The Dingle Peninsula (Co. Kerry)

Dingle Harbour

 

Dingle Harbour on the south coast of the Dingle Peninsula is a bay almost completely enclosed by land, offering natural shelter unmatched on the west coast of Ireland.

 

The entrance is distinguished by a rather mysterious Victorian-looking castellated tower called Hussey’s Folly (presumably erected by the Land Agent RM Hussey to provide work for locals during the Great Famine), and by a now disused lighthouse.


Carhoo Hill / Cnoc na Ceathrún (184m / 600ft), also on the south side of Dingle Harbour, is crowned by a stone structure called Eask Tower, locally aka the Burnham Tower, commissioned by Lord Ventry in 1847 at the instigation of Rev Charles Gayer, allegedly in an attempt to win converts to Anglicanism by providing work during the Great Famine.

 

The giant wooden hand pointing from the Tower guides ships and boats towards the “blind” entrance of Dingle Harbour, while the C19th beacon warned mariners to let their sails down so as to lose speed and safely round the mouth. Made of 15ft thick solid rock with no entrance, and originally 27ft tall, the tower was raised c.1900 to a height of 40ft, and was used during WWII as a look-out post. (Photo –  www.astrolog.org)

 

Ballymacadoyle Hill, further to the west,  is popular with birdwatchers. The Dingle Cliffs on its coastal side are frequented by rare choughs.

 

Both hilltops command panoramic views of a large part of the Dingle Peninsula and beyond, taking in the Blasket Islands, the Iveragh Peninsula, Valentia Island and the Skelligs.

Dingle / An Daingean (Co. Kerry / Southwest)

Dingle / An Daingean (pop. 1300), an exceptionally attractive market town and fishing port with a lovely seafront on Dingle Harbour, is probably the westernmost town in Europe and a major Irish tourist destination (0ccasionally teetering on the verge of twee). It is a Gaeltacht centre, with a long tradition as a stronghold of Gaelic culture. (Photo – www.irelands-directory.com)

The town’s full name in Irish is Daingean Uí Chúis (“Fortress of the O’Cush”, believed to refer to the Flemish Huysse / Hussey family who arrived in the area in the C13th). To fit on signposts, this is generally abbreviated to An Daingean.

In 2005, the Government announced that anglicised place names (such as ‘Dingle’) of Gaeltacht towns and villages would no longer feature on official signposts, and only the Irish language names will appear. The English language version of the town’s name was thus officially dropped. However, some residents fear that the change could prevent potential visitors finding their way to the Town Formerly Known as Dingle. A plebiscite in October, 2006 favoured (by 1,005 to 79 votes) changing to the bilingual version “Dingle / Daingean Uí Chúis“.

Dingle Town History


The date of the town’s foundation is unknown, although the site is believed to have been populated by the late C12th. A document dated 1290 gives the name of the town as Dengynhuysse. The Fitzgerald and Rice families are credited with encouraging the exportation of butter, hides, wool, fish and meat. Merchants’ houses sprang up in the Medieval period, largely of French and Spanish influence.

 

The MacCarthaigh clan attacked and razed the town in the mid-C14th. The resilient locals rebuilt and carried on regardless, thus developing Dingle into the second largest trading (and smuggling) port on the west coast (after Galway), for a time even minting its own coinage.

 

Dingle was commercially well-established by the time of the late C16th Second Desmond Rebellion, when the Earl of Desmond burned the town in revenge for an insult proffered by the Knight of Kerry, who then delivered it into the hands of Sir Charles Wilmot. Notwithstanding massive damage inflicted on the entire peninsula, Queen Elizabeth I announced her intent to grant “Dingle-i-couche a charter in 1585, and the town sent representatives to the Irish Parliament the following year.

 

Despite further destruction during the Nine Years War, the town recovered sufficiently by 1607 for King James I to actually grant the charter, which recognised the “Sovereign, Burgesses and Commonality” of what was later referred to as “the Borough and Corporation of Dingle“.

