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Dingle Peninsula Huts & Clochauns

dingle ireland history



Huts & Clochauns

Hut or house sites are the most common field monument on the Dingle Peninsula, unenclosed examples or possible examples occurring singly or in groups at over 500 locations. Numerous others are found in association with pre-bog field systems, promontory forts, ringforts and early ecclesiastical sites. Timber, mud, turf, stone, or a combination of these materials may be used in the construction of huts, but the type most prevalent on the Dingle Peninsula is the corbelled, drystone hut usually referred to as a clochaun / Clochán. Corbelling consists of laying courses of flat stones so that each course projects slightly inwards beyond the one below until the sides almost meet at the top and the roof can be closed by a single slab. Due to their resemblance to beehives, such structures are commonly referred to as beehive huts. They are usually circular in plan, but oval. D-shaped, rectangular and irregularly-shaped examples occur and they range from c. 2m to c. 8m in diameter. Those huts which survive intact range from c. 1.6 to c. 4m in height internally.

The doorways are simple, rectangular, lintelled openings, sometimes splayed and often narrowing towards the top. The jambs are formed by drystone walling or by orthostats or by a combination of the two. Window opes are very rare and are usually associated with the more modern structures. Small rectangular niches or wall-cupboards are frequent features. Chambers are sometimes contained within the thickness of the wall, and souterrains occur at a number of sites. The projecting slabs on the external face of some huts may have acted as scaffolding during their construction. Upright slabs sometimes form the lowest course of the wall, usually along the inner face; in some cases these are all that survive and such sites have occasionally been interpreted incorrectly as stone circles. The size of the internal space that can be spanned by the corbelled roof of these huts is limited, and extra space was instead gained by building 1 or more conjoined huts, usually with communicating passageways.

dingle ireland history

The question of the date of corbelled huts is a difficult and complex one. The corbelling technique has been known in Ireland since the Neolithic Period when corbelled vaults were constructed to roof passage-tombs such as Newgrange in Co. Meath, but it is not known when clochauns were first built in this country. Their association with ringforts and early ecclesiastical sites, in the W and SW of Ireland, indicates that they were a common form of dwelling by the Early Christian Period. The excavated examples at Reask and Dunbeg date to this period, the clochaun at the latter site being occupied during the late 10th or early 11th centuries. Many of the unenclosed clochauns also probably represent settlements of this period. The circular stone hut excavated by O'Kelly on Beginish island, near Valencia, was considered to date to the 11th century, and a medieval date for at least some of the huts on the Dingle Peninsula seems likely. It has been suggested that some were betagh settlements of this period (b Conchúir. There are records of clochauns being lived in as late as the 19th century, and they continued to be built as farm outhouses into this century. There appears to have been no significant development in the clochaun form in the course of its long history. Some of the more recent examples may be identified by their association with post-medieval farmsteads and by the use of mortar in their construction, and in some of the modern clochauns corbelling is used only for the roof, the walls being vertical. However, most unenclosed clochauns are impossible to date accurately without excavation.

The question of the function of clochauns is similarly complex. Their use as permanent dwellings persisted into the 19th century but seems to have been an uncommon occurrence at that time. It is not known when they went out of general use for this purpose. In recent times their more usual function was as farm buildings.

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 PeninsulaCopies 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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