Seaside Heritage on the Dingle Peninsula

Dunbeg Fort

The Dingle Peninsula was one of my favourite areas of Ireland.  The sea side town was homey and the surrounding country size was awe inspiring.  The Slea Head drive in particular offered some great views of the the coastline, natural heritage, and a handful of built heritage sites. 

The Dunbeg Fort was the first place we stopped on the Slea Head route. The Fort overlooks Dingle Bay and is located on a rock promontory that has eroded substantially over the years.  The view alone is well worth the admission price to the Fort.  The Fort structure is dry stacked rock and only a small portion of the original Fort still exists, portions of it were lost to erosion. The date of the Fort is contested with some dating the structure from the Iron Age, 500 BC, or 800 AD. 

View at Dunbeg

The Dunbeg site also includes a small visitors centre.  The Centre features an audio-visual presentation room where there is a ten minute video describing the history of the area, the archeological studies that have been done at Dunbeg, and the type of building material used in the Fort.

A short distance away from the Dunbeg Fort there are a grouping of clocháns, also known as beehive huts.  There is little signage around the huts but visitors are given a brief information handout when they arrive that dates the site around 1000 AD.  The rounded roofs of the huts reminded me of igloo construction, particular when viewed from inside.  The few clocháns on the site are all relatively small in height and size but were neat to explore.  The site is located on the side of a hill and the view provides a different vantage point of the area. 

Beehive Hut

Following the Dunbeg Fort and beehive huts the road continues towards the Blasket Island and nearby beach.  The Blasket Island is only 2 km away from shore, but in the 1950s the Irish government had the island evacuated and the 170 residents were relocated to the mainland.  The reasoning being that the island was deemed unsafe for habitation.  The Blascaoid Centre located on the main Dingle Peninsula is dedicated to the heritage of the island and its inhabitants. 

The Slea Head drive was a great mixture of country side, rugged coast line, and heritage sites.  You could easily spend an entire afternoon or day enjoying the sites along the route and in my mind the drive was fare more enjoyable than the more well known Ring of Kerry. 

Ring Forts and Castles in a Farmer’s Field

The Ring of Kerry was one of the low points of the trip for me.  Yes, the landscape was beautiful but it was a lot of driving and there were definitively other natural heritage sites that I thought more impressive.  However, part way through the Ring of Kerry I visited the Ballycarbery Castle and Ring Fort located near Cahersiveen.  Both of these sites were located in farmers’ fields and were amazing ruins to explore.

Ballycarbery Castle is thought to have been built in 1560s by the MacCarthy family. Portions of the castle have fallen down, walls are missing, many of the staircases drop off in the middle of nowhere, and the much of the stone is covered by vines.  The Castle is located right by the sea and for the more adventurous it is possible to climb up to the second story and explore some of the small rooms.  This was probably one of the most rustic sites I visited and because of the out of the way location there were no other visitors while my partner and I were exploring the site.  There are some small directional signs pointing the way to the Castle, however the actual site doesn’t have any signage.  It would have been nice to be able to learn more about the history of the site and the building. 

A short distance from the castle is the Cahergal Ring Fort. Like the name suggests the Fort is circular in nature and the interior of the Fort looks like a tiered amphitheater. The rock that makes up the Fort is all dry stacked without any visible adhesive and given the age of the structure it is only natural that in some spots the rocks have started to come loose.  During my visit, one section of the Fort was blocked off because of preservation efforts to the structure. It is possible to climb up the circular fort to the top of ‘Ring’ and view the surrounding countryside — lots of sheep and some cows. Similar to the Ballycarbery Castle there was no signage at the Ring Fort and the site was unstaffed. 

The town of Cahersiveen was fairly unremarkable but a five minute drive off the main road towards the beach was well worth it.  The Castle and Ring Fort and great examples of the excessive number of heritage sites, old castles, and stunning views in Ireland.  The sites are in such an abundance that many can be found in the middle of nowhere, with little signage and fanfare.

