The San Marcos Project is an ongoing effort to find sites related to the ill-fated Portuguese galleon, which shipwrecked off the Irish coast in 1588.Wikimedia Commons

A team of explorers and historians may have discovered a mass grave from the time of the Spanish Armada in Co Clare.

The San Marcos Project, an initiative to locate sites related to the San Marcos, one of the ships in the Armada fleet, made the discovery last December after conducting a geophysical survey at the site of Tuama Na Spainneach in Spanish Point, Co Clare, reports.

“It is definitely a big step for the project,” said Dr John Treacy, the director of the San Marcos Project and a history lecturer at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

“Obviously we haven’t got conclusive proof yet but we will hopefully carry out a test excavation [in 2016].

“If this turns out to be true then it proves that there is a certain substance to the old legends from the local area … and this leaves us with a lot of hope for finding the shipwreck itself.”

The team found evidence of large underground caverns believed to be the type used to bury bodies during the time of the Armada.

“If what we believe is correct then we are talking about quite a significant find as it would’ve taken 20 people digging for a day to make just one of these structures,” he added.

Said Treacy: “I come from Spanish Point myself and as a child we would’ve always been told not to walk across the area because it was known as a burial site.

“It would be the first ever Spanish Armada grave so as both a historian and a local of the area this is incredibly exciting for me.

“If we could prove that this is a grave connected to the Spanish Armada then it would finally prove some evidence as to where Spanish Point gets its name.”

The group plans to carry out further investigations at the site.

“We don’t know how long this would take as if we found human remains then it is a matter which falls to the gardaí as they would need to be sure that any bodies were not part of something more sinister.”

The latest survey, which was financially backed by the Heritage Council, aimed at identifying possible burial sites of those lost on the San Marcos and San Esteban in September 1588.

The San Marcos, a Portuguese galleon and a crown jewel in the Armada fleet, was damaged in battle. On its way home, it was broken upon a reef close to Mutton Island and sank. Only four of the 490 men on board survived. The survivors were later hanged and buried in a mass grave known as Tuama na Spaineach, which translates from Gaelic into The Spaniards’ Tomb.

“Our progress so far has been amazing considering the fact that we are have very limited resources and we are all volunteers.

“But now we need to find a way of securing funding.

“If we can manage to do that then I’m confident we can achieve what we’ve set out to do.” he added.

* Originally published December 2015.