When people think of the Wild West of Ireland, they probably picture a lot of things: the iconic hills, the individual mountains, stories of Yeats, and endless rainbows. What they aren’t picturing, usually, is an old-world Spanish Armada shipwrecked in the briny Wild West Atlantic Way. A story of ambitious royals, desperate sailors, tall tale elements and more ensued – narrated by a one Francisco de Cuellar, brought back to life by a very special Irish historian.
One of the primary sources on Ireland’s (pardon the pun) richhistory with the Spanish Armada is Eddie O’Gorman, someone Wild West Irish Tours enthuastically enjoys. Perhaps best described man who is a perpetual student as much as he is a teacher, Eddie seeks to inform people of the near-legendary events surrounding the wrecking of the Armada and all that followed. Through him, the voice of de Cuellar speaks – with impromptu theatrics and a voice made for telling stories.
To understand the fascination with history surrounding the Spanish Armada, one must first understand Eddie. Eddie’s interest in the Spanish Armada stems from his fascination with tall ships and reverence for history. He was, after all, a history teacher for many years; then switched to business, then went back to teaching – fluctuating, he said, in part because “kids don’t listen.” It’s a bit hard to believe, considering how he can spin a yarn.
A restless soul in the best possible way; Eddie sought to travel – his own epic quest, in a way, exploring the historical aspects of Ireland and engaging with the past in ways few seldom do. Moving back to the Wild West of Ireland after his children moved out, Eddie took an interest in the work of novelist Patrick O’Brian, who wrote of nautical history – perhaps most famously, Master and Commander.
From thereon, it was an avid interest in tall ships – so much so that Eddie got the hip surgery he’d been putting off in order to do what he truly wanted to do: sail! “I healed fast like Francisco,” Eddie joked – and we’ll get what he means in just a moment. But so invested in tall ships and their legacy with Irish history was Eddie that he happened to be on the first recovery ship that went out to pull a cannon up from the Armada – and he’s been thus trawling up facts and stories ever since.
The epic of Francisco de Cuellar is best described by Eddie himself – following the winding path the Spaniard took after his unexpected disembarking a galleon in the Armada- an Armada whose ships were toting a considerable amount of treasure back to Spain at the behest of its rulers. De Cuellar’s life from thereon out was a wild one – his recounting of events is as tall as it is long. Between the late 1500’s locals swarming the survivors of the shipwreck for their clothing [currency during that time], grievous injuries relating to the ship [his leg was badly wounded], and the many attempts on his life [as the British, who occupied Ireland at the time, did so hate the Spanish], de Cuellar seemed destined to an epic adventure. Whether or not he’d survive seemed uncertain –
Yet he was also destined to be dubbed an incredible survivor. Not only did he seem to heal astonishingly quickly on an [allegedly] decimated leg [the road stretched on for miles – a seemingly impossible distance for an injured individual]; much like Eddie and his hip, if you will, but de Cuellar also always seemed to find the right people to rescue him.
And believe it or not, most of them turned out to be women! Eddie did rib us with the fact that the Irish women did take a fancy to Spanish men’s “olive skin and dark hair” – so much so that one story had him as an indentured servant to a rather flirtatious blacksmith’s wife. This was offset only by de Cuellar’s prowess as a strategist – something more than one Irish chieftain admired enough to try to convince him to stay. How much of de Cuellar’s life is fact and how much is fiction during this retelling of events remains to be seen – but it makes for a riveting tale nonetheless!
Eddie O’Gorman, meanwhile, makes an effortless effort of showing people around to places no one would know about – off the literal beaten path, through a field of roving sheep, to the last standing monument to a place that sheltered de Cuellar for a time, for example. The quietness and actual living history as a backdrop for Eddie’s enrapturing narration made the experience that much more all-encompassing. It was as if we were literally walking with de Cuellar across the hills to seek sanctuary.
And the people of the Wild West of Ireland have also been assisting in the conservation of this particular segment of history. Between carefully raising cannons miraculously preserved in the ocean water and enlisting embargos to prevent the selling of snorkeled artifacts off the wrecks as well as endeavoring to educate the public whilst protecting what they can of the sunken vessels, there’s been heaps of effort in making sure as many as possible know what transpired those 400+ years ago. Eddie O’Gorman also mentioned there’s work being done on a local visitors’ center, meant to culturally enrich people regarding the Armada – and much more in the beautiful areas surrounding the Armada.
If you’re lucky enough to meet Eddie on one of your Wild West Irish Tours adventures, you’ll be able to more fully experience these behind-the-scenes; wild adventures. And you’ll never forget him – nor will you be able to put out of your mind the unbelievable recounting of Francisco de Cuellar. Come sail away on a discovery of history reimagined; reinvigorated, and inspired –
Then go home and tell your own tale just as de Cuellar told his.
– Sam Fishkind.