Dalkey Island, lying just off the south Dublin coast is just a stone’s throw from the tiny Colliemore Harbour. The island is small and uninhabited but has an ancient history that’s full of stories, writes Harry Warren.
Dalkey Island, off the coast of south Dublin, looks resplendent in the autumn sunshine. It is a beautiful, compact island of 22 acres. It is only 300 meters across Dalkey Sound from the mainland and may be visited on fair weather days by a few minutes boat ride from Collimore Harbour.
The island is deserted now but it wasn’t always so and the island has a long and eventful history. A human skull filled with periwinkle shells was discovered during an excavation in the 1960’s and it was radio carbon dated all the way back to 2,500 BC.
Archaeologists have shown that the island was home to some of the first Stone Age settlers on the east coast of Ireland. There have been finds of flints, arrowheads, axes and pottery relating to the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron and Bronze age.
There is evidence that the island appears to have had a metalworker after the discovery of clay moulds for socketed spearheads, knives, axes and a sword, along with crucible fragments for metalwork.
Later excavations recovered medieval glassware and pottery from the Mediterranean region and from Gaul, English pottery and an 11th Century silver coin from Normandy. There are also signs that the island was once used for farming.
The original Irish name for the island was ‘Deilg Inis’ or Thorn Island supposedly due to it resembling a thorn in shape.
With the arrival of the Vikings the name ‘Dalk-Ei’ came into use. The Danish word ‘Dalk’ means thorn and ‘Ei’ means island so at least our Viking invaders – unlike out British near neighbours – kept the original meaning of the Irish name for the island.
One of the earliest mentions of Dalkey relates to a Viking raid on Dalkey. “Coibhdeanach, Abbot of Cill-achaidh, was drowned in the sea of Delginis-cualann while fleeing from the foreigners.” Viking raiders kept slaves there and it was also used as a refuge by the Vikings when in 942AD the Vikings fled to the island after being beaten at a battle in Dublin.
Evidence of Christianity on Dalkey island dates back deep into the past. Today you may visit the stone ruins of the 11th century St. Begnet’s Church overlooking the shoreline. Archaeologists recovered evidence of an earlier 7th century wooden church on the same location.
Saint Begnet’s Church and burial ground are dedicated to Saint Begnet, a hermit who lived on the island. Two burial sites were discovered during an excavation carried out in 1958. The church is also known as ‘Begh’ or ‘Bee’ and is associated with Saint Bea’s Head in Cumberland and Killibeaes in Scotland.
The church has unusually high walls, and it is believed that there was once an area at the top for the priest to reside in. During the 19th century changes were made to the church by workmen constructing the islands Martello tower and gun battery.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own