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Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis is a Gaeltacht town in West Kerry.    Dingle depends almost entirely on tourism.   In March 2005, the name Dingle was officially abolished, and Dingle is now known as “An Daingean”   This is some of Dingle’s story, and is dedicated to the people of Dingle, past and present, everywhere.

Dingle Harbour is safe and well sheltered from all sides.  The surrounding land is fertile and a natural place for people to settle at any time or at any stage in the development of mankind.  It offers an excellent opportunity for making a living through fishing, cultivation of the soil and trade.   Even in the pre-historic period, the area was well inhabited, and to the present day ample relics, such as Ogham Stones, Promontory Forts, Megalithic Graves and Beehive cells survive from the pre-historic era.

The name of the town in the Irish language is Daingean Uí Chúis, which is widely accepted to mean The Fortress of the Husseys.   The Husseys were a Norman family who arrived in Dingle shortly after the Norman invasion of 1169. 

There is however, a second interpretation of the meaning Daingean Uí Chúis.  The Annals of the Four Masters which were compiled by four Franciscan friars between 1632 and 1636 refer to a pre-Norman chieftain named O Cuis who ruled the area prior to the Norman invasion and had his principle fortress here, hence the name Daingean Uí Chúis.

Whatever the true meaning of the name is, earliest records show the two names of Dingle and Daingean Uí Chúis appearing side by side since the mid 13th century. 

:  The Annals of Innisfallen were compiled in the monastery of Innisfallen, in Killarney between the years 950 and 1320.  They record that in the year 1316 “Diarmaid Mac Carthaigh, Chief of Deasmumhan, entered Aes Iorruis. He spoiled the country, burning Daingean Uí Chúis”.

1257:  In the year 1257 King Henry 111 of England passed a law placing customs duties on all goods exported through Dingle.   There is a reference in the Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland 1252-84 which records the payment of £12.00 to the custom authorities by merchants using the port of Dingle.

To put some perspective on this, Dingle was paying customs duties, and trading with France and Spain centuries before America had even been discovered.

When the Normans settled in Dingle, the harbour began to evolve as a major trading point in the South West of Ireland.   The principal exports from the town were wool, hides, salt meat, fish and butter.   The chief imports were wine, salt, coal and articles of clothing.  An Act of Parliament was passed in 1569 which limited the number of ports through which wines could be imported.   Dingle was listed among the towns in this Act and is referred to as “Dingle Husey otherwise called Dingle I Couch”

Dingle reached the highest point of its importance in the course of the sixteenth century.   It was one of the great trading ports of the south.  Continental wine ships and other merchant vessels plied in and out of the harbour, tying up at the Spanish pier, (presently Dingle Marina).  Dingle was the main embarkation port for the great pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostella in Spain.  

Strong commercial links developed between Dingle and Spain throughout the sixteenth century.   Several of the Houses in Dingle were built in the Spanish fashion, with ranges of stone balconies and marble door and window frames.  Inserted in the walls of houses in Green Street are stones with curious carvings which are still well preserved.  One of these has the date 1586 prominent on it.  The others are more ornate and depict birds.   It is believed that these stones are survivals from a bygone age and the houses of the Spanish merchants who settled in Dingle at that time.

The parish church of St. James is said to have been built by the Spaniards around the time of the great medieval pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James of Compostella, and was dedicated to St. James the patron Saint of Spain.  When the Reformation reached Dingle in the 16th century, the church passed into Protestant hands.

In 1529 Charles V, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, sent his personal envoy, Gonzalo Fernandes to Dingle to parley with the Earl of Desmond.   An account of this meeting shows that the Earl wished to forge a political and military alliance with Spain and to have weapons and aid sent over from Spain to help the Earl rebel against England

Disaster was on the way for Dingle.  It came in the form of the Desmond Rebellion.  In this tragic upheaval the principal movers were Gearoid XVI, Earl of Desmond, and his cousin James Fitzmaurice-Fitzgerald.  The Earl had many enemies and he had to contend not merely with the forces of the Queen of England, but also with his personal and traditional enemy, the Earl of Ormond, Thomas Butler (The Black Earl). In 1579 the Earl of Desmond was declared a traitor to the Queen and from then onwards, he was a wanted and hunted man.

