part of the archaeological team for several seasons, and can testify to the cheerful and skilful support which we received from the club. They were a pleasure to work with and to relax with at the end of each day.
It was easy to forget amidst the banter on site how much work went on behind the scenes to protect the wreck and ensure a secure future for the artefacts. ‘Legal Headaches’ (pp. 88–92) summarizes the administrative and legal difficulties which dogged the project. There was at the time no legislation to protect historic wrecks in Ireland. The National Museum in Dublin was not interested, because ‘objects from the wreck form part of the Spanish national heritage and have only the most tenuous connections with Ireland’ (p. 90). The Department of Transport and Power, the home of the Receiver of Wreck, did not reply to letters. Eventually the club was granted an export licence so the artefacts could be taken to Northern Ireland for conservation by the Ulster Museum in Belfast. Only by threatening to force the sale of the artefacts could the club get an agreement in 1982 whereby the Irish state gave the objects to the Ulster Museum, who paid for their conservation, while Derry City Council would provide display space. Twenty-three years later the dedicated Tower Museum in Derry was opened. Meanwhile, in 1987 the Irish parliament passed an Act protecting historic wrecks.
The excavation of La Trinidad Valencera was carried out during the ‘Troubles’ (sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland), but ‘the proliferation of Police and Army checkpoints did not prevent divers travelling to a more peaceful environment in which to work’ (p. 94). Not everyone in the club, however, retained the initial enthusiasm for shipwreck excavation, and ‘as the years went by… the numbers of members interested in the project declined’ (p. 95). The conflict of interests came to a head when the then Project Coordinator was ejected from the club, which retained all the equipment acquired for the excavation. ‘The 1983 season was only able to go ahead because the few remaining interested members replaced the missing gear with their own personal equipment’. This book is dedicated to the two Project Coordinators who stuck with the project despite all the difficulties, and ensured that the archaeology came first.
‘Part III: 21st century’, starts with a contribution by Bernadette Walsh, of Derry City Council Museum Services, describing the display in the Tower Museum in Derry, telling the story of the discovery and excavation of the wreck. Further artefacts are on display in the Ulster Museum, together with the finds from another Armada wreck, the Girona. The next section is contributed by Connie Kelleher of the Underwater Archaeology Unit, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, describing further investigations of the site between 2004 and 2006. An Appendix compares the Trinidad Valencera with the Girona, revealing ‘differences in construction, original purpose, manning, eventual fate, style of excavation and the nature of the artefacts recovered’ (p. 117). The Girona yielded much ‘treasure’ but no evidence of the ship, while on the Trinidad Valencera finds were more mundane, with good survival of organic materials. These two collections complement one another.
By talking to those involved and scrutinizing the archives, David Atherton has preserved for future generations a balanced account of the club's involvement in this major excavation. Their achievement was impressive, and working with them was great fun. This book is well produced and presented, with lots of relevant illustrations. Published 42 years after the wreck was found, it has appeared before the archaeological report, although that is now in preparation.