For many visitors to Ireland, Dingle heads the list of places to see. One of the prettiest and most unspoiled small towns in the country, it has enjoyed a long and sometimes difficult history. Famous for its archaeological monuments, spectacular coastline, and thriving fishing port, and quaint pubs Dingle justifiably attracts visitors from all over the world. Packed with craft shops, seafood eateries, and cafes, you are also in the midst of dramatic mountains and wild coast. The Quayside buzzes with life in the summer, an atmosphere of good-natured revelry taking place in its many bars and restaurants. With the added attraction of an important annual food festival in October, it’s not hard to see why many visitors come back to Dingle year after year.
Dingle and the surrounding peninsula contain a wealth of archaeological monuments that are testament to the fact that a thriving settlement existed here long before the Normans arrived in 1169. We know that it was inhabited during the Stone and Bronze age and that early Christian monasteries existed in the 6th century. Today, there are over 30 monastic sites along the Peninsula, evidence that Christian Monks travelled to this remote corner of the world to preach their religion across Ireland. This stable development was interrupted by the arrival of the Vikings in the 9th Century.
These fearsome warriors from Scandinavia plundered many of the monasteries and their repeated raids took a heavy toll on the settlements. They did also, however, set up important trade routes and built towns all over Ireland. After their influence waned, the next visitors to Ireland were the Normans, who founded Dingle as we know it today in the 13th century. After their conquest of the country, they needed several ports along to coast to facilitate essential trade, Dingle was located on the perfect site and so the town was born.
The town was developed by the Fitzgerald and Rice families, who promptly set about building the second largest port on the west coast of Ireland. Dingle was quick to capitalize on its enviable position and trade flourished with Spain and France. It became one of Ireland’s most important trade centers, not to mention a destination of religious importance in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1529, Thomas Fitzgerald, the 11th Earl of Desmond and the ambassador of Charles V of Spain signed the Treat of Dingle, guaranteeing free trade and co-operation between the two Catholic countries. The town became a major embarkation port for pilgrims wishing to travel to the shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. A church was even built to honour the Saint, benefiting from Spanish sponsorship!
The 16th century was a time of great growth and also conflict for the inhabitants of Dingle. On 17 July, 1579, James FitzGerald landed a small fleet of ships to Dingle to take control of the town away from his cousin. He died not long after his arrival, however, from the forces of his cousin. The town also suffered greatly during the Nine Years’ War, a series of conflicts between the Irish chieftain and their English oppressors and was burnt or sacked on more than one occasion. These series of rebellions and counter rebellion convinced the English Queen, Elizabeth, to grant the town a charter in 1585. With her success, James I finally integrated the charter in 1607. The town became a parliamentary Borough and was protected by a strong wall to ward off would be invaders of this very valuable port in the realm.
The mid-17th century saw greater politically stability, as the Dingle Peninsula was controlled by Lord Ventry, who had his family residence at Burnham Estate. After an initial slow start, the economic recovery of the region gathered speed in the 18th century; the man largely responsible for this was the wealthy landowner, Robert Fitzgerald. He developed a flourish linen industry in Dingle, by 1755 it was worth over £60,000! Sadly, the industry died after the industrial production of Cotton in Great Britain became commonplace, Ireland could not compete and the Linen trade was all but extinct by the mid-19th century.
Dingle suffered greatly from the loss of its Linen Industry but was saved from economic disaster by its thriving fishing port. In the 1870’s, the fishing trade expanded and an impressive infrastructure was built by the authorities, including a pier and maritime facilities. In 1891, Dingle was connected to the Irish railways and a thriving canning and fish curing industry developed that was invaluable to the town’s residents. This stability and growth was tragically accompanied by the great potato famine of 1845-49. Many Irish citizens, over 1 million, fled to America in search of a better life during these difficult times. Those who stayed faced extreme poverty, hardship and squalor. In Dingle alone, up to 5,000 people died, no part of the Peninsula escaped the ravages of the famine, despite the income from its fishing trade.
Ireland experienced a great deal of turmoil and social upheaval in the 20th Century, Dingle is located in County Kerry, which saw more than its fair share of conflict during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. One of the key events of the conflict was the ‘Siege of Tralee’ in November 1920. The British supported Black and Tans police brigade placed the town of Tralee under curfew for a week, burning homes and killing many innocent civilians, in retaliation for a previous incident where the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had killed 5 policemen the night before. Incidents like this continued to blight Ireland, until the Irish declaration of an Independent State in 1922.
Dingle played a minor role during the During World War I, although the nation got a taste of the horrors of World War I, when The Lusitania passenger ship was sunk off the Irish coast in 1915. This atrocity spurned more young men from all over Ireland to become involved in the war effort and many young men would never return home.
A period of stability followed until the onset of the Second World War, where many Irish troops lost their lives in Europe. Following the end of the war, in the 1950s onwards, Dingle benefited from trade with Europe as their economies recovered and what was formerly one of the poorer members of the European Union has become one of its success stories. EU subsidies improved the transport infrastructure and Dingle, like many small towns in Ireland has shared in this prosperity, benefiting from the era of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ in the 1980s, as Ireland enjoyed rapid economic growth and prosperity so the city’s tourist attractions and the number of visitors multiplied. Local time residents would have scarcely recognized Dingle as it is today; a once remote and sleepy town has been transformed into a vibrant tourist center and important fishing port. Be forewarned, the quick-witted humor and incredible unspoiled beauty of this part of Ireland is addictive – so be prepared to pay a visit more than once!
Gastronomy & Wine
Restaurants in Dingle specialize in offering the freshest and best quality seafood for miles around. Visitors travel far and wide to sample locally caught Lobster and other delicacies! The annual Dingle food festival generally held the first weekend in October is going from strength to strength. The quayside is the place to head for food and some fun after dark, a night spent in Dingle’s many pubs is an experience that all tourist relish.
Dingle is the ideal base for exploring the scatted archaeological remains of the Dingle Peninsula. The most fascinating site is the Gallarus Oratory, north-west of Dingle. This dry-stone church, shaped like an upturned boat, as built between the 6th and 9th centuries. The Iron Age Fort of Dunbef, west of Dingle is also worth a look.
Opened to celebrate the unique literary achievement of the inhabitants of the tiny island of Blasket, the museum is situated on the tip of the spectacular Dingle Peninsula. Visitors are guided through their language, culture and tradition.
Fungie is arguably one of the town’s biggest crowd pullers. The harbor is home to Dingle’s resident star, Fungie, who has been a permanent resident since 1983 and can be visited by boat or on swimming trips. Children will love being near the friendly and inquisitive dolphin, who seems to prefer the company of people to other Dolphins!
One of Ireland’s biggest and most visited aquarium, OceanWorld showcases an incredible variety of species that live in the waters around the Dingle Peninsula.