James Fitzmaurice-Fitzgerald (his cousin) went to the courts of France, Spain and to the Pope, seeking military aid to assist the Irish rebel forces against Queen Elizabeth.  In July 1579, aid finally arrived at Dingle harbour in the form of an expeditionary force from Spain led by James Fitzmaurice- Fitzgerald himself.   As soon as they anchored at the Spanish pier, Sir Edward Denny and the Elizabethan army were alerted.   Fitzmaurice-Fitzgerald was ambushed and killed shortly after his arrival at Dingle and within a few days the Spanish ships set sail for Smerwick harbour and they encamped at Dún an Óir.   There they stayed for over a year.   They were joined by a small reinforcement of Italians and some Irish.  

The whole company saving very few, was massacred there in November 1580 by the English commanded by Lord Grey de Wilton, the Lord Lieutenant.  The execution was supervised by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Edward Denny.  Present at this massacre with the English forces were Edmund Spencer, author of the Faerie Queen, and Hugh O’Neill, later the Great Earl of Tyrone.

(Author Unknown)

The evening sun had sunk to rest below the western sea.
The red October tintings lay on grass and gorse and sea;
Along the curves of Smerwick bay the ocean danced and played,
The sea-birds screamed their dismal notes as o’er the beach they strayed.

The hoary mountains towered high above the quiet glen,
The gliding shadows wandered forth from vale and cave and fen-
No other sound disturbed the hush along the wave-washed shore,
Save the distant hum of Spanish tongue from rock-based Fort-del-Ore.

Above the tide, its rugged sides by many a tempest scarred,
Rose up the goodly fortress tall, with sentinels on guard –
With ensigns floating proud and free from bastion wall on high,
And Spanish guns with good broad swords stood piled beneath the sky.

The crescent moon crept up the east with timid quiv’ring light,
The quiet stars, from misty depths, grew fast upon the sight:
The fog unfurled its shadow flags o’er Brandon’s hoary head,
And shroud-like wrapped the mountain crests as cerements wrap the dead.

Within the fort, in careless mood, San Joseph and his men,
Talked proudly of their late onslaught on Ormond in the Glen –
Or Desmond’s pledged but tardy aid, and marveled at his stay,
‘By good St. James’ Pisano said ‘We’ll brook no more delay.’

The morning sun rose large and red, the fog veils rolled away,
Around the walls of Fort-del-Ore a large encampment lay –
There to the east were Ormond’s troops, beside him Zouch and Grey,
And there the courtly Raleigh’s men and Spencer’s stopped the way.

Outside the bay lay Winter’s fleet – thus cutting of retreat,
‘Now, by my faith’, Lord Grey exclaimed, ‘We’ll rouse them to their feet:
Commence ye then and let them have a taste of English cannon,
I’ll sweep the county of the serfs from Dingle to the Shannon’

The cannon boomed, the trenches neared the isolated fort,
The answering echoes bore the roar of cannon from the port;
The Spaniards sallied, fought, retired; the English nearer drew
Till sixty paces from the fort their deep entrenchment grew.

And then commenced the deadly fray; the air grew black with death,
From iron throats the balls sped fast, from dying lips the breath,
The jaded Spaniards fought and bled for God and King of Spain
And watched and prayed for Desmond’s aid, their prayers, alas, were vain.

The third sun sank upon the strife, when, lo! A banner small,
Like a snow-white bird kept flutt’ring from a flagstaff on the wall –
‘Surrender – ha!’ Lord Grey exclaimed to Raleigh, ‘I’ll be sure
To spare not man, nor maid, nor child – revenge for Glenmalure’.

The quiet night dropped slowly down, the moon rose o’er the hill,
The echoes ceased their tumult strange, the fort and camp were still.
The waves with voices weird and sad, were moaning on the strand,
And veils of smoke crept low and close across the darkened land.

The dawn blushed coyly in the east, the truce flag fluttered white,
The chain-bridge spanned the ravine ‘tween the mainland and the height;
With faltering steps the Spaniards filed, San Joseph at their head,
With ensigns trailed, and muskets dropped, their dark brows flushing red.

‘Fair terms, Senor’, San Joseph said, ‘For these my trusted men’,
A mocking laugh from Grey’s cold lips rang out o’er hill and glen.
‘Raleigh and Mackworth, haste you both to yon den above the sea,
And rid us of the carrion foul! Senor, you stay with me.’

A hush! A murmur! Stifled cries! Then prayers for help arose,
‘Misericordia! Dios mios! Vain words to Saxon Foes;
And cries and prayers and dying wails and clash of swords went on,
‘Brave’ Raleigh fleshed his maiden sword and slew till all were gone.

