Ferriters Castle & Promontory Fort Excavation
The CHERISH team plan to carry out archaeological excavations at Ferriter’s Castle and Promontory Fort once current restrictions allow. The site is located on the Ballyferriter Headland, Dingle peninsula in Co. Kerry. Doon Point (Dún an Fheirtéaraigh) is a long, narrow promontory extending slightly over five hundred metres from north east to south west. Beautiful views from this site include Sybil head to the north and the Blasket Islands to the west. This prehistoric fort is one of 95 coastal promontory forts in County Kerry, and one of 508 such forts recorded around the Irish coastline. Promontory forts are being heavily impacted by erosion and therefore the CHERISH project are undertaking excavation on this fascinating site in order to learn more about this Irish archaeological site type. Ferriter’s Promontory Fort sits directly to the north of the Mesolithic- Neolithic transition period site at Ferriter’s Cove, which was excavated in the 1980s. Excavation holds the potential to reveal the very exciting use of this headland over thousands of years. The excavations will build on from our initial investigations at Ferriter’s Promontory Fort which included walk-over survey, detailed terrain modelling through drone mapping, and geophysical survey using both magnetic gradiometry and resistivity surveys. The results of these surveys have guided our plans for excavation, identifying anomalies in both the surface topography and sub-surface make-up that have the potential to be man-made.
The two sets of defences on this promontory fort are located where two natural coves occur dividing the promontory into two distinct sections. These two necks of land were utilised and enhanced by the builders of this fort with a series of banks and ditches, to form an outer and inner set of defences. The team will look at these defences during excavation to understand how and when they were constructed, as well as hoping to learn something about the people who built them and lived in this fort. The team will record and sample the construction materials of the banks and ditches to identify the different phases of construction, as well as the methods and materials used in their construction. We hope to use scientific dating methods to date some of the occupation and/ or construction phases.
In the fifteenth or sixteenth century, reuse of the fort occurred when the Anglo-Norman Ferriter family constructed a castle on the inner bank of the outer defences. This tower house was originally a 4-5 storey rectangular tower, occupied by the Ferriter family until the seventeenth century. Ferriter’s Castle is built on the inner bank of the outer defences of the fort. The castle has been recorded in high resolution by a 3D laser scan survey. This provides an exact record of the castle at the time of survey, and allows the team to monitor any changes that occur to the castle. Excavations in this part of the fort will focus on the rectangular house sites, thought to be associated with the later medieval activity on the site. A trench will be excavated to expose the old floor level at the time of occupation and to see what type of construction was used to build them. This may allow us to determine how these structures relate to the tower house and its occupants. A well is recorded in this section of the site, a core will be taken to determine if it is, in fact, a well and to gather material for palaeo-environmental investigations.
In the second section of the fort, there are numerous hut sites and sub-circular depressions. These archaeological features are being heavily impacted by erosion due to their cliff side location and it is therefore, very important that the team garner as much information and knowledge as possible about this site type before they are eaten away by the sea. The team will excavate in full one of the larger hut sites, the example selected is not located along the cliff edge to provide a safe working environment for the team. These investigations will allow us to understand the nature of construction of these structures as well as when and why these hut sites were built. The sub-circular depressions in this area are unusual features, and the excavation trenches in these features will allow us to determine if they man-made or geological. If they are man-made features we will record and sample them to answer the same questions we have asked of the other archaeological features within this fort. During the excavation we may uncover artefacts that have been buried for hundreds or in some cases thousands of years. If we are lucky enough to uncover artefacts they could shed light on the different periods of usage of this site, and perhaps give us an insight into the type of people who lived at this beautiful, but exposed location.
The CHERISH team are very grateful to Dennis Curran for granting us permission to work on his land, his friendliness and generosity during survey work, and for the wealth of local knowledge he has shared with the team.