Military History and Stunning Sea Views at Charles Fort

Kinsale, County Cork was one of my favourite spots in Ireland.  The quaint seaside town had small narrow streets, delicious sea food, and a number of local attractions.  Charles Fort located 2km outside of Kinsale is a 17th century star shaped fort.  The distance to the Fort is walkable from the town and the views on the hilly walk of the harbour below are fantastic.

Charles Fort was built by William Robinson, the same architect who built the Royal Hospital Kilmainham that I visited while in Dublin. Designed in the shape of a star, Charles Fort was built to be highly defensible from the water and resistant to cannon fire. However, because of budget reasons the fort was not completed according to Robinson’s original design and the land facing side of the fort was not as defensible as originally planned.  A land based siege during the Williamte War (1689-1691) was successful in defeating the meager land side defense and highlights the flawed nature of Charles Fort.

Mosaic map of Charles Fort

Given how small Kinsale is I was surprised by how busy Charles Fort was during my visit.  There were a couple tour buses and a school group at the site when I arrived.  The site is expansive with layers of fortification to explore, so even though the site was busy there was still lots of room to walk around and not feel crowded. 

There is an exhibition space in what was once barracks that describes the history the area, the building of the fort and the main battles faced by the fort.   The space contains artifacts, text, and audio-visual material that highlight the different occupants of the Fort and the experience of the soldiers who stayed in the Fort. There is also a small photo exhibition in the former power magazine which shows how the power magazine operated and other aspects of military life at the Fort. 

One of the more visual features of Charles Fort is the ‘blast wall’ construction that exists around the perimeter of the Fort.  The thick exterior walls of the fort are surrounded by sections of earth, which are followed by another interior wall.  The sections of earth were included as a means of making the fort stronger in the face of cannonballs.  The earth would absorb the shock of cannonball fire and not crumble in the way that stonewalls typically do.  This practical measure resulted in the present day advantage of an area of land which visitors can walk on and see right to the edge of the fort and into the sea. 


This site wasn’t even on my radar until the owner of the B&B I was staying at recommended a visit to the Fort.  I’m glad I listened to her suggestion as the views from the fort, the history of the site, and the expansive remaining battlements make Charles Fort well worth the visit.  

Religious History at the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey

Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Following a great evening in Kilkenny I traveled to the Rock of Cashel also known as St. Patrick’s Rock in Tipperary County.  The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster until 1101 when the site was transferred to the Catholic Church in Ireland. The majority of the ruins remaining on the site are from the 12th and 13th centuries during the Church’s ownership of the site.

I participated in a guided tour as part of my visit the Rock of Cashel.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the site and did a good job of contextualizing the numerous structures with the political and social movements of the period.  She also did a good job of interjecting humor into the tour through Irish folk stories and jokes.

Cormac’s Chapel is one of the larger ruins on the site and was completed in 1134.  The Chapel was undergoing exterior preservation work during the time of my visit as the sandstone which makes up the majority of the building has been susceptible to water damage.  Despite this exterior work visitors are still able to enter the chapel and see the vaulted ceiling and the small pieces of Irish frescoes which survive on the ceiling.  The interior of the Chapel has a musty damp smell which makes sense given the water damage of the stone.

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

The majority of the other buildings on the site are made from limestone, as the Rock of Cashel is located on a huge outcropping of limestone. These buildings mainly date from the 12th and 13th century and include a round tower, a cathedral, castle, and a newer Hall of the Vicars Choral that was built in the 15th century.

After the guided tour and exploring the site I visited the ruins of  Hore Abbey which is located within walking distance of the Rock of Cashel.  Like the Rock, the Abbey is maintained by the Office of Public Works.  However, the Abbey is not staffed and is located in the middle of a farmers field.   The Abbey dates from the 1200s and I found it interesting that the Rock of Cashel gains so much attention when the Abbey sits looking somewhat abandoned. Granted, the Rock of Cashel does look more imposing but the character and history behind the Abbey is just as interesting.

Photographs by Andrew Mackay