Till all were gone – Oh God! Like leaves before the blast
The Spaniards fell in slaughtered heaps.  Their dying forms were cast
Into the seething hungry waves to rot beneath the tide
And some were thrown in loathsome heaps on rock or green hillside.

Beyond the sea in sunny Spain, dark legends to this day,
Repeat the wrongs of Fort-del-Ore and the broken faith of Grey.

(On the 20th July 1980 Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, unveiled a memorial on the sea-front at Strand Street to commemorate the landing of James Fitzmaurice-Fitzgerald in Dingle with Spanish help on 17th July 1579.   The year 1980 marked the fourth centenary of the massacre of the Spanish led force at Dun an Oir.)

While the ill fated force was encamped at Dún an Óir, the Earl of Ormond, known as the Black Earl, carried out an unmerciful raid on the Dingle peninsula.  His object was to terrorize the inhabitants and ensure that no local help of any kind would be forthcoming for the invaders.  The Black Earl spared no one – neither man, woman, child nor beast.  (Hooker’s Chronicle 1580)   This was the third burning of the town of Dingle during the period of the Desmond Rebellion.  The rebellion ended with the death of the Earl Gearoid in Ballymacelligott, in 1583.   There followed widespread confiscations and redistribution of the land traditionally owned by the Desmonds.

After the Desmond Rebellion and the Massacre at Dún an Óir, Queen Elizabeth agreed to grant Dingle a Charter and to make it a walled town.  Dingle was the first town in Kerry to be granted a charter and the only town in the County that was ever walled.   The charter allowed the town to set up a corporation, and to elect administrators of justice and public order.  The corporation was overseen by the Sovereign of Dingle.  The jurisdiction of the Sovereign and Corporation comprised “a circle of two Irish miles by land and sea from the parish church”, - and the admiralty jurisdiction extended “as far as an arrow will fly from the harbours of Dingle, Ventry and Ferriter’s Creek”


Dingle’s age of greatest importance was undoubtedly the sixteenth century.   However, it was also its time of greatest hardship.  In the course of the Desmond wars it was burned, plundered and razed several times.  Its once prosperous trade slumped to near extinction.  In 1611 it is recorded that “This town of Dingle is a poor ruined place, lies far remote from any part of the Kingdom and therefore there is little trade except fishing of hake which is in great abundance”.   The Irish rebellion of 1641 and the Cromwellian wars again hit the economy of Dingle very hard.  It was only in the early decades of the eighteenth century that trade in and out of Dingle harbour again began to assert itself.  Wine merchants began to sail their wine boats once again, between Dingle and the continent.   Prominent among these prosperous merchants was Thomas Rice, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, known locally as Black Tom.  His son played a leading part in the plan to rescue Marie Antoinette.

In the middle of this century, Robert Fitzgerald introduced the linen trade to Dingle.   He imported large quantities of flax seed, distributed it generously and obtained grants from the Linen Board.  The project was an instant success and remained so for the following forty years.   However, the trade dramatically declined with the introduction of cotton, and by the year 1837 was almost extinct.

James Louis Rice was the son of Black Tom Rice.  They were prosperous wine traders and merchants with extensive links between France and Spain.  His ancestral home is The Rice House, which was formerly the Old Presbytery on the corner of Goat Street and Green Street.  It was later taken over as the Udaras Office and is used today by the Southern Health Board as a Medical Primary Care Centre.

James Louis was educated in Belgium and joined the Austrian army.  He became an intimate friend of the Emperor Joseph 11 of Austria.  The Emperor granted him and his father Black Tom, the Title; Count of the Holy Empire.  

Marie Antoinette, the queen of France was the Emperor’s sister.  When the French Revolution exploded, she, the King and their two surviving children, were imprisoned in the Temple, in Paris.  Rice and his helpers formed a plan for her escape.  They managed to bribe some of the gaolers to co-operate with them, and they had relays of horses ready to take the Queen to the coast where Count James Louis had one of his father’s wine ships waiting to take her to Dingle, where rooms had been prepared for her at Rice House.  At the last moment however, Marie Antoinette hesitated and refused to abandon her husband the king and her children at the Temple, and so, she remained.

