Travel & Tourist Guide to The Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) - Ireland


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Dingle Peninsula Coastal Promontory Forts

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Coastal Promontory Forts

As their name implies, coastal promontory forts occur on sea-girt promontories where artificial defences are necessary along one side only, the remainder of the promontory being naturally defended by steep cliffs. Various combinations of earthen banks, fosses and stone walls span the necks of the promontories, isolating them from the mainland, and access to the interior is usually provided by a causeway across these defences. There is, as can be seen from the descriptions below, considerable variation as regards the nature and layout of the defences and the extent of the area enclosed. Some of the forts, for example Beenbane , are defended by only a single bank and fosse, whereas others, for example Ballymacadoyle , are provided with multiple defences, and at Dunbeg the inner rampart wall preserves details of a complex entrance passage, closed by wooden doors and controlled from guard-chambers on either side. The interior of the fort at Dunbeg, though much eroded, can never have been very large and contrasts strikingly with Dunmore where a very extensive headland is cut off by a relatively insubstantial bank and fosse.

dingle ireland history

The non-defensive aspect of the latter, allied to the great size of the area enclosed and the lack of visible settlement evidence, suggested to Westropp that Dunmore should be regarded as a place of ritual, perhaps dedicated to the goddess Duibhne whose name is found on the ogham stone at the summit. Bull's Head promontory fort is only a little less extensive than Dunmore, but plentiful evidence of settlement survives in the form of stone hut-sites. Over half the promontory forts on the Dingle Peninsula contain traces of 1 or more hut-sites, and souterrains have been recorded at 5 sites. Over 200 promontory forts are known in Ireland. That they are primarily defensive is generally agreed, and excavation has usually uncovered only meagre occupation debris. This suggests settlement of short duration, perhaps during periods of emergency only. It is unclear, however, whether the sites should be ascribed to a retreating indigenous population, who may have built them as a last refuge, or whether they represent the bridge-heads of an invading people. In either case it is puzzling that so few examples are accessible from the sea.

dingle ireland history

Structural similarities have been noted between Irish, Cornish and Breton promontory forts. In the latter areas this type of defended settlement has been attributed, either directly or indirectly, to the Veneti, and their influence may have extended to Ireland. By the same analogy the Irish sites are Traditionally dated to the Iron Age. However, this assumption has not yet been borne out by direct evidence; only 3 excavated sites have produced evidence of date and this indicates their use in the 6th to 11th centuries AD. A radiocarbon date of 580 b.c., from Dunbeg, does not relate to the main defences but to an earlier fosse whose original function and extent were not determined. Refortification of some promontories occurred later in medieval times; for instance, at Ballyoughteragh South, the Ferriters built a tower-house on the defences of the earlier fort. On the Dingle Peninsula the local Irish place-names for this type of fort almost invariably include the word dún.

dingle ireland history

This above information was sourced from the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula (1986) and provided to dodingle.com courtesy of Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Republication of the extract or any part therin, in any form or capacity, is strictly prohibited without the express permission of the publishers. © Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne 1986-2010.

Archaeological survey of the Dingle Peninsula
Copies of the Survey are available in the bookshop of Músaem Chorca Dhuibhne,
Ballyferriter, tel. 066-9156333 (www.westkerrymuseum.com)

or
from Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, tel. 066-9156100
(www.cfcd.ie/oidhreacht/foilseachain.asp).

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