Ok, so, during my time at uni, I may have picked up an Irish boy. I have to admit, one of his most attractive features, if you can call it that, is his origin in the Gaeltacht. That is, the tiny bit of Ireland where everyone still actually speaks Irish. I do have a thing for ancient and endangered languages, after all. Of course this also means I am not the most typical visitor of Ireland: I rarely venture outside of West Kerry. I will start Part 1 of the Kerry Chronicles with Archaeology of course. If you were looking for places to eat, please just try the local pub.
Let me begin by talking about one of my favourite ancient scripts: Ogham is an Early Medieval (4th-6th century CE) Irish script, which survives primarily in the form of short inscriptions on stone monuments. And most of that is personal names. Ok so no letters or epics, but bare with me. It was probably based on Latin writing, although some scholars suspect Norse or Germanic Runic influence too (or vice-versa?). The thing is, it was designed, with a purpose. You cannot trace the evolution of various styles of wiggly bits, like in Aramaic. A person just sat down and made it at some point. The closest comparison to something this clear is probably modern Korean. What I love about Ogham so much, is that it looks exactly like what I would have produced, if I had sat down to create a new writing system (which is not entirely unthinkable!). It is lines! Ogham consists of 3 sets of 5 right side/downward strokes, left side/upward strokes, across/pendicular strokes, and a 5 notches (for vowels). It is amazing!
So, now you want to go see this in person, obviously. The stones in the photo below can be found at Colaiste Ide, in-between Dingle town and Ventry village. It is very easy to drive up there with a car. If you do not have a car, or a friend with a car, it is not very easy. Walking along that road is bloody lethal. Oh by the way, the stones have not always been hanging out neatly in a row like that. Lord Ventry put them there at some point. Argh, I hate it when people move monuments. But, here we are.
Of course I should explain where Dingle is as well. It is basically not very near Dublin. Or, in fact, very far away from it. Kind of the other side of the country. You know that American movie where a girl gets off a boat and then asks which way Dublin is and they all laugh at her? That. (Edit: Leap Year, is the movie I was thinking of.) Dingle (or An Daingean) is famous for having over 50 pubs. It has less the 2.000 inhabitants. My Irish boy described it to me as the big city. Imagine my surprise when I got there. My big city, at home, has 120.000 inhabitants. My little village has 15.000 inhabitants. How does Dingle qualify as a big city exactly? Admittedly, it does have a supermarket, several pharmacies, and even a shop that fixed my poor little drawing tablet over Christmas.
The main tourist attraction is a dolphin called Fungi. Honestly, I am not making this up. I have never seen this Fungi, but others have. It’s real. There is also the Ocean World Aquarium, where you can go when you get bored of staring at the harbour trying to spot Fungi. And there is a small 1 room cinema. And. Well, that`s all, really. I do not mean to sound too unimpressed because Dingle is actually a really lovely town to stroll through, and you can genuinely spend hours upon hours in one of the 50 pubs; there is inevitably live music and a bunch of enthusiastic, if not unintelligible, locals. They also filmed the movie Ryan`s Daughter around there – and more recently, the final scene of the new Star Wars movie.
Moving on to Ventry. In my opinion this is the typical Irish village which has a pub, a post office, and a single phone booth. But the locals are less amused when I describe it like that. Every other house is a B&B so there is no shortage of places to stay. Rahinnane Castle is meant to hang out there as well, but I have only ever approached it within about 1km before it began raining again, so I am not sure whether to recommend it as an impressive sight. From a distance it looks like a small, crumbling bit of a tower. According to Wikipedia however, this is where The Knight of Kerry lived, in a ring-fort with walls 6 meters tall.
In any case, a few miles down the road is (or was) Dunbeg fort. I visited Easter 2013, and I think it was kind of blown off the cliff in January 2014 during a big storm. To be honest, there is pretty much a permanent storm going on along the coast of Kerry so a cliff is a really stupid place to build a fort, no matter the strategic benefits. Then again, it lasted a long time. It is meant to maybe date back to the Iron Age, although I think the bit left standing is Medieval. Inside are traces of several clocháns (drystone beehive huts). Anyway, you have those across the road too, and I assume they have not been blown into the sea yet. They could be Neolithic. They could be 20th century. A long-standing building tradition, shall we say. I assumed they were for grain storage, because that is what you get in the Middle East, but actually, the story is a little more exciting – the present theory is that they were built by hermit monks. Another more sad theory is that they were occupied by poor farmers. I think it costs money to enter, but not much, and it is worth it to preserve them from being blown off the cliff, right?
Venturing a bit further away, you find the Gallarus Oratory, a (probably) very early Christian church. If you are into stone building construction, this one is fascinating. It is hard to blow away. Other than that though, it does not have a whole lot going on for it. It is not decorated, and it does not exactly have windows, so inside it is… dark. (Archaeology note: never leave the house without a small torch!) I really wish I could write more about it, because I enjoyed visiting, but I do not think I can add anything else. It is free? Slightly larger, there is the Reask monastic complex. It is famous for a really beautiful cross slab with Classical/Celtic/Christian motifs. Obviously I failed to take a good photo. This is an early Christian centre, and although not much is left standing, there are a lot of outlines to let your imagination run away with. It is also free.
Just a few more things now. Kilmalkedar Church is an Early Christian and later Medieval site, spread over a large area filled with interesting grave stones. There is a cool sundial type stone, and also ‘The Alphabet Stone’, a holed ogham stone. Again, it only makes sense I did not manage a sharp photo. It is associated with a local favourite, St Brendan – but thought to have been founded by slightly less well-known St Maolcethair. The church is a fantastic example of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture. Ok, so, the roof is missing, but other than that it is still pretty good.
Here is the last thing, and what made my mum like the Irish boy straight away: he has a dolmen in his backyard. Let me know if you want to go see it, because it requires crossing a few fields and climbing a few fences I can only describe in person. Dolmen are single-chamber megalithic tombs, usually Astrix-Obelix style two stones as ‘walls’ and one stone as ‘roof’. They are one of the big mysteries of archaeology and it is a bit much to get into right now. Suffice to say they are probably old (but not certainly because very few other traces are usually left behind and you can pile stones together any time really), no one is totally sure what they were used for (probably burial), or how they were built (these are heavy stones!), or why anyone really wanted to bother doing that. Fun-fact: if you google Dingle Dolmen, it auto-corrects to Dingle Dolphin. Because how could a dolmen possibly be more exciting?!
Bonus photos: farm animals!