The Archaeological Monument of Dun Beag Fort, which translates in Irish as the little fort, is a beautiful example of a promontory fort on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry with its distinctive rows of defences and spectacular views over Dingle Bay to Valentia Island and the Skellig Islands.
While its first earthen defences were begun in the Iron Age, Dunbeg was occupied during times of peril until at least the 11th century.
Dún Beag Fort has a relatively good history record and of changes at this site as the promontory fort attracted the attention of 19th century antiquarians and geologists as well as 20th-century tourists. George Du Noyer’s visited and recorded the site in 1856, and the triangular-shape promontory he drew has been indented up to 35m along its western side which sits on the 30m-high cliffs.
Image: The entrance to Dunbeg (George Du Noyer in Archaeological Journal March 1858 vol. 15)
Human activity in the 19th century also impacted the fort, with hare hunters overturning stones, and stone being taken for building elsewhere. Drystone field walls that once crossed the fort banks and ditches were removed during Office of Public Works (OPW) restoration in 1892.
The OPW also repaired the roof of one of the two guard chambers that sat on either side of the rampart wall entrance. The western guardhouse is no longer extant.
Image: A mid-20th century image with the entrance repaired and two guard houses either side of the entrance
In 1897, Thomas Westropp said around 3m of land has fallen on the western side in the last 20 years. Professor R.A.S. MacAlister, later of University College Dublin, records that he visited the site in 1896 and again in 1898 and in that time the western end of the stone rampart had eroded into the sea. Another OPW visit in September 1915 sketches the disappearance of 9.5m of the western side of the rampart since 1897 and ground fissures, a sign of impending instability, were also shown.
In 1977, the OPW and National Monuments Service commissioned an excavation to examine the site, its dating and history of occupation before more features were lost. A view from the inside of the fort looking at the rampart wall shows the cliff erosion from the west had reached the western guardhouse to the side of the covered entrance. Excavation led by Professor Terry Barry from Trinity College Dublin revealed post holes, hearths and stake holes within the clochán and suggested wattle shelters supported by wooden posts and stakes.
Analysis of occupation debris indicated a diet of pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, deer, birds and fish. Radiocarbon dates suggest it was inhabited in the 10th or 11th centuries AD. Further excavation at the rampart revealed an earlier shallow ditch radiocarbon dated to the 6th century BC. This indicates a long history of use at the site, though it may not have been continuous.
Image: The 1970s view on the right shows the left guardhouse has started to be eroded.© Photographic Archive, National Monuments Service, Government of Ireland
Within the last few years, the cliff has been experiencing another period of instability.
In January 2014, a storm resulted in the southern side of the entrance through the rampart collapsing causing a section to fall away close to the passageway through the stone rampart.
Image: Photograph of Dunbeg in April 2018 showing collapse entrance through the rampart
The CHERISH Project began early in 2017 and has been recording the latest changes with regular drone and laser scanner surveys. In December 2017, the site had to be closed again after flash flooding down Mount Eagle caused stream erosion within the fort causeway, banks and ditches.
Then during Storm Eleanor on 3rd January 2018, most of the covered entrance through the rampart and the ground below collapsed into the sea. The last covered area of this entrance had collapsed in April 2019.
Image: Image of Dunbeg taken in April 2019 displaying very recent collapse of the entrance through the rampart from the southern side