The Girona was one of the 130 ships that sailed in the Spanish Armada that aimed to land a Spanish Army in England in 1588 to depose Protestant Queen Elisabeth 1 and restore England to the Catholic faith.

The Armada failed to link up with the invasion army it was meant to collect from the Spanish Netherlands so it decided to head back to Spain, going anti-clockwise around the British Isles. On the return journey, around 63 ships were sunk due to bad weather and this included the Girona that foundered off the coast of Antrim with the loss of 1,300 Spanish sailors and soldiers.

The display features some innovative Spanish naval artillery, a breech-loading gun (image above, to the right). Traditionally, at the time naval cannon was muzzle loading, where the gun powder and cannonball were loaded down the barrel of the gun (as with the gun on the left).

However, an example of a gun recovered from the Girona suggests the Spanish were experimenting with a breech-loading weapon (weapon to the right).

A number of ‘cartridges’ are shown in the display that could be prepared with a pre-assembled charge and shot and loaded and fired into the gun as required (these items are on the left and have a carrying handle). They were like modern rifle cartridges that have the projectile and propellant loaded as a single item.

Theoretically, the use of this breech-loading system would give a higher rate of fire over a muzzle-loading weapon.

However, it is probable there were technical problems with this system as muzzle-loading naval artillery remained in widespread use until the 1860s.