Shortly after the publication in Madrid of the second volume of Captain Duro’s book—‘La Armada Invencible’—the Earl of Ducie drew special attention to it in an article which appeared in the number of the Nineteenth Century for September, 1885.

Subsequently Mr. Froude took up the subject, and discoursed upon it in Longmans Magazine for September, October, and November, 1891, giving a general sketch of the salient features of the ill-fated expedition from the Spanish point of view, as disclosed in the pages of the book in question.

These glowing pictures aroused much public interest at the time; but they were especially attractive to those persons who happened to combine the conditions of possessing antiquarian tastes, and living near the localities brought into prominence by the recital of the great disasters which befel the ‘Invincible Armada.’

Of all the exciting scenes in that eventful episode in our history, none was more tragic than the wreck of three of the largest of the Spanish ships, which took place, simultaneously, in the bay of Donegal, on the north-west coast of Ireland, in September, 1588.

The fact that in Captain Duro’s book there appeared a hitherto unpublished narrative of the event, written at the time by Don Francisco Cuellar, one of the survivors of the catastrophe, and giving a minute account of his wanderings and adventures in the country where he was cast away, contributed to increase the local interest in the matter.

Mr. Hugh Allingham at once began a series of exhaustive investigations in relation to Cuellar’s descriptions, the results of which he subsequently placed before the public in the pages of the Ulster Journal of Archæology, April, 1895.

It was solely with the object of assisting him in the researches he then undertook that this translation was prepared, and there was no intention at the time of any future publication of it.

It was a matter of importance to facilitate the process of identification as regards the various localities referred to, as well as to avoid the danger of misinterpreting the writer’s meaning when dealing with obscure passages; conditions requiring the translation to be as literal as possible, and leaving the translator with but little freedom in treating a language that at best does not lend itself easily to reproduction in the English idiom.

These facts are mentioned to account for the style in which it has been prepared, as it has no pretensions to merit, except in so far as care has been taken to follow closely the wording of the original Spanish.

As Mr. Allingham is now about to publish a new edition of his ‘Spanish Armada in Ulster and Connacht,’ it has been considered desirable that this translation should be added to it in extenso for the convenience of reference. I have, therefore, gone carefully over it again, comparing it with the Spanish text, and have made some slight alterations of an occasional word or phrase in it to make the matter more explicit.

This will explain why in some of Mr. Allingham’s quotations from the original translation, as given in the first edition of his paper on this subject, a word here and there may be found to differ from those contained in the present version; but the change does not affect the sense or meaning of any passage, with, I think, a couple of exceptions.

The first of these relates to where Cuellar describes the English as going about searching ‘for us who had escaped (from the perils of the sea. All the monks had fled) to the woods,’ etc. The part within the brackets was left out in the original translation by the accidental omission of a line in copying the rough draft; and, as the mutilated sentence still made sense, the omission was not detected at the time.

The other is the only really important change, and I will now proceed to deal with it.

The Spanish words are: ‘Hacienda Norte de las montañas,’ which I originally translated as ‘making for the north of the mountains’; but now prefer to render by the alternative reading: ‘Making for the direction of the mountains.’

I will first show that this latter translation is also perfectly correct, and that I am justified in adopting it, and then explain my reason for doing so.

In Spanish dictionaries generally the meaning of Norte is given, primarily, as North, signifying either the Arctic pole, the northern part of the sphere, the polar star, the north wind, etc.; but it is also used in another and metaphorical sense.

In the best authority we have on such matters—the Dictionary of the Spanish Academy—we find that Norte also means direction, guide, ‘the allusion being taken from the North Star, by which navigators guide themselves with the direction of the nautical needle’ (or mariner’s compass). With such an authority to support me, I think it can scarcely be disputed that the alternative translation, which I recommend, is a fair one.

I will now explain why I prefer it to my first reading of the passage. Cuellar’s statement leaves no room for doubt that it was to O’Rourke’s country, lying along and to the south of the Leitrim range of mountains, he was bound; while Mr. Allingham’s investigations make it equally certain, in my opinion, that Glenade was the particular place Cuellar came to, as described in his account of his wanderings.

Now, as Glenade is among the Leitrim mountains, not on their northern side—along which, in the first instance, I had supposed Cuellar’s route to lie—it became necessary for me to re-examine my position and make sure whether the Spanish text required a rigid adherence to my first translation, or might admit of some alternative reading that would account for the apparent discrepancy.

The result was, as already explained, that the pages of the dictionary disclosed a perfectly easy and admissible treatment of the passage in question, that solved the difficulty without the necessity of resorting to any postulates, or putting a forced or novel interpretation upon the words.

Here, perhaps, I should refer to the fact that two other translators of Cuellar’s narrative—Professor O’Reilly in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, December, 1893, and Mr. Sedgwick in a small volume recently published by Mr. Elkin Mathews, of Vigo Street, London—give this passage a very different meaning to that which I attach to it, while they agree tolerably closely with each other.

Professor O’Reilly omits all mention of the mountains, and translates only the rest of the sentence, as: ‘Taking the northerly direction pointed out by the boy’; while Mr. Sedgwick puts it in this form: ‘Striking north for the mountains the boy had pointed out.’

This latter reading gives the preposition (de) exactly the opposite signification to that which it usually bears.

But, apart from this, there is another and, I think, a fatal objection to the two foregoing translations of the phrase.

Both agree that the boy told Cuellar to go straight on to mountains, pointed out by him, as the place behind which O’Rourke lived. If so, these mountains could not have been situated to the north of where he was at the time, as to go from thence in anything like a northerly direction would have brought him at once into the sea, which lay to the north of him, and extended for several miles farther eastwards.

