The sand looks black from a distance as you descend to the shore at Trá Chathail near An Trá Bheag (Short Strand) – otherwise known as Trabeg. The path cuts down deep through the stratified red rocks to get to the beach which is strewn with pebbles, mostly shades of red, maroon, green, grey, and white.
Trabeg is on the south coast of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, and is the “type section” of the Trabeg Conglomerate Formation which is exposed in the cliffs on the beach. This is place where that particular rock type was first described. The rock layers constitute part of the Dingle Group and were formed in the Devonian period between 345 and 395 million years ago. The conglomerates are composed of fairly well rounded pebbles of red sandstones and mudstones, with white vein quartz and chert. A few pebbles of volcanic rock and of grey limestone are also present.
The way in which the conglomerate rock has formed from the mass movement and subsequent accumulation of debris from terrestrial locations during, for example, river flood events, means that the pebbles are derived from a wide area covering many different geological types. The pebble beds or conglomerates are inter-bedded with layers of red sandstones and mudstones, the finer sediments of which were deposited normally by rivers during non-storm/flood times. The alternating layers are now tilted from the original horizontal orientation in which they were first deposited, and are clear to see dipping south at about 70 degrees.
As the cliffs at Trá Chathail are worn away by the action of waves and weathering, the pebbles contained in the conglomerate matrix are freed up and remain the shore below – an instant pebble beach. Added to these are pieces of other rock or matrix that became rounded into pebbles after they arrived on the beach. Some pebbles and rocks may have been transported by wave action from further along the coast were the geology is quite different: from the Eask Formation, West Cork Sandstone, Bulls Head Formation, and the earlier Silurian rocks of the Dunquin Group.
Horne, Ralph R. (1976) Geological Guide to the Dingle Peninsula, Geological Survey of Ireland Guide Series No. 1, reprinted 1999.