Two shipwrecks discovered off the Donegal coast could be linked to the famous 1588 Spanish Armada, and a lesser known 18th century French armada.
Underwater archaeologists are to explore the historic wrecks, located in water off Rutland Harbor near Burtonport and lying just 200 meters apart, this in a bid to discover their true identities.
However, early clues suggest one may be part of the ill-fated Spanish Armada, which sailed to England in an attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I.
It was defeated and severe storms saw over two dozen ships from the 130-strong fleet wrecked on the coast of Ireland during an attempted return journey.
According to initial reports, the other wreck could be part of famous rebel Napper Tandy's contribution to the attempted 1798 United Irishmen uprising.
Tandy, who worked with Wolfe Tone in founding the United Irishmen, accepted a French government offer of a corvette, the Anacreon, and sailed from Dunkirk with men and arms, arriving on Arranmore Island, close to Burtonport, in September, 1798.
Pottery and lead shot balls were recovered during dives at the weekend around the hull of the potential Spanish ship, which is filled with sediment. A full excavation is now underway as part of a long-term Irish government-backed plan to develop the area as a tourist site.
Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan has granted €50,000 for the excavation by the underwater archaeology unit from his department's National Monuments Service. Deenihan said the discovery was a major find of significance, not only to Ireland, but also to the international archaeological, historical and maritime communities.
"If it proves to be an Armada vessel, it could constitute one of the most intact of these wrecks discovered to date," he said.
"It could provide huge insight into life on board and the reality of the military and naval resources available to the Armada campaign."
Nearly 10,000 pieces of valuable treasure were discovered in 1967 on the biggest ship in the fleet, the Girona, which sunk off the Antrim coast in October, 1588. That haul included hundreds of gold and silver coins, gold chains, pendants, rings and cameos, containing inset rubies and pearls, silver forks and spoons, the ship's anchor, cannons and cannon balls.
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