Defeat was heartbreaking for the Irish, but this result marked a massive improvement on a 42-0 thrashing in Barcelona in the opening game of last season's Six Nations.
In the current campaign, Ireland have been extremely competitive in all three games at their new Thomond Park home, and can take great heart in spite of a hat-trick of defeats. Donal O'Leary's team conceeded only 13 points against each of their Celtic cousins, Wales and Scotland, and here their defence was even tighter against the Spanish.
Ulster captain Rachel Reid, making her 13th consecutive start at blindside flanker, put Ireland ahead with a penalty in the opening minutes, a lead which they held until the second quarter. Spain struck on 25 minutes, when their fullback came into the line to cross for a try, which went unconverted, with the inside centre adding a penalty five minutes before the break.
Only five points down having played into what wind there was in the first half, the Irish went in at the interval in upbeat mood knowing the elements would be in their favour in the second period. Reid was replaced in the back row by Leinster's English-based loose forward Bridget Montgomery with half an hour remaining and Waterloo wing Fiona Neary took over from Ulster colleague Rachel Boyd wide on the left a few minutes later. Ireland were able to secure a reasonable supply of possession thanks to a steady scrum and much improved lineout, while recalled outhalf Rochelle Howell got the backline moving better than in recent games.
The sinbinning of the visiting flanker added to the late drama but, in spite of the home country's numerical advantage, Spain just about held out until the final whistle. Ireland, for whom Shannon prop Jean Lonergan impressed on her first international start, finish their Six Nations campaign against Grand Slam chasing France in Melun near Paris on the first Friday night of next month.
Ireland: SJ Belton; S Fleming (capt), P Kelly, N Milne, R Boyd (F Neary, 55 mins); R Howell, K Eagleson; J Lonergan, E Collins, E Coen, M Quirke, A-M McAllister, R Reid (B Montgomery, 50), M O'Loughlin, F Steed.