The Dingle Peninsula is a larger than life area featuring one of Ireland’s liveliest towns, a very friendly dolphin, and one of it’s most scenic coastal loops.
Our story picks up from the Ring of Kerry, where a blanket of low cloud had put a dampener on our activities. So we pushed on through the 50km drive from Killorglin to Dingle, at first blighted by heavy traffic. We made another failed attempt to visit a beach, this one was Inch Beach, one very familiar from my youth. It extends on a long headland similar to Rossbeigh across the channel, but again its was shrouded in a veil and we deemed it not worth exploring.
So we arrived in Dingle somewhat ahead of expectations. Our accommodation was the Dingle Harbour Lodge booked through booking.com which was a large guesthouse. At €132 it wasn’t cheap, but it was July and Kerry, and that’s the market. The rooms were of a good standard for a guesthouse. It was located only a few minutes walk from Dingle and had plenty of free parking. Exactly what we needed before we resumed our journey the following day. The rooms had views down over Dingle Bay.
Scrubbing up after a little relaxation we set out for a night in the town of Dingle. Dingle is a small town of 2000 people, which roars with a tourism trade for much of the year, including new years eve It’s location on the beautiful Dingle Bay, ensures a good fishing trade and it is known for its high quality fish restaurants. It is also renowned for its pubs. Like any good Irish town, you are only as good as your pubs, and Dingle has a good ratio of pubs to people, with 38 pubs.
We performed our usual routine of walking up and down the streets of the town, before going back to the first place we liked. This was the Marina Inn, and accommodated both our needs, a good fish dinner and a some subsequent live music. After some delicious and huge calamari, washed down by some pints of local Tom Crean lager, the pub stirred to life and Dingle lived up to both reputation and expectations. The craic was mighty as they say. We were kicked out at closing time and we returned (stumbled) back to our guesthouse.
The breakfast the next morning was freshly cooked, and was just the ticket. Stepping outside the mist had gone and blue skies greeted us. We saw Dingle Bay in a new light, contrasting against the green headlands to the rear, and with a fleet of colourful boats moored to the fore.
Fungie Boat Trip
Besides the 2000 permanent inhabitants that Dingle possesses, it lays claim to one more. It’s most famous is a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie. First sighted in these waters around 1983, Fungie is a dolphin with an affinity to humans, and has been swimming alongside boats ever since.
There are many boat tours taking people out to see Fungie, and we choose Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours. They charge €16 per person for a one hour trip, and there is a guarantee of your money back in the eventuality of a non-sighting. I reckon that money is fairly safe. Boarding at 11 we soon were out on the calm waters. It’s best to wear a few layers as the wind can be cool out here. We were soon treated to wonderful views back onto the town and over the bay.
The prospect of a refund soon vanished (happily) as the fin of Fungie was seen cutting the water. The boats on the water work well together to get the best possible viewings, by running parallel to each other and creating a swimming tunnel between. Fungie doesn’t need an invite and duly obliges by swimming between the boats, for great sighting opportunities. It is clear that interaction with humans is high on Fungie’s daily goals. As soon as new boats entered the area, he was of to greet them into the water. It’s beautiful to watch him in action. Dolphins are on of those animals that evoke great happiness in humans, so we all left that boat with fond memories.
Returning to the car this amazing dog lit up my day further.
Slea Head Drive
The Slea head Drive is one of the best circular routes one can drive in Ireland. It’s only 47 kilometres in length, but that 47 kilometres is not short on things to do. Forming part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenery is spectacular, and the roads paves an amazing path. Unlike the Ring of Kerry it is only advisable to go clockwise, this is more precarious. It’s narrow, twisty and there are significant drops. It’s a half day just to get around and take in the sights, and we had barely gone a few kilometres before stopping. An industrious teenager (got to admire is entrepreneurial spirit)was charging a few euros to feed some sheep, so the child (Beata’s inner child) beside me insisted she have a go. I would stop at every historical monument along the way so I wasn’t in a position to say no.
Forts and Huts
Our first archaeological stop was the Dunbeg Promonatory Fort. This is an iron age fort possibly built between 500-800 BC but dating has proved difficult. Parking is outside the attractive Stonehouse restaurant and a 300 metre walk takes you down the fort. The location is amazing on a rocky headland, with stunning views up and down the coast. The fort is at the mercy of the coast and has been closed a number of times, as rockfalls have condemned parts of it to the sea. Luckily we were able to enter and peer into times past and the lives of early Celt civilisation. I can’t imagine living here on a winter’s day, it was so exposed to the elements.