 

Dingle suffered badly during the War of Three Kingdoms, being burnt or sacked on a number of occasions. The town started to recover in the C18th, due to the efforts of the Fitzgerald family, Knights of Kerry, who established themselves at “The Grove” at this time. Robert Fitzgerald imported flax seed and by 1755 a flourishing linen industry had been established, with cloth worth £60,000 produced annually. This trade collapsed following the industrial production of cotton in Great Britain.

 

When the Act of Union 1800 disenfranchised the local constituency, 15,000 Pounds compensation was paid to the head of the local Townshend family, wh0 along with the newly-enobled Lord Ventry were listed by Lewis (1837) as the landlords of the town, along with the Earl of Cork.

 

Although Dingle is now a major fishing port, the modern industry dates from about 1830. The 1870s saw major development, when “nobby” fleets from the Isle of Man came in search of mackerel. Lowestoft herring trawlers subsequently joined the fleet, allowing for a longer fishing season. The arrival of rail transport in 1891 allowed for the transport of fish throughout the country, and a canning and curing industry developed.

Dingle Pier, built c.1900 by the Congested Districts Board, is home to the port’s fishing fleet. (Photo – www.grantn.eclipse.co.uk)

Fungi / Fungie, a friendly bottlenose dolphin who has lived in this area since 1984, is the self-appointed pilot of the Dingle fishing fleet. He seems to prefer the company of human beings to that of the passing schools of his own kind, enjoying nuzzling up to snorkellers and frolicking about in the wakes of the “dolphin watch” tour boats that leave the Pier all day, every day, all year round, to see him in his natural habitat. Early morning outings offer visitors a chance to swim with Fungie in the peace and tranquillity of Dingle Harbour. Booking in advance is required for the swimming trip; wetsuits are available for hire.

Dingle Oceanworld is a state-of-the-art aquarium overlooking the Dingle Marina. It is Ireland’s premier purpose-built sea life centre and sanctuary for the rare fish life often found stranded along the shores of the peninsula. There is an underwater tunnel, tanks of exotic fish from around the world, and interesting artefacts from wrecks of the Spanish Armada.

Dingle Marina, opened in 1992, is a fully equipped amenity offering berths for yachts and motor boats, with communal / training facilities for sailing, scuba diving and traditional currach rowing.

The Dingle Regatta, featuring a currach race in the Harbour, is held at the end of August every year.

St James’s Church (CoI) on Main St was built in 1807 on the site of an older church of the same name, said by some to have been constructed and dedicated to the patron saint of Spain by medieval pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. Others claim it was one of several churches built in the area by Spaniards. The current building was enlarged and refurbished in 1837, and further work, which unfortunately included the demolition of the tower, was carried out during the 1970s. Nowadays it is regularly used as a venue for concerts and artistic events. (Photo – www.westkerrymuseum.com)

St. Mary’s Church (RC) in Green St, designed by JJ McCarthy and constructed with stone quarried in Kilmurry, was completed in 1865. Beneath a memorial tablet lies the remains of one Clarissa Hussey, a sister of the landlord’s agent and memoirist, Samuel Hussey, and benefactress of the church. Patrick Foley noted in his 1907 HistoryThere is no doubt that this landlady ranked among the worst landowners in the country.” Many architects regard the post-Vatican II Liturgical Reordering carried out in the interior as one of the worst cases of officially-sanctioned vandalism in Irish history.

The Trinity Tree beside the church has been carved with Biblical characters.

Dingle House was for many years the seat of the powerful Hickson family, who also owned The Grove, originally built by the Knights of Kerry, nowadays a substantial ruin still visible on the Spa Road.

Ballintaggart House on the Anascaul Road also belonged to the Hickson family. There is some confusion as to when it was built; some claim 1703, others 1830. It functioned as a soup kitchen during the Great Famine, and the giant soup urns can still be seen in the courtyard. Lord Ventry‘s land agent DP Thompson is believed to have lived here. The premises are reputely haunted by a headless coachman who patrols the ten-acre lawn throughout the night protecting a White Lady. Since 1990 the mansion has operated as a Hostel, and also has fully serviced camping facilities.

