Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)   On December 25, 1492  the Santa Maria  ran aground off Haiti  and was damaged beyond repair. The crew salvaged what they could and built a fortified enclosure in La Navidad, Haiti. Columbus erected a cross and claimed the territory in  the name  of Catholic Spain. Columbus returned to Spain with the Nina and Pinta leaving behind 39 members of his crew. This was the first European settlement in “The New World”. This was also the beginning of a period of brutal conquest, colonisation, slavery and exploitation which would last for centuries and make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world.

Columbus was a complex and controversial individual. He believed that by sailing West he would discover the East. He was  a man of singular vision,  dedicating  his life to discovering a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice lands of Asia. The first expedition left the port of Palos, Spain on the 3 August 1492 and ended with the destruction of the Santa Maria in La Navidad, Haiti. He made three more trips to “The New World” returning with ships laden with gold. On his return he was received with the highest honours by the Spanish court. Columbus never  accomplished his original goal.  This honour went to Ferdinand Magellan eighteen years later in 1520. The western passage to the pacific Ocean and China which eluded Columbus all his life is now called the Magellan Straits. Christopher Columbus died on 20 of May, 1506. He is buried in Seville Cathedral.

St. Nicholas’ Church,  Columbus made a trip to Galway in 1477. He was a devout Catholic and prayed in St. Nicholas,’ which at the time was under the rule of Rome. In the taverns of Galway He heard accounts of land which lay far to the west of Ireland. These tales,  mythological rather than geographical, reconfirmed and reinforced Columbus’ dogmatic certitude that he could, and would, reach the exotic lands to the East by sailing West.

The Santa Maria ,  original name Marigalante, (Brave Maria) was Columbus’ flagship on his first expedition  in 1492. She was built in Pontevedra in the province of Galacia, Spain. Her design was called a ‘nao’ meaning “ship” in old Spanish. The nao was primarily used for coastal trade. The design was not suitable for extended voyages or Atlantic crossings. She had three masts (fore, main and mizzen) each carried one large sail. The foresail and mainsail were square, The rear mast was triangular and called a lateen. In addition the ship carried a small square sail on the bowsprit with a small topsail on the main mast. She had a deck, forecastle and a sterncastle. She was armed with cannon that fired granite ball. She was about 117 feet  long. The height of the main mast was 95 feet. Her weight was approximately 100 ton.