Once more in the car, I lasted a whole 900 metres before stopping again. This time it was for a steep walk up the hill to some beehive huts. Named for their appearance. The huts have an admission fee of €3 and there are a succssion of huts on the site. They were presumed to be single family dwellings, but dating has agin proven hard. They possibly were from the 12th century, when the Irish were forced off good land by invading Normans. You can fully explore the site both in and out of the huts. The craftsmanship was beautiful, with a lovely melody of differing stones, and corbelled roofs. There is a toilet onsite which for me made the entry price worth it alone. Not because I was bursting to go, but because of the sign within, “Dear Customer, Please shut the door or the sheep will eat toilet roll, thank you”.
Rounding Slea Head I was astounded to discover that I had already travelled this path, albeit as a child probably some thirty years earlier. A river flowing from the hills above crosses the road on its route to the sea, and the sight of it opened up long-lost memories in the recesses of my brain. I loved that river as a child, and it still has the same enchantment today. Incredible that with all the advancements of the last thirty years, that the powers that be possessed the insight to leave some things exactly as they were.
This stretch of the drive possesses the most fantastic sea views. Headlands and beaches indent the coast, and inland hills climb up to be mountains. We stopped to admire the sea from afar and were treated to an unusual friendship between a busker and a seagull. The gold sands of Coumeenoole Beach were our next scheduled stop, but not before lunch at Caife na Tra on the road above. The menu was quite simple but the location was magnifique, and probably gave our sandwiches some added flavour. Or maybe that was the traditional apple pie we had after.
The beach is reached by steps and is sheltered by the surrounding cliffs. It earns well its reputation as one of Ireland’s top beaches, the sand is pristine and the Atlantic waters are turquoise. We were a little weary to enter them as we found some jellyfish washed up on the beach, but a stroll along the beach had its own merits. The waves were strong and quite a few surfers were testing their mettle. Scenes from the movie Ryan’s Daughter were filmed here.
The Blasket Islands of the coast are served by a ferry which departs from Dunquin harbour, a few kilometres on from Coumeenoule Beach. the harbour is accessed by a narrow steep path, with a number of switchbacks to bring one to sea level below. For anyone familiar with famous Irish postcard imagery, this path is used by farmers who transport sheep to the blasket islands on boats. The image of the sheep lining the path is humourous and iconic. It’s usually entitled “Rush Hour in Ireland”. Here’s a link for anyone not with me. We didn’t have the fortune of meeting sheep on the road the day we were there, and the weather once more started to turn on us. Visibility out to sea was low so we didn’t much of a glimpse of the Blaskets. The path was cool, and the jagged rocks rising from the sea are impressive. When we climbed back up again that dreaded fog (or mist, whats the difference?) was rolling back down off the mountains. Maybe I’ve watched too many Stephen King movies, but I didn’t want it coming near me.
With the mist now threatening our day, we passed by another impressive each, Clogher Strand, and to our final stop on the Slea Head Drive, the Gallarus Oratory. This beautiful sandstone building is comparable to an upturned boat. It was built using the technique of corbel vaulting, but much of the building remains a mystery, such as century of construction, it’s use (it was presumed to be an oratory) and even where it got its name. It’s all quite intriguing. A five-minute walk from the car park takes you to the building. There is a visitor centre with full facilities here, and I stocked up on coffee ahead of the long drive ahead of me.
Completing the full circuit I had one last goal before we set back on the 330km drive to Dublin. Conor’s Pass is a mountain pass and at an elevation of 456 metres is Ireland’s highest. It is another fond memory of childhood, I recall the day my drove us u to the summit. The weather was wonderful that day and we all thought it was amazing, except my dad. He had been on the tear the previous day with my uncle, and they both drank 16 pints of Guinness. So he was suffering badly. To make matters worse the pass is a hairy drive, single lane, with traffic going both ways, and huge drops to the valley floor. The summit views take in dark lakes and there is a small waterfall.
I was driven by that memory so we made the assent to the summit. But that fog was my undoing again. As we rose visibility faded till we could see nothing but the road in front of us. I can safely say meeting some cars made me nervous. If anyone found the Ring of Kerry hard driving, then tis wouldn’t be for them. We had to reverse to allow cars to pass, and all in poor visibility, while a wall seperated us from the afterlife. It’s no Bolivian death road, but it will test those with vertigo. Or poor reversing skills. It really made me feel for my dad all those years ago.
All that was left to do was make the descent, and head off on the 300 km drive to Dublin. I clocked up over 900 km on my three day trip, 1.5 times the length of Ireland, and much of it through back roads.
If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you would like to read more of our Kerry Trip.
Day 1 can be read here
Day 2 can be read here