HISTORY OF THE DINGLE PENINSULA - A BRIEF OUTLINE

THE MESOLITHIC PERIOD  C.4000BC

The first known evidence of human settlement on the Dingle Peninsula

Excavations at Ferriter’s Cove, near Ballyferriter, revealed evidence of hunter/ gatherer groups, who, while camping in the area at separate periods spread over hundreds of years, exploited food sources along the coast, and used locally-found stones to make tools.

This site was inhabited during the latter part of the Mesolithic Period (or Middle Stone Age), 8000-4000 BCE. This seasonally used site produced remains of a wide range of food such as hazel nuts, red deer, pig, hare, and birds (including the guillemot and gannet). There were 14 different species of fish identified, among them wrasse, conger eel, thornback ray, tope and haddock.an

Middens (dumps) of shellfish can still be seen in the sand dunes of the area, where they were deposited 6,000 years ago. Among the more important finds were some cow bones, dating to 5700 BC indicating contact with early farmers also living in the area, as well as some human bone.

THE NEOLITHIC PERIOD C.4000 - C.2500 BC

The first farmers appear, living in more permanent structures, building homes and tombs of stone, and making pottery.

It is during this period that the first farmers appear, living in more permanent structures, and showing a certain skill with the craft of pottery. As during the Mesolithic, stone is the main material used in tool and weapon making.

Large stone tombs are built to house the dead, and possibly also for ritual use. Some of the tombs of this period show incredible architectural skill in their orientation on the setting sun during the Winter Solstice.

The southwest of Ireland had traditionally been seen as having few Neolithic monuments. The discovery of a series of Passage Tombs outside of Tralee has reopened the debate. It is now felt that many of the hilltop cairns date to the Neolithic. It is also likely that some Rock Art and Standing Stones, as well as some Wedge Tombs, may also date to the later Neolithic rather than to the Bronze Age.

The Bronze Age  

loch a dúin valley waterfalls and lake dingle peninsula ireland

Loch a’-Dúin Valley

The Loch a’-Dúin valley near Cloghane contains the most remarkable series of monuments from the Bronze Age. In this valley of 1,500 acres, there are 90 stone structures dating from 2500 BCE up to modern times. Running like a web throughout the landscape are several miles of stone walling, hidden by peat which has accumulated over the past 3,000 years. From archaeological excavations and pollen studies, it has become clear that the Loch a’-Dúin Valley was used for intensive agriculture, both pastoral and arable, from 1600 BC to the beginning of the Iron Age. During this time habitation huts, fulachta fiadh (also known as burnt mounds), standing stones and enclosures were erected to house both humans and animals. Even earlier are the wedge tomb and the cup and circle rock art (of which there are nine examples), making it the largest concentration on the Dingle Peninsula.

The level of preservation is due to the protective cover of the bog which completely covered the landscape. It is during modern turf cutting that the ancient remains are uncovered. The peat preserves all organic materials to a remarkable degree. Birch wood found during the excavation of a section of pre-bog wall was preserved perfectly. The bog also holds all of the pollen which was released from the vegetation over the past several thousand years, enabling the botanist to discover what grew in the valley in the past.

The Loch a’-Dúin Valley today has been marked out with a walking route and is accessible to walkers of all abilities.

Examples of Bronze Age sites on the peninsula: Rock Art at Aghacarrible, Standing stone in the garden of Milestone House, Milltown.

The Iron Age

caherconree in snow

The Iron Age (500 BCE - 4500 ADCE) is still an enigmatic period in Ireland. Though some promontory forts and hill forts were used during this period, it is possible that some of them date from the earlier Bronze Age.

One of the most dramatic sites on the peninsula may also date to this period. Overlooking the village of Camp, the gateway to the peninsula, one will find Cathair Con Rí, certainly one of the finest inland promontory forts in the country. Its high wall marks the boundary to the barony of Corca Dhuibhne. What was its use? Was it defensive, territorial, or occupied on a more full-time basis? Nobody knows its true purpose; but it is certainly one of the most rewarding walks on the Dingle Peninsula.

