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Laurence Dunne Archaeology,
3, Lios na Lohart, Ballyvelly,
Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland

May 25, 2019

 Dunbeg Fort, Dingle Peninsula - Archaeological excavations in advance of re-opening the site

Dunbeg Fort, Dingle Peninsula - Archaeological excavations in advance of re-opening the site

 

Our archaeological excavations are nearing completion at Dunbeg coastal promontory fort, Fahan, Ventry, Co. Kerry. The excavations are being undertaken in advance of the construction of a new safety fence and pathway that will facilitate the re-opening of the eastern limits of the national monument to the public.

                             View from NE of excavations underway at Dunbeg

Dunbeg is a National Monument that has been closed since November 2017 following massive collapse of the western limits of the site into the sea. The collapse was compounded by additional severe damage from a sudden flood of water from Mount Eagle, the force of which cut through the access pathway / entrance area of the monument and depositing tons of gravel and stones in its wake. Following which the site had to be closed to the public.

Since that time the Office of Public Works (OPW) undertook flood remedial works. It is now proposed to re-open this iconic coastal promontory fort to the public once a new safety fence and pathway are constructed.

UAV images showing the entire western limits of the stone rampart now collapsed into the sea.

Archaeological excavations are being undertaken in advance of the new pathway and safety fence. We have also completed the first phase of a measured survey of the site using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone. Further UAV surveys will be undertaken to track the rate of erosion that has accelerated in the recent past.             

Dunbeg, Dún Beag, is an iconic coastal promontory fort situated in a dramatic sea-girt location on the cliffs Chorca Dhuibhne on the south side of the Dingle Peninsula. It is one of around twenty on the peninsula out of a total of approximately two hundred recorded in Ireland.

As the name indicates these monuments comprise linear fortifications constructed with earth and stone across the landward approach to the promontory with steep cliffs providing the remaining natural defences. The fortifications include combinations of earthen banks, fosses (ditches) and stone ramparts that extend across the necks of the promontory. A causeway usually extends across the defences to the entrance. Hutsites (clocháns) are frequently present and in some instances souterrains are also found in the interior reflecting the occupation or settlement of the sites

These wonderfully situated sites are somewhat of an archaeological conundrum for a number of reasons. The largely accepted defensive nature of these sites is not supported by the dearth of occupation evidence from excavated examples. Indeed results indicate that settlement was of a short duration while radiocarbon dates appear to generally support an early medieval milieu coeval with cahers and ringforts. Irish coastal promontory forts share similar morphological similarities to Breton and Cornish sites that have been associated with the Veneti and consequently Irish sites have traditionally been attributed to the Iron Age. The reality is that only one radiocarbon date from the Iron Age has been recorded in Ireland and this was obtained from Dunbeg. However, caution must be exercised here as the date was recovered from an earlier fosse situated abutting the interior of the stone rampart and whose nature and extent were not determined.Coastal promontory forts were often re-occupied and re-fortified in the high medieval period with the construction of tower houses on the interior i.e. at Ferriter’s Cove near Ballyferriter.

 Dunbeg has been a National Monument since 1892 and has enjoyed quite an amount of attention from scholars and antiquarians since the mid-19th century.In 1977 it was extensively excavated by Terry Barry over three months. Since that time it has become a visitor centre with car-parking, audio visual centre and restaurant provided by the local landowner and from which a short pathway extends downslope to the cliff edge site.

Dunbeg has suffered seasonal collapse from intense coastal erosion over many years. Cartographic evidence indicates that possibly as much as 50% of the site, mostly of the western limits of the monument, has fallen into the sea. A generation ago the OPW erected a protective fence as well as a wooden support frame through the entrance of the stone rampart.  Storms in early 2014 were particularly violent resulting in the collapse of a large section of the fort. Access through the original entranceway of the stone rampart was then permanently closed off. Monitoring of new fence works at that time was undertaken by Laurence Dunne Archaeology who also supervised minor remedial conservation works to sections of the earthen ramparts that have suffered from visitor stress as well as slumping to some sections of the 1977 excavations.