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Archaeology on the Dingle Peninsula

Here on the Dingle Peninsula our heritage and history is rich and deep. With the recent significant find of an ancient Burial Chamber west of Dingle we took time to chat with Isabel Bennett, Archaeologist on the amazing wonders to be discovered on your next trip here to the Dingle Peninsula.

Isabel is originally from Co. Wexford and came to the Peninsula several years ago to work on the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula. Having studied archaeology in UCD, and worked on several excavations (including Wood Quay, in Dublin, and Knowth at the World Heritage Brú na Bóinne site in Co. Meath), Isabel has extensive national experience as well as having worked locally on the late Mesolithic site at Ferrite’s Cove, near Ballyferriter, and also at Ardfert Cathedral, near Tralee. Many of you will know Isabel from her previous role as curator in Músaem Chorca Dhuibhne, in Ballyferriter.

We would like to thank Isabel for her time in sharing her wonderful insights and information.

Isabel explains some of the more significant sites here on the Peninsula.

‘We are blessed here on the Peninsula with so many important sites. Though there is really nothing above ground to see there today, the site at Ferriter’s Cove, which was excavated by the late Prof. Peter Woodman of University College Cork, was, at the time, the earliest evidence for human settlement in the Munster region. It was a site where people camped, usually in the autumn time, on and off over several hundred years around 4000 BC, and earlier. Tools, middens of shells, and hearth sites were the sorts of things found.

We have many standing stones, which probably date from the later Neolithic or earlier Bronze Age, but there are also alignments with up to five stones in them. At least two of these are very significant, one aligned with the mid-summer sunrise, and another with the mid-winter sunset – so they worked as calendars! Not quite Newgrange – but very significant for down here. They are, however, on private property and not currently open to the public.

The greatest concentration of Ogham stones in Ireland is to be found on the Dingle peninsula. These monuments have a type of writing carved on them, in the form of lines and notches, which represent sounds in ancient Irish (the language still spoken by many in this area). They date from the end of the 4th up to the beginning of the 8th century AD, and are found usually in burial grounds. The inscriptions are nearly always a person’s name, with sometimes a little more information. It has been suggested that the huge number of stones in this area (about 60) might indicate that it was on the Dingle Peninsula that they were first devised.’

Further information about Ogham stones all over the country can be found at the Ogham in 3D website, here: 

Isabel goes on the explain the significance of the recent ancient find west of Dingle.

‘The beauty of this recent find of a large burial cist is the fact that it seems to have been pretty much undisturbed until its discovery.  It is also an unusual shape, which doesn't seem to fit into any current classification, which also makes it a bit of a mystery.  We don’t know yet from what period it dates - further investigation might be necessary - but my own feeling is that it mightbe as old as the Bronze Age, anytime from about 2300 BC or after.  This is part of the joy of archaeology that there are always new things to be discovered - when you least expect it!’

Isabel has shared her personal interest and some insight into some further reading before your trip here to the Peninsula.

‘My experience of archaeological sites has been enriched by the numbers of people that I have met through this interest, the friends I have made, and the people that I hope I have encouraged to find out more about the place that they live in or visit. I guess you could say that I met my husband this way as well – as I met him when I was carrying out fieldwork on the land that would eventually become his farm, and where I now live!

 Músaem Chorca Dhuibhne, in Ballyferriter, for anyone with an interest in the archaeology of the area, really is a must. There are several artefacts from excavations on display, as well as other chance archaeological finds, as well as some more recent items of interest, all very attractively displayed. 

Bringing things really up-to-date, a project was set up a few years ago, initially to survey Ogham stones in 3D, and put them on line, but it has grown to encompass many carved stones, of all periods. It is a way for people to visit places that they might not otherwise get to, and they can see the stones from any angle. The corpus is being continuously added to, and you might find monuments here that you didn’t even know existed!’ 

Isabel shares her top 3 sites that she would recommend you visit here on the Dingle Peninsula when you do visit.

‘There are so many sites on the Peninsula, it is difficult to choose which to select.  Kilmalkedar Romanesque Church is situated in an area very rich in many other associated monuments (the graveyard has an ogham stone, a sundial, a large cross as well as interesting graves and grave markers, and nearby there are medieval buildings, a stone ‘fort’ or cashel, two holy wells, a small oratory as well as several other interesting features).  Of course, it is also situated on the Cosán na Naomh/Saints’ Path walking route, which is a lovely trail linking many interesting sites, so this area is certainly worth a visit.

We have such a huge density of monuments from the Early Medieval period, many of them church sites, and Gallarus Oratory is probably the most famous of them.  This intact, stone-built church is situated within the remains of a monastic enclosure, with other features of interest, including a cross-inscribed stone, also to be seen.  As the only other intact churches (2 of them) of this type are to be found on Skellig Michael, it is far easier to visit this one on the mainland!

Another Early Medieval site is the monastery of an Riasc, which was excavated during the 1970s, so a visit there will show what a monastery of that time (7th/8th century AD) might have looked like. It is situated right beside the road, and is free to visit.

Many of the sites on the peninsula are on private property, so I haven’t mentioned those as you would need to get permission to visit, and at others the landowner will allow you visit for a small

charge.  Any of these sites that you might come across (clocháin or ‘bee-hive’ houses, stone forts, promontory forts) are all worth a visit. There are also many prehistoric sites on the peninsula (standing stones, wedge tombs, rock art) but they are not always easily accessible - although there are many local guides who will know how to get to them! You could get a taste of the many sites and long history of the area by visiting the

Dingle History Timeline. ’ 

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