The promontory fort of An Dún Beag, at Fán, unfortunately now severely eroded by the sea, did provide an Iron Age date when excavated, although much of what is to be seen today at the site belongs to the Early Medieval period. It is possible the very large strongly-defended promontory fort at Bull’s Head, on the east side of Dingle Harbour, might also date from this period but only excavation could prove this.

Early Christian period 

5th -12th Century AD

We are particularly fortunate on the Dingle Peninsula in that there is a very good survival of early monastic remains. Over 30 monastic sites survive, with a variety of remains such as churches, cross slabs, holy wells, beehive huts, shrines, burials, sun dials, ogham stones and enclosing features. One, An Riasc, near Ballyferriter, has been excavated, others, like Oileáin tSeanaigh off the coast of Castlegregory, remain practically untouched since they were abandoned, although the sea is encroaching on this site. It was from such sites of education, from the 6th century onwards, that Irish monks travelled throughout Europe converting people to Christianity. It is during this period that the finest art works such as the Book of Kells and the Ardagh Chalice, were produced.

The Church in Ireland during this period was not under the direct rule of Rome, and thus retained many of the early Pre-Christian influences.

ring forts, cashels and beehive huts

Caherdorgan stone cashel or ring fort Dingle Peninsula Ireland

Where did the ordinary people live?

Many ring forts and cashels (the enclosures within which the well-off farmers and their families lived) survive from this period. Many fine examples survive, including Cathair Deargáin near Ballydavid, several sites in Kilvickadownig and Gleann Fán (near Slea Head, and which can be visited for a small fee), Caher na bhFionnúrach, not far from An Bóthair, and a ringfort at Emlagh East, near an Riasc. The less well-off would have lived in unenclosed settlements, and some of the ‘beehive huts’ found in particular near to Slea Head would have been the homes of these people. These buildings are roofless – the roofed examples that can be seen near many of the 19th - century farmhouses would date from the late 19th century.

Post Medieval 15th -17th Century AD

The Desmond Rebellion of 1569 - 1573

The 1st Desmond Rebellion was led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald and the Rebellion of 1579 -1583 was led by Gerald Earl of Desmond. These men headed an old Anglo-Norman Catholic family and could be considered the equivalent of ‘princes’ of the province of Munster controlling much of the area.

In 1579 James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald was declared a traitor by the crown of England and from then became a hunted man. He sought help from the Catholic courts of France and Spain and from the Pope against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. In July 1579 Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald arrived in Dingle harbour with a Spanish expeditionary force. He came ashore and was ambushed and killed shortly afterwards. The ships left Dingle after a few days and sailed to Smerwick harbour where they set up camp at Dún an Óir, which can still be visited today. They stayed here for over a year and were joined by Italian and Irish reinforcements. During this year The Black Earl (Earl of Ormond) raided the Dingle Peninsula in 1580 to ensure that no locals would help the invaders at Dún an Óir. Here they were massacred by English forces under Earl Grey de Wilton. Following the death of Gerald Earl of Desmond in 1583 there was confiscation and redistribution of Desmond’s lands.

Post Medieval 15th -17th Century AD

The Spanish Connection

Dingle was an important trading port during the 16th century with merchant ships trading wine and other goods with ports in France, Spain and Britain. Spanish merchants were said to have lived in Dingle and some of the buildings were built in the Spanish fashion. The King of Spain, Charles V sent a personal envoy to Dingle in 1529 to communicate with the Earl of Desmond, resulting in The Treaty of Dingle.

By the 15th century the sea journey between the south coast of Ireland and the Iberian coast took 5 - 10 days with favourable winds/weather. Dingle was an embarkation point for pilgrimages to Santiago De Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain.

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Do come and stay!
We are very happy to help guide you to your idyllic holiday or short break on the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance, a marketing co-operative owned and managed by its members across the peninsula, have produced this website to provide you, our visitors with the most up to date information you need to plan and enjoy your visit.

If you cannot find the information you need, or have a question you would like answered, please feel free to contact us.

Comhaontas Turasóireachta Chorca Dhuibhne
Aonad 4, Páirc Gnó na Coille, Daingean Uí Chúis, Contae Chiarraí, Éire


Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance
Office 4, The Wood Business Park, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland