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Dingle Peninsula

It is impossible to visit the Dingle Peninsula and not be impressed by its archaeological heritage. When one combines each site's folklore and mythology, which have been passed orally from generation to generation through the Irish language, one can begin to understand how unique and complex is the history of this peninsula.

There is no other landscape in Western Europe with the density and variety of archaeological monuments as the Dingle Peninsula. This mountainous finger of land, which juts, into the Atlantic Ocean has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Because of the peninsula's remote location, and lack of specialised agriculture, there is a remarkable preservation of over 2,000 monuments.

At the very westerly tip of the peninsula lies the beautiful parish of Dún Chaoin (Dunquin), which overlooks the incredible Blasket Islands. The spectacular views of the Blasket islands, the rugged cliffs which make up the coastline, the picturesque, narrow, winding pathway leading to the pier and the splendid sunsets are featured in many calendars, postcards and tourist brochures each year.

The people of Dún Chaoin speak Irish today and they are proud of the links which they have maintained with their native culture and with the descendants of many emigrants who left for a new life in other countries.

Historically, the Coastguard Station was closed down in the 1860s due to poor landing facilities and a replacement station was built in Cromane.

The Dingle Peninsula has the largest collection of Ogham stones. Ogham (pronounced "o-am") is the earliest form of Irish writing, and the stones may have been used as landmarks, or could also have been linked in with land ownership. The stones carry the name of a male, and also refer to his father and grandfather.

One of the finest Ogham stones is located in Dún Chaoin on the summit of Dún Mór (the big fortress).

The strongest evidence for a Celtic presence is the Irish language, Gaeilge, which is still spoken on the peninsula and was once spoken all over the country, but now survives only along the west coast and at a few other locations.

Also belonging to this period is the ancient pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Brandon. This was ritualistically done on the last Sunday of July, known locally as Domhnach Chrom Dúbh. Initially it was a means of worship to the Celtic God Lughnasa as part of the harvest festival.

Later it became Christianised and was dedicated to St. Brendan, a 6th century monk who is said to have sailed to America long before Columbus. The story of his voyage was translated into every European language by the 12th century, and made Brendan famous as a seafaring saint. It was from the summit of Mount Brandon that Brendan had a vision of "the land to the west".

The 12th century marked the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, and by the 13th century they were to have had a profound effect on Ireland. They built most of the Irish towns, and structured Irish society on a closer model to the European system. Within a short period of time they integrated very much into Irish society.

The Town of Dingle was founded by the Fitzgerald and Rice families, who were to develop the town into the second largest port on the west coast (second only to Galway). Extensive trade with France and Spain was the main reason for Dingle's importance, and also the town was an embarkation point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella to visit the shrine of St. James. It is said that the medieval church in Dingle, dedicated to St. James, was built by the Spanish.

St. James's Church has become the home to a very well-known series of televisions music programmes featuring lesser-known but very excellent musicians from all over the world.

From the mid 17th century until the 1920s, the Dingle Peninsula was controlled by Lord Ventry (Mullen was the family name), who had his family residence at Baile Goilán, later renamed as Burnham Estate. The house is now an Irish-speaking boarding school for girls, Coláiste Íde. There is a collection of Ogham stones on the grounds of the estate, along with some exotic and unusual trees and plants, including a plantation of bamboo.

Images of Cromane, Co. Kerry