That this fact must have been apparent to both Cuellar and his guide as they went along will be recognised by those who are acquainted with the locality, which everywhere looks down upon the ocean.

There is another rather important point upon which I differ from the two gentlemen already named, who here again agree closely with each other. It relates to the position of the village in which MacClancy’s retainers lived. Cuellar says it was established upon ‘tierra firme,’ which one translates as firm, the other as solid, ground. To me the context appears to indicate clearly that the expression was intended to bear its ordinary idiomatic interpretation of mainland in contradistinction to the position of the castle itself, which we are told was built in the lake.

There are several other expressions about the meaning of which we differ; but I will only refer to some of them, that are of sufficient importance, either directly or indirectly, to make it desirable that Cuellar’s statement concerning them should be correctly given. I do not refer to them in any spirit of adverse criticism, but in the interests of accuracy, as regards details, in the description of an important historical event.

Both parties translate montes as mountains. This, I think, is a mistake: it should be woods. Cuellar repeatedly uses the correct word, montañas, to express mountains; so that when we find him writing montes, the natural inference is that he was referring to something of a different nature; besides, montes is frequently made use of in Spanish to denote woods.

Professor O’Reilly translates manta as cloak throughout; while Mr. Sedgwick also does so the first time he meets with it, but calls it blanket always afterwards. Manta means a blanket, but manto is a mantle, veil, or cloak; and the error alluded to is due, no doubt, to the similarity of the two words.

Again, both gentlemen translate un trompeta as a trumpet: it should be a trumpeter. The cause of the mistake here lies in overlooking the nature of the article made use of. Trompeta is both a masculine and feminine noun. The former signifies the man who blows a trumpet, and the latter is the instrument itself. In the present instance, the article (un) being masculine, shows that the word is used in its masculine sense, and therefore means a trumpeter.

I will now briefly refer to a few cases of the two translators separately, taking Professor O’Reilly first.

Galleon and galley do not translate each other, but refer to very different classes of ships.

Cuellar did not remain on board his own ship after he had been sentenced to death and reprieved, but was detained on the ship of the Judge Advocate, in which he was subsequently wrecked. The number of dead bodies lying on the shore where he was cast away is given by Cuellar as more than 600, not as more than 800.

Casiñas de paja’ means, I think, that the huts were not merely thatched with straw, but composed of it altogether. This appears to be clear from the fact that Cuellar uses another expression—‘Casas pajizas’—when he wished to describe the thatched houses in Ocan’s village.

Referring to the ship that Cuellar’s companions—who outstripped him—embarked upon, and in the wreck of which they were subsequently lost, Professor O’Reilly says she ‘drifted there by good luck’ (con gran fortuna). I think this is not the true meaning of the passage, but that the ship was driven in ‘by a great tempest’ or storm; for he goes on to say that her main-mast and rigging were much injured. It should be borne in mind that fortuna means a storm or tempest, as well as fortune or luck.

Turning now to Mr. Sedgwick’s translation, he gives Ancients as the English equivalent for Alférez, which is probably some curious misprint; for the ordinary meaning of the word is ensign.

Again, Sierra does not mean a ‘peak,’ but a mountain ridge or range.

Pelotes is given as goat-skin: it should be goat’s hair.

Y pues el salvaje sentia tanto desmamparar su castillo’ is translated: ‘And since the savage had resolved to abandon his castle.’ This should be: ‘Besides (or since) the savage regretted so much to abandon his castle.’

Here it may be remarked that Cuellar always calls the natives of Ireland savages, which seems very ungrateful on his part, as many of them showed him great kindness. It would have been pleasanter for a translator at the present day to have softened the harsher expression by substituting native for it, as Professor O’Reilly has done; but it appears to me that this does not convey the correct meaning of what Cuellar had in view when he used the word salvaje.

Referring to MacClancy’s Castle, Cuellar says: ‘Por lo qual no se puede ganar este castillo por agua, ni por la banda de tierra que esta mas cerca de el.’ Mr. Sedgwick translates it thus: ‘For this reason the castle is safe from attack, and is inaccessible both by water and by the strip of land that runs up to it.’ This would look as if the castle stood upon a promontory of the mainland, instead of being built in the lake, as Cuellar, at the beginning of the same paragraph, tells us it was.

I think the true meaning of the passage is this: ‘For which reason the castle could not be taken by water nor by the shore of the land that is nearest to it.’

To conclude: there appears to be an important error in Mr. Sedgwick’s translation, beginning with the title, and repeated in the first and last sentences of this book, besides occurring several times throughout its pages. I refer to the statement that Cuellar’s letter was written to King Philip II., and to the constant use of the expression ‘Your Majesty’ to the person he was addressing.

I cannot find the slightest evidence in support of this assumption: on the contrary, everything in the letter would seem to contradict it. It is written in a familiar, chatty style, as to a person with whom the writer was on fairly familiar terms, and was certainly not such as a captain in the Spanish navy would address to his Sovereign.

The error must, I think, have arisen from some misconception as to the meaning of the abbreviations made use of in Spanish epistolary correspondence.

In twelve instances I find that Mr. Sedgwick has apparently mistaken the initials V.m. (a capital V followed by a small m), which stand for Vuestra merced—the usual form in which untitled persons addressed each other—for V.M. (where both letters are capitals), meaning Vuestra Majestad (Your Majesty). Once (on page 12) he gives a similar rendering of the letters S.M., which stand for Su Majestad (His Majesty), although on page 104 he translates the same initials correctly. On page 98 he uses the same formula (Your Majesty) to represent the expression La Majestad (The Majesty), and on page 102 he makes it do duty for the whole expression ‘La Majestad del rey nuestro Señor’ (the majesty of the King, our Lord).


Stonewold, Ballyshannon,
March 29th, 1897.