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A Visit to Ireland: Part 6) Exploring the Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

One of the highlights of any visit to Ireland is a chance to explore the Dingle Peninsula.  While it’s only half as large as the Ivernaugh peninsula (Ring of Kerry), it’s packed with beautiful views and interesting things to see.  This peninsula is a rocky place with steep mountains, rugged cliffs, ancient stone fences, beehive huts and other archaeological treasures, and lovely islands just offshore.   Using Dingle Town as your base, you can very leisurely drive around the peninsula in a day.  The peninsula features Gaelic signs and you’re like to hear local people using the Irish language.

Because the peninsula’s road is very narrow, you’ll be spared the large tour bus traffic of the Ring of Kerry.  Also because of the narrow road to Slea Head, traffic is supposed to go in just one direction (clockwise) although not all drivers follow that advice.  The drive is supposedly very busy in the summer but was not busy at all on the nice fall day we visited.

Traveling from Dingle town in a clockwise fashion, these are the recommend sites and stops along the way:

1) Dunberg Fort.  One of the best preserved forts from the Iron Age (500 BC – 500 AD) clinging somewhat precariously to a cliff’s edge above the bay; parts of it have fallen into the sea.  The fort has multiple defensive stone walls (ramparts) built around a central residential area.  Dunberg Fort is interesting to explore but more impressive are the nice views of the coast from here, both east towards Dingle and west to the sea.  Across the road from the trail leading to the Fort is the Stone House, a restaurant and visitor center where you can see a video about the fort.  The staff were very helpful to us, so stop in for a visit.

Beehive hut, Dingle Peninsula

Beehive hut, Dingle Peninsula

2) Beehive Huts (clochans).  The tip region of the peninsula has over 400 small stone beehive-shaped buildings where early Christians lived.  Fahan has some of the best, about 1.5 km beyond Dunberg Fort.  They are not built with mortar, but are water tight and cleverly designed.

3)  Slea Head (Ceann Sleihhe).   The point after which this drive is named.  A roadside religious shrine (crucifix), a pullout and a good view of the Blasket Islands and Ivernaugh Peninsula can be enjoyed from here.  A little further down the road is another larger pullout often with local folks selling wares (some of which are cleverly crafted).  This second pullout offers even better views of Great Blasket Island and a nice views of Dunmore Head, the westernmost point of Europe.  There are many abandoned old farm homes along the road that were abandoned during the great potato famine of the 19th century.

View of Great Blasket Island from Dingle Peninsula

4) Great Blasket Island.  Situated a half mile or so offshore (and as such not part of this drive).  If you’re there on a nice day or staying in Dingle for a few days, consider taking a cruise to Great Blasket Island, boats leaving from Dunquin.  The island is lovely for a hike on a nice day, and offers the opportunity to picnic and explore the abandoned buildings.  Many Irish folks like to think theirs is the “Last Parish before America”  but for the Great Blasket Island this would seem not to be an exaggeration.  If you don’t have time to visit Great Blasket Island itself, be sure you visit the Blasket Center, a museum on the peninsula that recounts the background and way of life of the Blasket Islanders who made a living from fishing and farming until the island was abandoned in 1953 and they were moved to the mainland.  The Blasket Center offers wonderful views of the ruins of their homes on the island.

5)  Gallarus Oratory.  One of the earliest Christian sites, a small elegantly built church from the 7th or 8th century which I’ve previously written about on this website, to which the interested reader is referred.  It has an unusual shape, resembling an overturned boat, but more a thousand years after it was constructed, it still stands and is still watertight.  I was absolutely fascinated by the Oratory!

Ruined 12th century Kilmalkedar church. Note the Ogden stone in the left foreground

Ruined 12th century Kilmalkedar church. Note the Ogden stone in the left foreground

6)  Ruined church of Kilmalkedar.  This was a Norman center for worship on the peninsula, the church dating to the 12th century.  It’s considered an “Irish Romanesque” church.  The church is surrounded by a cemetery, still actively used, but with some medieval gravestones especially at the front of the church.  The front of the church also highlights a partially buried cross and an Ogden stone, with ancient script on it (a series of slashes) dating from the 3rd to 7th centuries.

We were lucky enough to have had wonderful weather during our drive, although even on a foggy misty or rainy day it would have been a fascinating destination.  It receives my highest recommendation! 

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