Dingle Town - Town Wall | Castles | Townhouses
Town Wall | Castles | Townhouses
Situated on the S side of the peninsula, Dingle stands at the head of a large, natural harbour, protected from the prevailing winds by a ridge of high land running W-E at the mouth of the bay. The town is built on elevated ground which slopes E to a small river and S to the harbour and it is bounded on the landward side by a crescent of ridges and rising mountains. Even today, Dingle is relatively isolated from major population centres and it is undoubtedly to its possession of a sheltered harbour that the town owes its prosperity in bygone days.
Though Dingle appears to have been an important centre of trade by 1257 (McKenna 1979, 16), the first official reference to the walling of the town is not until over 300 years later. In 1569 a request 'to have allowance of 1,000 pounds for the walling of the town of Dinglecoche in Kirreye which they are suitors of was sent to Elizabeth (Cal Car Mss 1569, 396). However it was not until 1585, 2 years after the end of the Desmond Rebellion, that a decree approving a courage grant to the town was issued (CPR Eliz. 1585, 105). The decree incorporated Dingle giving it 'such reasonable liberties as Drogheda hath' and the 'sum of 300 pounds in money towards the charge of walling their town with stone, three quarters of a mile compasse'. It seems likely however that the town had been previously fortified as the walls were recorded as only partially preserved in 1589. At that time the town was described as having had 'gates (as it seemeth) in times past at either end to open and shut as a town of war' (McKenna 1979, 22). Though much decayed by 1756 (Smith, 177), traces of very thick walling, bonded with a clay mortar, were still visible in 1853 near the N end of the town (Hitchcock 1854, 135), and the line of the W curtain was indicated on the 1st and 2nd eirelandions of the OS map. There are no visible remains of any fortifications in the modern town but the linear street plan and burgage plots of its medieval predecessor are evident. Rectangular in plan, the walled town enclosed an area of c. 15 acres with suburbs in Goat Street and John Street, and a linear market in Main Street (Bradley 1976, 124). A built-up archway observed by McKenna in a garden wall at the rear of Dyke Gate Lane may have formerly provided access to the market area.
There is no documentary evidence for any castle in Dingle before the 16th century. The 3 castles Traditionally reputed to have existed within the town were probably tower houses of the 15th/16th century. (1) On the 1st eirelandion of the OS map the site of a 380 castle is indicated at the junction of Green Street and Main Street. This may refer to a castle reputedly built by Peter Rice (O'Sullivan 1931, 131); a stone inserted in the wall of an adjacent house bears the date 1586 in relief but a carved stone with the inscription RICE ANNO 1563 is not now visible (Smith 1756, 177). (2) A contemporary document records the sale of a castle by the Knight of Kerry to one Richard Trant in 1565. The castle, known as Caisleán na bhFiach, was situated at the N end of Main Street (McKenna 1979, 14-5) but nothing else is known of its history. (3) A castle built by the Husseys was granted to the Earl of Ormond in the confiscations which followed the Desmond Rebellion (Smith 1756, 177). It was subsequently purchased by the Knight of Kerry and later, known as the Market House, it became the official residence of the Sovereign of Dingle (McKenna 1979, 24). The vaults were used as the town jail until 1815 (O'Sullivan 1931, 131). A pointed doorway, probably of medieval origin, was preserved in the remains of a building on the site in 1853 (Hitchcock 1855, 355). A lintelled passageway leading to a chamber, c. 3 x lm, uncovered in an adjacent garden c. 1952, may also have been associated with this castle (OPW). The site lies at the rear of a business premises on Main Street; inserted in the wall of an adjacent outbuilding is a carved stone decorated with a 16th century paired vine motif with interlaced stem.
In 1589 the town houses were described as being 'very strongly built with thicke stone walles, and narrow windows like unto Castles' (Hitchcock 1854, 140). There are no visible remains of any medieval buildings in the town today. By 1611 Dingle was described as 'a poor ruined place' (McKenna 1979, 34) but an upsurge in trade in the first half of the 17th century probably led to the construction of the houses 'built in the Spanish fashion with ranges of stone balcony windows' (Smith 1756, 176). No trace of these is now visible but 'ancient window mullions of stone' observed by Windele in the last century (1848, 395-7) may indicate their partial survival beneath modern plasterwork. Three decorated stones, preserved in the walls of 2 buildings on Green Street, are Traditionally associated with the era of flourishing commerce with Spain, when they probably similarly enhanced the street facade of the medieval town. In a shopfront on the E side of the street are 2 plaques. The lower stone, c. 0.22m square with a raised border, is decorated with 2 opposed perched birds in relief. Only a circular section of the upper stone is now exposed; it bears a hexagonal motif executed in raised interlace. In the wall of a house on the opposite side of the street is a plaque, .42m square, featuring a large bird, possibly an eagle, clutching a small bird, whilst a 3rd hovers in the background. A 4th stone decorated
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.
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