Dingle Racetrack, opposite Ballintaggart House, is the venue for the Dingle Races on the second weekend of August every year.

Much of Dingle’s social life revolves around its 52 pubs, of every shape, size and variety: one sells Wellington boots and leather belts, another stocks sheets and blankets, and others trade in everything from bicycles, beds and broomsticks to creosote and fertiliser. Traditional music is played almost every night in about ten pubs. (Photo by kevonionia)

Dingle has several art galleries and craft shops that can be comfortably browsed in whatever the weather. In addition to the usual “Oirish” junk, there are good value high quality handmade products – woven tweeds and woollen clothing, leather goods, jewellery, turned wood, paintings and pottery.

An Cafe Liteartha is a very pleasant Irish language bookstore / café.

Accomodation options in the town include  three hotels, several hostels and many good B&Bs. Pressure can be considerable during the summer months, and anyone arriving on spec should not leave it till late to go looking. Advice and information about places to stay throughout the Peninsula can be obtained at the Tourist Office, located at the Pier.

A wide variety of eateries cater for every budget, from burgers and chips to pub grub to fine dining. Most have vegetarian selections on their menus. Several good restaurants offer excellent local seafood.

Dingle Marine Eco Tours runs interesting tours of varying duration out into and around Dingle Bay and along the southern coves and cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula from Inch Strand to Slea Head. Refreshments are served on board and booking is advised.

From the Marina, speedboats regularly carry travellers to Na Blascaoidi / The Blasket Islands, and boating, yachting and sea angling trips can also be arranged.

Contrary to some maps, no ferry currently crosses Dingle Bay to Caherciveen or anywhere else on the Iveragh Peninsula itself, but a passenger service to Valentia Island was introduced in 2010.

Ceardlann na Coille is a craft village located on the road leading west from the Pier towards Baile an Mhuileann / Milltown.

Baile an Mhuileann / Milltown is effectively a suburb of An Daingean / Dingle.

Burnham Estate


The former Burnham Estate, originally called Baile Goilan, was the seat of the Mullins / de Moleyns family from 1650 until 1921. Having acquired land all over the peninsula by particularly dubious means, Sir Thomas Mullins, 1st Bart, was ennobled as Baron Ventry in 1800, coinciding with the Act of Union.


His grandson Thomas Townsend Aremburg Mullins adopted the grander form of the surname by Royal License in 1841 in a snobbish attempt to link his ancestry with the once famous Norman family of Burnham, Norfolk; he was an absentee landlords who caused his tenants great misery, particularly during the Great Famine, when his agent DP Thompson systematically evicted starving and destitute families for non-payment of rent.

 

(The family weakness for grandiose names continued: the next six barons  included a Dayrolles Blakeney, a Frederick Rossmore Wauchope, and an Arthur Frederick Daubeney Olav, all surnamed Eveleigh-de-Moleyns, while the current 8th Baron is Arthur Harold Wesley Daubeney de Moleyns)

 

Burnham Manor / House still stands; although not particularly handsome, it commands fine views over Dingle Harbour, and since 1927 has been a private Irish speaking boarding school for girls, Colaiste Ide, run until 1996 by the Sisters of Mercy.

 

One Lord Ventry collected Ogham Stones, and these are as he left them beside the driveway through the pleasant wooded Demesne, which also contains some exotic and unusual trees and plants, including a Bamboo plantation. Together with its lagoon, this is now a Natural Heritage Area; although it is called Burnham Wood, it has so far remained stationary.

Milltown House is an exceptionally attractive Victorian building  overlooking Dingle Bay. Hollywood star Robert Mitchum lived here during the filming of David Lean‘s Ryan’s Daughter (1970), and it is now run as a fine Guesthouse.

Dingle / An Deangain is a nexus of both the circular Slea Head Drive and the figure-of-8 Dingle Peninsula Drive.

 

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