Dún Beag Fort — one of the most notable archaeological features of the Dingle Peninsula, in Co Kerry — has sustained very serious storm damage, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed yesterday.
A large part of the western limits of the site has fallen into the sea and the department said the immediate priority is to ensure public safety. The site has been fully closed off from the upper roadway.
An inspection is being carried out by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and National Monuments Service personnel to assess the situation on the ground.
“However, the scale of the recent damage, coupled with the nature and location of the site, would suggest that there may be very little that can usefully be done,” said a department spokesman.
Local archaeologist Isabel Bennett said the site had been eroding for a few hundred years and drawings from the 19th century had shown a much bigger complex than is there today.
“Nothing could have been done to prevent the latest slippage and engineers certainly have a very difficult task ahead as erosion is likely to continue,” she said.
Ms Bennett, of Musaem Chorca Dhuibhne in nearby Ballyferriter, said excavations had been carried out at Dún Beag in 1977 to find more information about the site and to ensure that information would be available in the future, as it was known the site was under threat.
“What has just happened is very unfortunate and one would hope the OPW can find a way of allowing some type of access and perhaps erecting a ramp to allow people view the site. But safety has to be the priority,” she said.
The fort, a national monument, is at the mercy of elements from the sea side as the waves have broken through an earthen crack in the headland, leading to the disappearance of 10m of the main defensive wall.
The fort, which is accessed through privately-owned land close to Slea Head, is visited by thousands of tourists each year.
Dating to the late Bronze Age — around 500 BC — it is described as a promontory fort with four outer defensive banks, five ditches, and an inner drystone rampart with a complex entrance flanked by two guard chambers.
A circular beehive hut, known as a clochán, is inside the fort.
Excavations have shown that it was used from the late Bronze Age through the Celtic period and up to the 10th century. It may have had a number of uses through time — defensive, ritual purposes — or it may have been a dwelling.
Kerry County Council, meanwhile, is warning of extremely high spring tides over the weekend, and has put out a precautionary warning to all coastal areas, particularly low-lying coastal areas and areas impacted by storms in the past month.
In Kerry, the highest spring tide is predicted early tomorrow. The spring tide is also expected to be accompanied by strong offshore westerly gale force winds which can lead to sea swell conditions. Council crews are on standby.