The great famine of Ireland struck as a result of the failure of the potato crop in the autumn of 1845.  The Dingle peninsula was not exempt from the horrors that accompanied it.  In the town and district, relief was provided by the Sisters of the Presentation Convent and other voluntary bodies, but much more than their efforts was needed in this major crisis.  Government aid was of the greatest urgency.  The Dingle Relief Committee was set up in December 1845.  Fr. Daniel Healy, the Parish Priest of Ballyferriter reported to the committee that from one half to two thirds of the potatoes were totally unfit for human consumption.  “I have gone about from village to village, and I have seen with my own eyes the deplorable loss suffered…There are up to 2000 souls in the parish who have no food but the infected potato.  There’s no fish even this year in this district, so that the most fearful consequences are to be dreaded unless timely relief is given….” A letter was sent to the Lord Lieutenant emphasizing the urgency of the situation in Dingle and the surrounding districts, appealing for the release of supplies held in Government stores to be transferred to Dingle.  The letter stated that potato supplies would not stretch beyond the middle of April and that disease was rampant.

The Kerry Examiner of 8th February 1847 records “The State of the people in Dingle is horrifying.  Fever, famine and dysentery are daily increasing, deaths from hunger daily occurring…From all parts of the country they crowd into the town for relief and not a pound of meal is to be had in the wretched town for any price”.

In 1852 the workhouse was finally built and ready for occupation.  6068 people were housed or given aid by the workhouse in that year.

In the 1880s many families in West Kerry lived under the burden of excessive rents and the threat of eviction.  In April 1885, Lord Ventry evicted twelve families from their homes in Castlegegory. Some families in desperation for a place of shelter went back to their homes and were then prosecuted for taking “unlawful possession of the property”.  A public meeting was called in Dingle and was held in the open air, directly in front of the Temperance Hall.   The outcome of that meeting was the setting up of a Dingle branch of The Land League.  The League was working throughout the country to improve the lot of the Irish farmer.

In 1888 work began on building a railway line from Tralee to Dingle.  It took three years to build the line.  The thirty one miles to Dingle and the six miles of branch line to Castlegregory were completed in March 1891.  Dingle had become the most westerly railway terminus in Europe.   In 1925 the railway was taken over by The Great Southern Railway.   The line however was not paying its way, and on 26th June 1953, the last cattle train left Dingle station for Tralee.

Fr. Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance, held an open air meeting at The Grove Dingle in 1840.  This resulted in a Temperance Society being formed. Mr. John Hickson, the last Sovereign of Dingle, placed at the disposal of the newly formed Temperance Society the room in Market House where the corporation held its meetings.  The Society became know as The Market House Temperance Society.  In 1842, Lord Cork granted a site for the erection of a Temperance Hall on part of the site of the old castle of the Knight of Kerry.  The Temperance Hall still serves a useful purpose in the town today.  The society formed a Brass and Reed band which practiced in the Hall, and was a spectacular feature of Dingle life for the following fifty years.  It paraded the town on all important occasions and played in the church every year, on Saint Patrick’s morning and on Christmas morning. 


In 1899 an ex coastguard officer, Joe Gorman returned from the Boer war and introduced the fife to Dingle.   The town musicians quickly mastered the new instruments and Dingle Fife and Drum Band soon became a feature of Dingle life.  For over a century, there has scarcely been any notable occasion in the life of the town which has not been honoured by the appearance of the band. Year after year the commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day in the town is ushered in by the band parading the streets at 6a.m.  The band has been greatly involved in maintaining the traditional colorful Wren day parades throughout the town on St. Stephens Day.  The New Year is also heralded in with a midnight parade led by the Fife and Drum.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the main source of income for the people of Dingle and the surrounding peninsula, remained fishing and farming.  In 1969 David Lean began filming Ryan’s Daughter.  A large proportion of the film budget was spent on location in Dingle.  The film showed the world Dingle’s scenery, and it was released at a time when wages were increasing and holidays and the “leisure market” was growing rapidly.  Dingle became a tourist destination.   Fungi the Dolphin arrived at Dingle harbour in 1984, and there he has remained attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Dingle every year.    Farming and Fishing have dropped off significantly over the years, and Dingle now relies almost totally on the Tourist industry.

On the 28th of March 2005 the Irish Government abolished the name Dingle.   It was decreed that the name Dingle would no longer have “any legal force or effect” and is no longer permitted to be used in “Acts of Oireachtas, Statutory Declarations, on Land Registry and Ordinance Survey maps and on road and street signs erected by Local Authorities”.  The town is now officially known as An Daingean.  The same Act allowed for equal status to be given to the Irish and English placename of every other town in the Country.

When the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Eamon O’Cuiv was asked to reinstate Dingle, he replied: “Dingle no longer exists by law”.

(Authors note:  This history could not have been written without the kind assistance of Canon Jack Mc. Kenna and his wonderful book “Dingle”)

Kate O Connor