Archaeologists have made “very significant” discoveries on the Dingle peninsula that reveal more about Ireland’s ancient coastal networks.
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But experts believe those “extremely important” discoveries, at Doon Point near Ballyferriter in Co Kerry — and many others around the coasts of Ireland and Wales — are at risk of being lost.
After six years of monitoring, Cherish, an EU-funded project, will deliver a series of snapshots on how our cultural heritage is being impacted and transformed by climate change.
Its findings show extreme weather events, warmer winters, and hotter summers are threatening all aspects of our coasts.
At Doon Point in West Kerry, rockfalls and coastal erosion accelerated by rising seas have caused irreversible damage to Ferriter’s promontory fort, but not before archaeologists have had a chance to excavate the remains of this promontory fort, located on a steep strip of land that juts out into the Atlantic sea.
Material spanning almost 4,000 years was unearthed during excavations in May 2021, providing valuable clues about how these enigmatic forts were once used.
“This is an extremely interesting and important site as it provides information on the dating and usage of promontory fort sites in Ireland,” Sandra Henry, site director said.
“The work on this site facilitates a re-assessment of Irish promontory forts and our current understanding of them,” she said.
There are over 500 known examples of such forts in Ireland, all of them at risk from increasing coastal erosion and other climate hazards, but only about 12 have ever been excavated.
Of particular interest was the discovery of a cluster of Iron Age huts on the headland which may, some 2,000 years ago, have been used to patrol the surrounding maritime routeways.
The headland is now remote, but in the Iron Age it would have been a bustling place and part of a community that may have built a whole system of fortifications on this headland.
The huts were maintained during the Iron Age and later reused in the 10th and 11th centuries when the headland may once again have housed a busy community.
Those who lived in the nearby and now-ruined Ferriter’s Castle re-used the outer defences of the promontory fort, possibly in the 15th century. The castle was the ancestral seat of the Ferriters and once home to Piaras Feiritéar (1600-1653), the celebrated poet, harpist, and Gaelic lord.
“This is interesting as castles have been built on a number of promontory fort sites in Ireland, and the defences have been re-used,” said Ms Henry.
Meantime, Cherish, which stands for climate, heritage, and environments of reefs, islands, and headlands, will outline on Wednesday how changing weather is causing damage to coastal wetlands, sand dunes, islands, estuarine abbeys and seabed shipwrecks in Wales and Ireland.
Since it began in 2017, the programme has used a variety of techniques to study the cultural heritage of our sea and coast.
As Ms Henry explained: “This type of work is fundamental to building the information and knowledge we need to manage climate hazards, adopt strategic approaches, and develop adaptation plans for the Irish cultural heritage.”