Mystery of a Spanish Figurehead

By Desmond Rushe

Irish Independent

September 1, 1977

It may be a forlorn quest to seek at this stage the whereabouts of the wooden carving I reproduce, but one never knows.

It is the figurehead of one of the Spanish Armada Ships - probably the San Juan de Scillia - wrecked at Streedagh on the Sligo coast in September 1588. The fact that it survives is, I am told, not seriously in doubt, but the question is where?

The carving, representing a typical Spanish vessel gargoyle, was in the possession of a Grange family until it was acquired towards the end of the last century by Simon Cullen of Strandhill Road, Sligo.The Cullens moved to Belfast around 1900 and it is thought that the figurehead may have gone to England for display in one of the Spanish Armada exhibitions held about that time. Nothing has been heard about it since; it may be on show in a museum or lying in a storeroom, or it may have gone into a private collection.

The drawing I reproduce has been made by Sligo artist Bernard McDonagh, and is based on a sketch done by R Wakeman, RA, in 1877 at the commission of the Coopers of Markree Castle, Collooney. The sketch can be seen in the Wakeman volumes in the Sligo Museum. Mr McDonagh is working on an illustrated book relating to the Sligo Armada associations.